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Coffee Crisis

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, Xbox One
Genre: Action
Publisher: Qubic Games
Developer: Mega Cat Studios
Release Date: Nov. 30, 2018


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Switch Review - 'Coffee Crisis'

by Cody Medellin on March 15, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Coffee Crisis is an arcade-style beat 'em up that pays homage to the nineties era of classic arcade and 16-bit brawlers.

Once a staple of the 8- and 16-bit eras, the beat-'em-up has been making a comeback in the last few years thanks to indie studios and major publishers deciding to bring back their old games via compilations. On paper, it seems like an easy genre to tackle, but to get things right, the games require a delicate understanding of what makes the genre appealing. Combat, controls and enemy flow are just a few things that beat-'em-up fans can immediately point to when it comes to good beat-'em-ups, and getting any of these wrong can spell doom for the title. Coffee Crisis looks to get those things right but ends up doing lots of things wrong instead.

While the story aspect in a beat-'em-up is merely there as window dressing, at least the tales told before have some consistency. It starts off with the revelation that aliens have come to Earth to steal our Wi-Fi and replace it with their own. That soon spirals into them stealing our heavy metal music and coffee, which inexplicably, leads to the aliens kidnapping a country music star. Stealing retro games becomes a thing before circling back to stealing the essence of heavy metal musicians instead. It's a completely random game story-wise, but at least you have the option to skip all of the cut scenes.

That sense of randomness also comes through in the characters. Both of the heroes you can choose from are baristas: one uses a bag of coffee beans as his weapon, and the other uses a coffee pot as her weapon of choice. Your guru is a man with a bad suit and a tin foil hat. Your enemies include aliens with guns, aliens in wheelchairs, cowgirls with lassos, senior citizens, and standard frat bros, just to name a few. It's all weird, but it works if you completely turn off your brain and don't ask what's going on.

For the most part, the combat mechanics are what you'd expect from any beat-'em-up. You have one attack button that can bust out a number of combos if you simply mash on it. There's one button dedicated to grabs, which is perfect for singling out enemies and picking up weapons without accidentally juggling through the selection. You can charge up your attacks to deliver better hits, and you have a super attack that hits much harder but at the cost of some of your health.

Aside from the fact that both of the combatants are baristas by trade, Coffee Crisis does a few things differently from other brawlers. The first is that your power-ups are randomized. The assortment is fairly basic, including health pick-ups, points, and extra lives. Without any consistency about when each would appear and where, the stages can feel roguelike in nature. Co-op play is interesting in that each fighter may have his or her own life meter, but they both share a pool of lives. Unless both players are evenly matched, there's a good chance that you can find yourself in a one-and-done situation because your partner died so many times and drained the life pool in the process.

This sounds like Coffee Crisis could be a decent brawler, but there are some things that don't work too well. Paramount among them is the combat system, which lacks all sorts of feedback. There's barely any indication that you're doing any real damage to enemies; they barely flinch while taking some of your attacks, often breaking up your combo by attacking normally themselves. That's very problematic, since enemies tend to gang up on you and unleash attack after attack. Almost every hit you take is a knockdown, so that's the only way you know you've gotten pummeled by a projectile or a cane. Returning to the fight after a death is also problematic, since you have no idea where you spawn until you actually catch the player indicator flying in another direction. It all devolves into button-mashing and hoping for the best because you never feel like you have any real agency over the fights.

With the combat being lackluster, every other flaw is amplified. The difficulty ramp during the middle of the game is so high that you'll be dependent on good power-up drops to make it through — unless you're willing to drop the difficulty level down to easy. Even though there are always indicators above your character, it's very easy to lose track of where you are when everyone is crowding you. The delay between enemies beaming down and when they can actually be hit is just enough that you'll whiff on your charged-up attacks almost all of the time. You also have modifiers that do a good job of changing up the screen via power-ups, from displaying everything in line art to emulating a CRT monitor for shorts bursts, but the fact that the modifier option is on by default can be a major annoyance since most people just want to play the game straight before spicing things up with wacky filters that make it tougher to play.

At least the presentation is excellent. The soundtrack is pure metal, with loads of drum and electric guitar wailing away at just about every opportunity. Whether it's level music or special tunes that play when picking up a power-up, every tune sounds absolutely perfect to the point where you can't believe that this was possible on an original Sega Genesis, the game's original platform. Graphically, the title has quite a number of extra flourishes, like an improved lighting system, but even with that turned off, Coffee Crisis perfectly captures some of the better-looking Genesis games in the library. Smooth character animations during attacks and the ability to handle multiple characters on-screen without slowdown make for a perfect complement to the well-done sprite work for both major and minor characters.

In the end, Coffee Crisis is a game that weakly tries to inject some roguelike qualities into a less-than-average brawler. The lack of combat feedback makes this more of a chore to play, even when playing in local co-op. The modifications are more annoying than enjoyable, and the fact that it's on by default is baffling since the options are more enjoyable after you've beaten the game. The overall presentation looks nice, but with such a steep difficulty curve during the game's middle segment, few people will find enjoyment in having baristas pummel an unrelated menagerie of characters for too long. With so many other beat-'em-ups on the system, Coffee Crisis will be a title that you'll check out after exhausting the other options.

Score: 5.5/10

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