Hiroshi Iuchi’s career has been a wandering one: he began at Konami, moved to treasure, left treasure for another company, and then came back to Treasure only to leave again. At treasure he created Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga to shumps aka shooters that received intense critical praise and one of which will be heading to steam in a few weeks. Both games shared unique mechanics Radiant Silvergun equips the player with 3 different types of shots that can be combined to create new iterations on existing weapons. Using them effectively is the challenge. Ikaruga on the other had let the player flip between black or white eliminating damage from projectiles of the matching coloring. Each game is also littered with boss fights, some more intense than the last. That’s what makes his latest game Kokuga such a surprise.
Kokuga is a mobile tank shump. It takes place in a much slower place than Radiant Silvergun did. Shots fired in Kokuga have a limited range, luckily your tank’s fire goes much further than your enemies. What Kokuga emphasizes is precision: you can not shoot another shot until your shot has landed. The result is a lot of strafing if you’re not really precise. Aiming is handled by the right and left bumpers making rotating your barrel a bit of a chore. This also sounds bad, but it’s really quite refreshing. Kokuga wants us to think ahead, we have to plan and predict where the next is going to be and then move in for the kill. It takes Iuchi’s previous experiments with strategy and boils it down to minute movements and small predictions. Kokuga manages to make a shooter feel very tactical. This tactical sense is further enforced by the addition of cards. The tank can be temporarily upgraded using a card from the touch screen. Some enemies are more easily dispatched this way, and others practically require an upgrade to take down. The upgrades are limited, but not so much that you run out. However you can only see 3 at a time so if you need a shield regeneration effect, you might need to burn a few before you find a heal. It borrows the card idea from board games at puts it to great effect in a shooter.
Graphically Kokuga is sparse. The polygons are simple and developer G.Rev is known for their shoe string budges and financial difficulties. However, the sparseness of the backgrounds and unit design means you see each shot coming. This is not a shump with overwhelming backdrops. The level design is peculiar to, the game offers 4 endings that can be experienced after beating only a handful of VR missions. The last missions are tough and take place in a warzone while the VR missions are more like a computer training ground.
What I love about Kokuga is the obvious sense of design that went into this. It asks that you create constraints on your play time and lets you go straight to the end. It also feels remarkably tactical while maintaining the real time stress of a typical shooter. It shows what we also kinda new about Iuchi: that he plans his games out. Kokuga is an amazing documents for anyone looking to further their understanding of game design.