Isbarah
Gameplay 10
Graphics 9
Sound 9

Isbarah is not a game to approach if you are looking for an easy challenge or rewards that you don’t have to work hard to earn. The game requires quick reflexes, plenty of practice and a lot of dedication to master. It is definitely rewarding though, and taking down bosses many times your own size while they are covering the screen in projectiles is quite a rush. It is not for the faint of heart, but if you are up for the challenge you simply must try out the game.

Gameplay: The blend of platforming and bullet hell works brilliantly.

Graphics: Beautiful 2D art with excellent character designs.

Audio: Adrenaline pumping tunes.

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Isbarah

Developer: Leikir Studio | Publisher: Neko Entertainment | Release Date: 2015 | Genre: Action / Indie | Website: Official Website | Format: Digital Download

As a big fan of platform titles with “run and gun” elements, such as Alien Solider and Gunstar Heroes from the 16-bit era I was delighted to discover Isbarah. While the platform genre has experienced a resurgence in recent years, the focus seems to have shifted to more puzzle based experiences. Many platformers also cater to more casual players, which is fine, but titles in this genre that manage to get the adrenaline flowing has been few and far between. However, this has all changed with the release of Isbarah, which is a “take no prisoners” action platformer that has been injected with a healthy dose of bullet hell.

Isbarah is set in a universe that was born from the fantasies of human dreams and nightmares. Basically anything humans can imagine can exist in this world and it is presided by a god who rules with an iron fist. The game places you in control of Iria, the daughter of this god. Not everything in this world agrees with the order that the god is trying to impose on them and shortly after Iria is taught how to use her powers she is sent into the fray to impose her fathers will. The story is played out via comic book style panels and follows the adventures of Iria as she sets out to prevent the world from being plunged into chaos by dark forces. It is a rather neat story and offers the perfect excuse for the creative cast of characters that you encounter along the way. Depending on how well you do, you can even unlock extra story snippets which fleshes the setting and characters out a bit more.

Where Isbarah absolutely shines though is the gameplay. The game manages to successfully merge platforming and bullet hell elements to create one addictively intense experience. Levels consist entirely of boss fights where most of Iria’s foes tower over her. Iria also cannot attack her foes directly, but during the first phase of the battle must use her dash ability to power up nearby railguns. She then has to stay within the active range of the railgun as it travels around the screen powering up until it is able to deliver a severe blow to the boss’s shield. Once this is accomplished with all three rail guns the battle shifts into its second phase. Here Iria simply has to avoid the hundreds of projectiles spewing in her direction while staying within an indicated spherical area. The goal is to survive long enough inside the sphere to power up your own attack. Depending on the difficulty setting and boss you are facing, you will have to go through these two phases at least two or three times before you can claim victory. Oh and did I mention that it only takes three hits to kill you and you have a single continue at your disposal?

Isbarah is without a doubt one challenging game, especially compared to the quick-time event laden casual titles currently on the market. There is no “press E to escape impending doom” in this game, if you want to survive it is going to require skill and practice. It is only through carefully studying boss patterns that you will even have a shot at survival and the odds of defeating a boss on the first try is very small. Although the bosses are able to fill the screen with projectiles, flames, thunderbolts and much more, Iria is not completely defenseless.

One of the first skills that you must learn to master is her dash ability. By holding down the right mouse button a straight line is projected out from Iria’s position indicating the direction and distance she can dash. Let go of the button and she will perform the dash. This skill is essential for survival, but it doesn’t allow you to go through projectiles, so you will need to dash with precision. Next up is the slow motion ability, which slows down the normally frantic pace of the game to a more manageable crawl for a few seconds. You really have to make every second count though, as you don’t have much time before the meter is depleted. Last, but not least is the ability to create a barrier that can act as either a shield or a platform for Iria to stand on. The barrier only lasts for a few seconds and whatever it blocks is not dissipated only temporarily stopped, but it is another essential skill to master.

Iria’s abilities are incredibly useful, but you will have to learn how to master them and not abuse them. Relying on slow motion or barriers for everything the bosses’ throws at you will soon leave the powers depleted and Iria defenseless. The powers slowly recharge, but it is better to save these abilities for when you really need them instead of spamming them and ending up like a sitting duck when they run out. Although you repeat the same formula of powering up railguns and dodging bullets throughout the game, the sheer variety when it comes to bosses keeps things interesting. None of them have the same attack patterns, size or level layout which means each encounter requires new tactics. You’ll also find that sometimes you have to use your powers in creative ways. One memorable fight features a giant bird creature with an attack that can literally blow you off the platforms and to your doom below. An efficient way to prevent this from happening is to place your barrier behind you instead of in front of you to prevent you from sliding off the platform. In total there are 18 fights, but the three difficulty settings and extra challenges you can open up will keep you coming back for more.

The excellent gameplay in Isbarah is backed up nicely by some superlative 2D art as well. Because of the imaginative setting of the game, it has freed up the artists to come up with some brilliant character designs. I found myself looking forward to each boss fight not only because of the challenge involved, but also just to check out how they look. The game uses vivid colors and some beautiful backgrounds, but you can also enable an option to darken the backgrounds which make bullets more visible.

The audio is just as good and although there isn’t any speech the fast paced tunes are a perfect match for the frantic speed of the game. In a game such as this where you will more than likely face off against certain foes again and again, it is vital that the background music never becomes annoying. The tunes definitely got my adrenaline flowing and enhanced the atmosphere of the game. Isbarah can only be played with a mouse and keyboard, which might come as a surprise to platformer purists, but honestly it is the best choice. I play every platformer we review using a controller, but because of the bullet hell aspects of Isbarah it would be much harder with a controller. The size and volume of projectiles along with the precision required for the dash move definitely makes the mouse controls essential. You can remap the controls to your liking, but I suggest you follow the advice that the game gives you and take regular breaks or else you will end up with finger cramps.

There is very little that I can fault about Isbarah, although the challenge might put some players off. The game only offers “Normal,” “Hard” and “7th Hell” difficulty settings and even on normal you have your work cut out for you. Higher difficulty settings require extra rounds against the bosses and make them angrier, which increase the challenge dramatically. Thankfully, like most bullet hell games, your character has a very small hitbox and you can actually “graze” bullets without taking damage. It still takes plenty of practice to master the dashing and barrier skills, but it is worth it for the satisfaction of taking down a huge boss.

If you enjoy challenging platformers and intense boss fights that require more from you than just hammering a couple of QTE keys then grab Isbarah immediately. It will definitely be a test of your skills and requires time as well as dedication to master. Everything from the visuals and audio to the slick gameplay is superb and it is easily one of our favorite titles thus far for the year.

System Requirements

  • OS: Windows Vista / 7 / 8 / 8.1
  • Processor: 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent
  • Memory: 2 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT or equivalent
  • Hard Drive: 3500 MB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX 9 Compatible Audio
  • Additional Notes: Minimum Resolution: 1280 x 720
  • OS: Windows Vista / 7 / 8 / 8.1
  • Processor: 3.3 GHz Intel Core i5 or equivalent
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 8600 GT or equivalent
  • Hard Drive: 3500 MB available space
  • Sound Card: DirectX 9 Compatible Audio
  • Additional Notes: Minimum Resolution: 1280 x 720

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4 Comments

  1. Britman February 27, 2015
    Reply

    Wow

  2. Krull February 27, 2015
    Reply

    I don’t subscribe to the whole a game must be difficult to be good school of thought, but this does look like it could be a lot of fun. Thanks for covering all of these obscure indiegames.

  3. HMustache February 27, 2015
    Reply

    Never heard of these devs but holy shit this game looks amazing.

  4. Marine750y February 27, 2015
    Reply

    Is this anything like Rain Blood Chronicles? Loved that game.

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