Isbarah is an unforgiving bullet hell platformer

1000 bullets when all you need is a gun

I often browse the Steam store for new releases that could be interesting, and was excited when I read Isbarah‘s description as a bullet hell platformer. I love bullet hell games and have played basically everything that CAVE have released to completion, so when presented with a new take on the genre I jumped at the chance. 

Isbarah has a great art style, an okay rock soundtrack, and interesting characters, but the mixing of the bullet hell and platformer just doesn’t do it for me, and the writing is just plain bad. Isbarah is hard, so much so that calling it “hard” is a huge understatement. Some games are designed to be difficult, others take chances on design that just don’t work; this is one of those games.

Every level of the game is a boss fight split into up to three sections. The first section is typically traversing the level surrounded by mostly stationary bullets, the second is dashing into turrets and following them as they move about and charge, and the final section is staying inside a giant circle while dodging bullets until the boss can be damaged with a dodge attack. Do this three times and the level is complete.

Levels are traversed via jumps, air dodges, and the ability to draw short platforms that can be used for blocking bullets. The mechanics sound like they should work, but later in the game there are bullets that can pass through the platforms making them mostly useless, and dealing with gravity really limits movement in comparison to most bullet hells. It also doesn’t help that the bullet patterns and AI are seemingly random, not taking into consideration other on screen bullets, often leading to cheap unavoidable deaths. I had planned on reviewing the game but after being stuck on the same level for four of the eleven hours I’d played the game, I gave up.

Bullet hells work because you can move about the screen freely and bullets have a very specific pattern, and you don’t have to worry about things like gravity. Creating a bullet hell platformer was a sound recipe on paper, but Isbarah just left a bad taste in my mouth.

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Jed Whitaker
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