Ibara (鋳薔薇) is a vertical scrolling shooter developed by Japanese developer Cave and published by Taito. Although interest among the hardcore audience is high, it has currently not been published outside of Japan due to the genre's dwindling popularity in North America and arcade gaming in general.
Ibara is very similar to 8ing/Raizing's Battle Garegga and Battle Bakraid games (in fact, Shinobu Yagawa, the programmer for the aforementioned games, worked on this game). So much so that Ibara could be considered a pseudo-sequel or, at least, spiritual successor. The similarities are numerous - some are subtle, some are easily spotted. These include combining archaic technology such as bi-planes with more advanced machinery; firing and power-up system; and a medal collecting system which drastically increases scoring. The game features a similar method of earning bombs and a delay when launching them as well. Some of the enemies and their attack patterns are very familiar such as the large cranes in stage 1 and the minigun-wielding first boss. The enemy's explosions spiral around when destroying some of the heavier weapons/scenery and thin, seemingly camouflaged enemy bullets are scattered around the play area in comparable patterns. More subtle references include the HUD layout which lists the name of the current stage at the top of the screen and, when starting a stage, tells users the title of the background music that is playing.
A notable feature of Ibara is the inclusion of a variable, real-time difficulty system by way of the Rank system. The player's rank increases as they acquire more items and cause more damage, increasing the difficulty of the game along with it. The number of enemies doesn't increase but the number of bullets fired towards the user does, often reaching a ridiculous level of bullet density. There are ways of lowering this rank system if the odds appear too much. The only known way of decreasing your Rank in Ibara is to die. The more lives you have, the less the rank decreases when you die. In the later version, Ibara Kuro: Black Label, Rank can be decreased by cancelling bullets with a bomb, however Rank also increases much faster in this version, potentially increasing from minimum to maximum in a matter of seconds.
Ibara Kuro: Black Label
To remedy some of the concerns fans had with the original version of the game, Cave released an updated version in limited distribution in the first half of 2006. Black Label contains many additions, some of which appeared earlier in the released PlayStation 2 port in the form of Arrange Mode. This version differs from the original version of Ibara in that any sub-weapon additions acquired will be stored (instead of replaced), allowing for real-time switching between any available weapon. Each sub-weapon can be fired in one of five different targeting modes: Normal, Back, Wide, Rolling, and Search. The sub-weapons available are:
Players could now also freely choose which character to play as. In the original version, player one always played as the character Bond while player two was always Dyne. Each character has four different ship types to choose from, giving a total of eight different playable ship configurations. Each type has varying differences in speed, main weapon type, and bomb type.
The updated game added to the amount of enemy bullets that were fired at the player, but gave the player the ability to hold down the shot button instantly changing the shot into a focused stream of power (to the detriment of your plane's movement speed), much like the laser in the Donpachi series, thus bringing the title more in line with other bullet hell shooters.
A useful addition to Black Label is the inclusion of an on-screen meter to display just where the player's Rank currently resides. This was an unknown quantity in the previous release and made playing with the aim of achieving a top score more difficult as there was no definite way of telling whether your rank was being raised or lowered. Along similar lines, bosses were given their own visible life bars to aid the player and to add a more tangible feeling to their impending defeat.
An important addition to the PlayStation 2 arrange mode was more visible enemy bullets. A defining feature of the original Ibara was 'stealthy' enemy bullets that seemed purposely designed to be harder to see than is customary in bullet hell. The PS2 version allowed players to change the colouring of the enemy bullets to aid visibility or opt for the original arcade style.
A sequel, Pink Sweets – Ibara Sorekara using Cave's 3rd generation hardware, was released in the arcades on April 21st, 2006.