Oh the glory days of the 16-bit era. Mario and Sonic were battling it out for gaming mascot supremacy while both the Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega Drive (or Sega Genesis, to my American friends) were churning out classic games left, right and centre. One genre where the Mega Drive fared slightly better than the SNES was the side-scrolling beat-’em-up, with games like the Streets Of Rage series refining the genre and becoming beloved classics.
Within the recent resurgence of games breathing life into these thought to be obsolete consoles, a new beat-’em-up arrived in the form of Coffee Crisis.
Developed by Mad Cat Studios, and originally released for the Mega Drive back in February 2017, Coffee Crisis sees Pittsburgh being invaded by aliens named smurgliens who are here for 4 of Earth’s most vital commodities; cat videos, metal music, free WiFi and, perhaps most importantly, coffee!
Players take control of a barista from Black Forge Coffee (a real life coffee shop), Nick or Ashley, as they fight their way through the streets of Pittsburgh in an attempt to stop the invasion once and for all.
Respectively armed with a bag of coffee beans and a coffee pot, Nick and Ashley each have their own simple attack combos, the ability to grab weapons from the floor and a more powerful attack that can only be used a limited number of times during a fight.
Powerups are also scattered round the levels upon defeating enemies and destroying scenery such as trash cans. These have different effects to aid players such as temporary invincibility and a damage multiplier, and are pretty much par for the course in the genre.
Graphically, Coffee Crisis is pretty faithful to the style of the 16-bit era, with plenty of colourful enemies, pixel art depictions of real life Pittsburgh locations and blocky powerups to get through.
While it is fun to revisit the past with this visual style, the dedication to keeping the graphics as authentic as possible also serves as a considerable drawback to the game. The levels lack detail, and there’s never enough enemies on screen to justify the amount of open space that’s used (and when there is, there’s little variation between which enemies you’ll be fighting).
The game’s soundtrack fits the story reasonably well, with Unearth-esque guitars and chugging djent style riffs blaring out during certain powerups, but is somewhat jarring to hear high definition metal tracks over a purposely retro game like this. Instead of adding to the atmosphere of the levels, it often feels like you’re playing the game with Spotify on in the background.
At the very least, Coffee Crisis would benefit from a CRT monitor filter (or something along those lines) to mask some of the graphical setbacks in the game and add an extra layer of authenticity to the experience, but it currently offers nothing close.
Playing through Coffee Crisis quickly becomes frustrating, as the game has a massively steep difficulty curve, even on the easiest difficulty setting. A few hits from the most simple enemy will see you lose considerable amounts of health at a totally unfair rate, and the enemy hitboxes are so small, you have to practically jump into a huge crowd of baddies just to get some low level offense in. This also renders weapons, one of the most fun parts of the genre, somewhat pointless too, as swinging away at enemies doesn’t seem to do much unless you’re within point blank range of the aliens you’re trying to attack.
Playing the game in local co-op mode with a friend does seem to hold back some of the more difficult challenges, but as a single player title, this gets really old really fast.
That’s not to say that the difficulty is all bad though, as players looking for a real challenge can attempt “Death Metal” mode, which ramps up the difficulty sky-high and throws in some random game modifiers to spice up the gameplay with some humorous results. Ranging from making your chosen character temporarily unstoppable to bombarding you with waves of alien-controlled old people, I could see this becoming a popular title for streamers to showcase some really funny stuff, but as it stands, it falls a bit short.
The game does retain quite a silly, tongue in cheek sense of humour throughout, as is displayed in the minigame that can be unlocked with a specific powerup. A throwback to button bashing “test your might” games in Mortal Kombat, this minigame requires you to mash the A button as fast as you can in order to keep your coffee drinking gauge in the green, and getting 700 points gains you a much needed extra life. Challenging, but still fun.
Overall, Coffee Crisis is an underwhelming throwback to a bygone era of 16-bit side-scrolling beat-’em-ups. While the game’s silly story and character design evoke fond memories of the Sega Mega Drive days, the gameplay and difficulty holds Coffee Crisis back from being a potentially red hot, rejuvenating experience, but instead feels like a lukewarm ROM for a slightly disappointing half-remembered title from yesteryear.
- True to the style of Sega Mega Drive side-scrolling beat-’em-ups.
- Co-op mode is more fun to play.
- Death Metal mode adds some fun mods to change gameplay up.
- The “test your might” style button bashing minigame is a nice touch.
- Even at its easiest, the difficulty is frustratingly unfair.
- The level designs often lack detail and action.
- The hi-def metal soundtrack doesn’t quite match up with the retro 16-bit visuals.
A review copy was kindly provided by the developer for this review.