When the Japanese technology and design company Qute Corporation released the WonderWitch game development kit a little over two decades ago, the team likely never guessed it would set them on a path to become one of the defining boutique studios of the modern shooting game form.
Qute may not court the attention from the mainstream that genre heavyweights Cave and Treasure so capably attract, but its creations are celebrated by genre devotees, and include some very sought after shmup collectibles. Yet behind all their cult status, Qute’s library of releases remain relatively accessible in terms of their game and scoring systems, and are increasingly more available in the West. In fact, the team are still at it, having just taken their latest title Natsuki Chronicles to the PlayStation 4 and PC on these shores. It presents a remarkable, energetic horizontal shooter that is both a prequel and sequel to Qute’s earlier game Ginga Force – and its story really begins at a fateful game development contest hosted back when bullet hell was increasingly asserting dominance over the wider genre.
Like so many boutique or cult shooting game developers – including Triangle Service, Success, G.Rev, Moss and Milestone – Qute has shown that in a genre that is arguably constrained by its own conventions, there remains ample room for the distinct. Compared to Cave’s mesmerising intersecting bullet patterns, or Treasure’s grand, atmospheric shmup operas, Qute’s works have a rather different tone. While far from truly minimalist mechanically and aesthetically, they are to-the-point and pacey; uncluttered purebred shooters with understated charisma and a knack for the exhilarating. To enjoy a Qute release is to teeter on the boundary between attacking and defensive play, juggling those priorities as a delicate seasoning of random enemy placements nudge you away from complacency. Put simply, they are very good shooting games, if not entirely conventional.