• Ibara review Sony PS2

    The normal sequence for new shmups is: play through as far as possible a few times, blasting everything in sight; check first-stage score against others on the internet; realise yours is measly and then discover there are other ways to play, usually after watching a superplay video. Some shmups have more levels of gameplay elements to get to grips with than others and Ibara definitely falls into the more complex category. The game was developed at Cave by previous employees of eminent shooter creator, Raizing, including Shinobu Yagawa. Shinobu was chief programmer on Battle Garrega with which Ibara shares many gameplay hooks. Being complicated doesnít mean itís particularly any harder to complete than your average Cave bullet nightmare though Ė itís just tougher to get the highest scores. So be warned, Ibara needs a fair bit of dedication to learn its intricacies and certainly isnít a good shmup for dipping into occasionally or indeed for beginners.

    A troupe of sisters, led by Professor Teresa Rose, have decided that the lands of 19th-century Edelweiss need to be returned to nature and essentially become a giant rose garden, eschewing the steam-powered mechanical devices that have become the mainstay of society in this realm. Their intention is to raze the world to the ground and itís your job to stop them. Choosing either Bond or Dyne (control port 2) and one of four ship types (from the options menu), after a brief but irritating loading screen wait, in which you could perhaps prepare yourself mentally for the onslaught ahead, you swoop into the game proper.

    The first thing to notice is that even though the enemy bullets and missiles are bright purple, there is a fairly intense distraction caused by the combination of huge explosions, shrapnel everywhere, score pop-ups, and a plethora of weapon items and medals. It definitely takes a while for the brain to start applying the correct filters to allow you to sense the correct path at any given moment. Give it time and it becomes more natural though, so stick with it.

    Your main weaponry consists of normal shot (with autofire on hold) and bombs. The bombs are a bit special though and require collection of bomb fragments gleaned from destroyed ground-based enemies. Once enough fragments are collected to complete a full bomb, this allows you to press and hold to unleash the awesome Hadou Cannon Ė placement on screen is important because the trail behind the bomb makes you invincible and is great for getting out of a tight spot. Alternatively, tapping bomb gives a scatter attack and has a smaller impact. These use partial bomb fragments, but at least allow scope for bombing when ground targets are thinly spread and bomb fragment stores are low. Bombs cancel bullets which turn into Rose medals.

    A couple of options can be added to your craft, one on each wing, chosen from the large array of bolt-on weaponry dropped by felled enemies. For example, one wing could be spreading napalm and the other could be launching rockets Ė the right combination for the right area makes all the difference.

    The final attack at your disposal is an aura shot. Each time an option is collected or a bomb is used, your ship glows very briefly and attacks anything in the vicinity quite powerfully. So bombing enemies whilst almost on top of them is often the best method to finish them off quickly, albeit the most scary. Ibara revels in this risky approach to play.

    Gold medals, also dropped by dying enemy craft, reward careful play by building a rapidly increasing point chain. Medals increase in value (and equivalent size and shape) each time they are collected, as long as there are no other medals on screen. You must quickly collect the medal before it drops off the screen, otherwise the chain is lost. If another is revealed while any medals are still on screen (by shooting more enemies), the chain is also lost. Bombing enemies can reveal multiple simultaneous medals (of the same value), often at different heights on the screen. It is imperative to collect at least the last/topmost medals to keep the chain going. If these rules are followed, the medal chain can be quickly built up from 100 points to a maximum of 10,000 points.

    It is important to note that Ibara encourages bombing, because medals will often appear more frequently when destroying objects with bombs rather than shooting them, thus allowing the medal chain to increase more quickly. However, care must be taken during close-up bombing of air targets, since items dropped after a successful kill will also set off the aura shot, leading to other deaths nearby and possible loss of medal chain. The mind will boggle trying to juggle all the different approaches to getting maximum scores and the player can often be forced to just make it up as they go along, reacting to what is happening, rather than going with their original plan. The upshot of this is that each run through the game tends to be slightly different, avoiding the repetition inherent in many memory-test shooters.

    Just when you thought it couldnít get any deeper, Ibara has an ace up its sleeve. Players will find that grabbing all the weaponry, blazing through the level without losing a life and generally being really good at obliterating everything in sight will lead to a boss experience that is very hard. The ranking system has kicked in and even the best players will be left with nowhere to hide in the end-of-level boss-fight bulletfest. The ranking system adds a huge amount to game tactics, with some levels being better approached with minimal options, if any. Suiciding will reduce rank but extends are regular so this is actually a valid move and we can only marvel at how long it must have taken to balance all the gameplay elements so well.

    The PS2 version includes the arcade original and an arrange mode which is significantly different, mainly in terms of increased shot speed and a visual rank meter. Neither one is particularly better than the other Ė they are both fantastic. The PS2 disc also has some superb artwork, some of which can be set as wallpaper on either side of the play area. The backstory gels well with the look of the game Ė the attention to detail on the sprites and animation is wonderful, even though low resolution compared to shooters like Ikaruga and Under Defeat. It is well worth watching someone else play just to get a glimpse of everything thatís going on. Just donít expect too much from the background music and you wonít be disappointed.

    The combination of gameplay hooks in Ibara make it one of the deepest shooters and for those with the patience and a modicum of twitch skills, itís one of the best. Beginners will struggle though, wondering why the ranking-influenced boss fights are so hard and not having the confidence to lose a life on purpose. Just dodging the bullets with guns on auto will be hard enough for some, but having to time bursts of shooting and bombing to retain the medal chain as well will push those new to the shmup scene to frustration point. However, Ibaraís intended audience consists of the established fans of the genre and they are going to be extremely happy.

    Video credit:
    Player - Thanks to ARCHER
    Thanks to Rob over at www.Super-Play.co.uk

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