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(CAVE / AMI 2005)
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Ibara is a bit of an oddity as a CAVE game, as it wasn't programmed by their main programmer (and company founder) Tsuneki Ikeda. So it really doesn't feel like a typical CAVE game. The usual staples of the danmaku genre - microscopic hit box and pre-determined bullet waves that you need to weave through - are substituted for faster, aimed, straight bullets. This is because Ibara is the brainchild of Shinobu Yagawa, a former Raizing employee, and the creator of the seminal
Battle Garegga - a game which Ikeda greatly admired when it was released in 1996. Unfortunately Raizing closed it's doors in 2000, but Ikeda has employed fellow pioneer Yagawa, who now releases his Raizing-style games under the CAVE brand.

And Ibara does feel very much like a spiritual successor to Battle Garegga. You collect gold medals, (start at 100 pts, and max out at 10,000 pts); you replenish your bomb stock by collecting 'bomb fragments'; and lastly: rank. The game becomes progressively more difficult the better you are playing, and the speed at which the difficulty increases can be pretty sharp.

But there are a number of differences between these two games as well. The most notable of which is that the bullets in Ibara are a very visible bright purple, so you'll always know what killed you. Another improvement comes from the weaponry. Your basic shot can be upgraded through power-ups into machine-guns, flame throwers, and rockets. And when you have a full bomb stock you can unleash a Hadou Cannon which causes an insane amount of damage.

Running on CAVE's SH-3 board, the game benefits from some very detailed animation. The screen is often dominated by grey vehicles and buildings, with a strong, gritty, industrial aesthetic. When you're tearing through the game at full flow, with buildings and helicopters exploding every other second in showers of shrapnel and debris, you'll think carnage probably doesn't get much prettier. And the accompanying soundtrack is equally bombastic. Shinji Hosoe's music is heavy, driving and dramatic, with a guitar and synth 80's rock feel. The six stage bosses are well designed mechanical beasts, impressive in detail and oppressive in firepower. There's even a couple of homages to Battle Garegga bosses in there.

What turns a lot of people off from Ibara is the sheer difficulty. It might take you some time just to beat stage 2. Enemies start to fire more bullets, and fire them quicker, as you're scoring higher. And each 1 million points you score, you'll be rewarded with an extra life, which only makes the difficulty go even higher again. The only way to really curb this effect and make the difficulty more manageable is to suicide your extra ships. Ibara is a game where you're always thinking 10 moves ahead. This departure in style turned off a lot of CAVE's fan base, and while the game is unique and one of my all-time favourites, the PCB quickly plummeted in price.

Ibara is a fantastic game with a great deal of depth, and the most affordable of CAVE's SH-3 shooters, but expect more Battle Garegga than Dodonpachi.

- [jpj/chris] in 2008