Ikari Warriors

Publisher: SNK
Year: 1987
Genre: Shmup, Top-Scroll

Old school top-down shooters are pretty generic – endless waves of faceless enemy drones trying to stall your efforts as you steadily plow your way across the battlefield. They’re more notable in their differences than their similarities. Ikari Warriors is one of the first, and has a number of features that worked very well, and others that were, perhaps, not so well considered.

Making Player One the pink one for example.
Making Player One the pink one for example.

Oh no! The plot is happening!
Oh no! The plot is happening!

Ikari Warriors starts with your plane going down. That’s pretty much the extent of the plot. I’m genuinely unsure if there even IS an excuse plot beyond “you are shooting a whole lot of bad guys with your gun and making them dead while traveling through a jungle.”

It is my opinion that the greatest feature a top-down shooter (or any shooter for that matter) can have is simultaneous two-player mode. Ikari Warriors manages to pull this off well, and frankly is better suited to multiplayer than single player, given the difficulty in dealing with enemies coming from different angles. Having a second player can come in especially handy with vehicles.

Which leads me to another rare virtue of this early shmup title: Ikari Warriors boasts player-controlled tanks and helicopters that not only have superior firepower to the player’s commando while on foot, but are also resistant to standard bullets and collisions with enemies. The primary drawbacks of the vehicles are that they run out of fuel eventually (if you don’t find enough gascan pickups) and explode when destroyed, which kills players if they don’t get out of range quickly enough. Both these drawbacks are minor given the improved maneuverability and durability that vehicles offer.

First level… because the game hates you

Like many games of the genre, you have a secondary weapon in Ikari Warriors – grenades, which subsequently upgrade to missiles and can have added explosive upgrades. Unlike most games of the genre, however, you also have a limited supply of ammunition. Fortunately (or unfortunately, if this sounds interesting) the game is so generous with ammunition that I have never actually run out of ammunition OR grenades, rendering the feature almost entirely moot.

The game has some of the quirks common to the era, of course. Changing your direction requires you to move briefly in every intervening direction. Hit detection is remarkably picky when it comes to enemies and remarkably liberal with the player. There are way too many things that explode, some of which in no way forecast that they intend to do so. Perfectly ordinary enemies sometimes start flashing and exploding. Finally, the game has water that slows the player down, which all too often results in inescapable situations.

Still first level, even more hate.
Still first level, even more hate.

John’s Rating: 3.0 out of 5.0. Ikari Warriors is a classic, of this there can be no doubt, but it can also be a frustrating, futile game that is, frankly, way too long. Even so, it was a pioneer of a now oft-imitated formula, a Nintendo Hard classic and a genuinely enjoyable game, if, perhaps, mostly for nostalgia value.

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