Review: Kokuga (3DS eShop)

Kokuga is a rare breed of game that finds itself treading new water in its respective genre, yet paying complete homage to the classic titles that it derived inspiration from.  It's got a lot going for it, and is now a part of Hiroshi Iuchi's cherished legacy, sitting beside such titles as Radiant Silvergun, Gunstar Heroes, and Ikaruga.  And while I found myself enjoying Kokuga for its old-school, tough-as-nails difficulty, I found that there were a few weaknesses in this tank's defenses that might bring it to a halt for some.

Kokuga is a top-down arcade shooter in which you control the titular omnidirectional tank in a series of battle simulations during times of war.  It seems that countries "A" and "I" are in conflict, and it's your job to train yourself to ensure that you are up to the task of joining in the battle.  The story doesn't manifest itself much beyond the initial demo screen if you hesitate in hitting the "start" button, so you can jump right into Kokuga without the background info if you so choose.  After all, arcade shooters aren't necessarily remembered for their narratives.  This isn't a side-scrolling shooter, so you are free to move around the battlefield as you wish, seeking out protection from enemies, and appropriate vantage points to shoot from.

Players are able to access a set of 20 cards that allow for short-bursts of varying special attacks and health power-ups.  When a card is expended by selecting it via the touch screen, a new card takes its place at random.  This adds a deeper sense of strategy to the game, as you will be consistently asked to make the best of a situation depending on what cards you are dealt.  The cards never change however, and there aren’t any opportunities to expand the deck.  Fortunately, the stages in Kokuga are brief enough to where this isn’t much of an issue.  I can’t recall a stage in which I used all 20 cards unless I was trying to go for higher scores, or if I was playing on a harder difficulty.

Speaking of difficulty, Kokuga is downright brutal.  You’ll find yourself completely immersed in the experience at times, and surrounded by a multitude of enemies, with only your coordination and recognition of the surroundings to serve you, and if you aren’t paying attention at all times, you’ll surely fail.  This is as old-school as it gets folks.  There is relief in the form of co-op play, that you can engage in via local or download play with three other friends.  Four-player sessions of Kokuga are a blast, and coordinating your card attacks with others makes for some very satisfying gameplay.

Where Kokuga falls short however, lies in its control scheme and level design.  I had a difficult time initially controlling my tank with the circle pad, rotating the turret with the L and R buttons, and using the B button to fire simultaneously, and while I acclimated after a certain point, I couldn’t help but feel that it took a bit too long to find a comfortable stride.  A cumbersome control scheme isn’t necessarily a deal breaker per se, as my experience with Kid Icarus: Uprising comes to mind, but when it’s coupled with rather bland, and repetitive level design, it becomes more of a concern.

Kokuga features two distinct level layouts:  grid-based “training simulations”, and “final levels” that are meant to act as real-time combat scenarios, taking place in an urban setting.  This is a direct reflection on your experience as a player, as you can’t participate in the final levels until you’ve cleared enough of the initial training stages.  What’s upsetting here, is that when you’ve played one level of each, you’ve essentially viewed all that Kokuga has to offer.  There may be variation in the enemies present and obstacles found therein, but that’s as much diversity as you’re going to get.  The 3D effect is rather nice however, as shards of enemy ships will fly at you off the screen upon their destruction.  

In conclusion, Kokuga isn't going to be for everyone.  Fans of arcade shooters from years gone by will have a lot of fun here, assuming that they can accept and adjust to the awkward control scheme.  Others may find its unforgiving difficulty a bit off-putting.  

7/10 - Kokuga isn't an essential eShop purchase, but those seeking out a worthy challenge would benefit from having it in their collection.

Review copy provided by G.Rev

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