There have been plenty of times where my eyes couldn’t keep up with the action on screen, and the modifiers I had turned on were making no sense; were they helping or hindering? When I was mobbed at one of the many choke points the game includes, I could rarely see my character, and those health pickups I had been tactically leaving on the ground until they were needed seemed to disappear far too quickly.
Still, this was a game that combined coffee, heavy metal and invading aliens – two of these are essential components in my life – so this lack of not really knowing what was going on didn’t really matter, I was still having fun, at least in small espresso sized doses.
By the way, it’s the invading aliens I can do without, the other two are necessities.
Coffee Crisis is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up much like SEGA classics Streets of Rage and Golden Axe. Its SEGA influences extend even further as Coffee Crisis originally released as a Genesis/Mega Drive game in 2017 with a fully working cartridge and chunky box. What a world we live in!
Players control either Nick or Ashley, two baristas that own a coffee shop in Pittsburgh and must take down an invading alien race that want to take our precious coffee and even more precious heavy metal music. They also apparently want cat videos, but I’m happy to let them go. Dogs rule. In real-life, Nick and Ashley own the Black Forge Coffee shop but thankfully, the alien invasion part of this story is fictional. For now, at least.
Nick and Ashley witness the beginning of an alien invasion happening within their store so rightly fight back because what is a world without coffee beans and blast beats? Their journey to keep these righteous and sacred items safe takes them across locations such as their coffee house, old abandoned factories, alien worlds and a metal festival.
The bands featured in the latter are all real-life bands too. Some older, some more recent: Nile, Terrorizer, Lords of the Trident and Psychostick. They certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but their music does not feature in the actual soundtrack so whether you like them or not matters little.
Instead, this is done by local Pittsburgh band, Greywalker. What is on the soundtrack is great sounding metal without vocals, but there just doesn’t appear to be enough – even for a short game – and it just starts to get repetitive. It is broken up occasionally, as each pick-up does have its own jingle for the duration it is active, useful when the action is assaulting your eyes to the point where you cannot see any pickups; at least you can distinguish what you picked up by the riff.
Even some of the locations in Coffee Crisis are inspired by real-world locations in Pittsburgh but for someone who lives on the other side of the Atlantic, this was lost on me until I did some research on the game. Still, it does make me want to visit Pittsburgh though – if only to sample the coffee/metal scene.
Gameplay is largely button-mashing, and largely button-mashing just the one button; there is only one standard attack and your special attack penalises you by taking a bit of health away each time. Personally, I’ve never liked this mechanic… less so in a game where health is at a premium even on lower difficulties.
See, Coffee Crisis is not an easy game. Even on the lowest difficulty there are frequent choke points where the onslaught of enemies can be overwhelming at times. It is in keeping with the story that you are playing as a barista armed with either a coffee pot or a bag of coffee beans, so naturally you won’t be the most powerful, but the hordes of aliens and possessed OAPs can sometimes be a bit too powerful.
If the level prior was somehow not too difficult, chances are you will have banked a few extra lives, making the next encounter far easier. Quit out though with those extra lives and they won’t be there next time you come to play; Coffee Crisis has no save system and instead relies on level passwords, in keeping with its Mega Drive origins. With that in mind, you’ll need to make sure to keep a pen and paper handy at all times.
The game also features two-player local co-op which – if nothing else – helps with the difficulty. This includes a minigame that is unlocked after each stage if you can find the glowing rock in the level that is dropped by enemies. Again, this involves smashing the A button, this time to drink as much coffee in the allotted time as possible, but mash it too much and you go over the threshold, so, like any good headbanger will tell you, it’s important the get a good rhythm going. The winner of the minigame earns points and an all-important extra life.
Hidden away in the options menu are modifiers, and these are what I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, stating I did not know what was going on. These modifiers are designed to both help and hinder progression through the levels, but as to which does what, that is left to you to find out. They tend to come into play at the choke points and a pop-up tells you which one is active, but these pop-ups are either replaced by another too quickly for you to read or are impossible to digest whilst taking down more than 20 enemies at once. Regardless, I could never work out which modifiers were active.
There are 45 achievements in Coffee Crisis, with all bar one worth 22G – the remaining one for defeating the final boss is worth 32G – and after one playthrough I had unlocked 36 of them. Most aren’t too difficult providing you can at least complete the game, but then there are three achievements based on difficulty and completing the game in less than 75 minutes which causes this game to be a very difficult completion for those who are interested in that kind of thing.
If you haven’t already guessed by now, I’m a fan of coffee and metal. To see them featured so prominently in a videogame is alright in my book, and it’s a concept I can really get behind. However, the high difficulty and repetitive button-mashing stops Coffee Crisis from being a game that is really enjoyable. Fans of the beat ‘em up genre from the early ’90s will find something here from a nostalgia point of view, but there isn’t anything new that hasn’t already been done 25 years ago.