I hate to be that guy, but the Cashie Brothers’ Iota ($1.00) comes with both good and bad news to start. The good is it’s a sumptuous-looking 2.5D platformer that uses Ikaruga’s color-swapping mechanic to bypass enemies and obstacles. The bad news is that it uses Ikaruga’s color-swapping mechanic to bypass enemies and obstacles.
Now, let me explain. Whenever anyone mentions Ikaruga as an inspiration for their game, I put on a happy face and a forced smile. The truth is, I get a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’ve taken to labeling it a premonition of things to come, frustrating things. You see, Ikaruga, despite its beloved reputation, and the thousands of admirers that’d surely blast me the second I open my mouth to say anything negative about it, is a hard fucking game. And that’s being poetic about it. If you’ve ever watched an expert playthrough, you will come away from it saying it takes pure witchcraft to reach the end. I’m not saying you need to be an ugly Mila Kunis to beat Iota, but it couldn’t hurt.
As a platformer, it’s fairly basic to start. Using a silly premise (robots steal your power sources, leaving you no way to play video games… the horror!) as an excuse to get you to collect things, you’ll have to jump, hover, and air dash through several pretty stages (the platforming reminded me of Outland, and the visuals, LittleBigPlanet) in order to retrieve said power sources. These energy pellets in turn power your own traversal abilities, also enabling you to absorb bullets and avoid (most) enemies so long as you are of a similar color.
The snap between the blue and fuchsia polarities is simple and unlimited, and the game does a good job in acclimating you to the mechanics… through the first four or five stages. While your moveset seems basic initially, the stage design is more complex. Each level naturally ups the ante in terms of hazards, adding varying amounts of robots, long distance jumps, and turrets, all coming in sequences, that not only test your reflexes, but, in some cases, require precise timing. Oh, and did I mention you can only take one-hit (sometimes two, if you count an ‘extra life’ powerup that randomly spawns) per life? This insistence on perfect runs is my chief beef with the game.
Enjoy the lovely blues and fuchsias now; you’ll be swearing later.
To be fair, it’s not as if Iota isn’t forthcoming about its difficulty. The developers have said as much. You should know what you’re getting into. The challenge itself may not be a legitimate criticism to some, but when a game asks you to perform a juggling act with all of your abilities at once, whilst dodging enemies and literally counting the seconds before a platform disappears underneath you, it may have strayed into frustrating territory. The controls, too, feel a bit rough to tackle these tougher sequences, leading to you pulling off the wrong moves for a particular situation.
Iota is still worth a look, so long as you proceed with caution. It’s a fantastic indie showpiece, but the visuals belie a steep challenge, asking a bit too much of some players. That overbearing difficulty makes the Ikaruga flavoring and polarity-switching ironic, seeing as the audience for the game will likely split into opposing factions, love it or hate it.