Kova preview: side-scrolling gunplay in a living painting

A fifteen-minute pre-alpha demo of Black Hive’s upcoming side-scrolling action RPG Kova is enough to make me very excited about the full game. The first thing that hit me was the beauty of the world, as my character woke up from a crash landing on deserted, icy planet. With it’s painterly finish and distinctive colours, it almost looked like a piece of concept art; the swaying trees and falling snow were the only giveaway that this was, in fact, a level in a game.

Kova is currently in the final stretch of its Kickstarter campaign. If you like what you see, consider backing it – I know I have!

Having taken a moment to absorb the vision, I set about to explore and find a way to repair my spaceship. First, I’d need to find some carbon to repair my damaged life support systems – luckily, there were some carbon deposits nearby, and my gun was working just fine. I took fire at the rocks, used the carbon harvest to fix up my gear, and in so doing I got a taste of of some of the key things that should set Kova apart.

It’s a Metroidvania, but with a focus on resource management and survival. In this early stage of the game, carbon was plentiful so life support wasn’t too much of an issue, but titanium – needed for crafting ammo – was a lot rarer. I had to be careful about how I used my gun, and opted to avoid confrontation as much as possible I jumped and double jumped over strange crawling aliens, preserving my supplies for the challenges ahead. An unavoidable encounter with a hardy sentry robot made that seem like a wise choice.

When fighting couldn’t be avoided, I was grateful for Kova’s smooth shooting controls. I tend to hate games with aiming systems tied to analog sticks, because I find them to be imprecise and frustrating, but I didn’t have any such problems here. I pointed and shot, hitting what I intended to hit, without having to fight against overly twitchy (or not twitchy enough!) controls. Admittedly, the enemies in the demo were all big and slow-moving, but I didn’t feel like I was fighting against the controls to get my bullets to go where I wanted them to.

Controlling Kova was a bit more tricky. Despite a double jump, she lacked maneuverability, and her running and jumping felt sluggish. In this early part of the game, it wasn’t much of an issue because there wasn’t any need for precision platforming, but if the later sections of the game get more challenging, the controls as they stand now might cause more frustration than they should.

In one section of the demo, a vertical cavern with ledges on that you can jump between to climb up, I found myself getting stuck on the edges, and having to be very careful about where I jumped so that I got a clean landing instead of just bumping into a wall and falling to the platform below. No jump took more than two or three attempts, but that was still too much for what is, design-wise, a really easy platforming puzzle. Here’s hoping the final game is able to tighten those controls up.

Still, I fought past that and carried on because I was so taken in by the game’s beautiful art and mysterious (albeit familiar) stranded mercenary premise. I’m very eagerly looking forward to what the full game has to offer: RPG systems, different planets, ability upgrades, quests, towns, crafting, and – hopefully – a compelling story to tie that all together. Kova is still in its early stages of development, but what I’ve seen and played makes me very excited indeed.

Kova is being developed by Black Hive Media. It’s due out for PC in 2017, with other platforms TBA.

A short pre-alpha demo was supplied by Black Hive Media for this preview.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.