Cola may not be healthy but it sure is delicious! So what do you do when aliens drain the world’s cola reserves, leaving only diet behind? If your answer is embark on a wild rampage of destruction full of bullets, bombs, and blasting beats, Soda Crisis from Team Soda and bilibili might be just the thing to satisfy your thirst.
Fizzy Frenetic Fun
Rather than start with a tutorial, Soda Crisis drops you straight into the fray armed to the teeth with automatic weaponry. After blasting and slicing your way through a brief level, you find out this was a training simulation and your character is some kind of lab experiment. The head scientist fails to hand over the cola he promised for completing the training, so you break out of the lab in a section that serves as an in-depth tutorial that grants starter equipment and introduces you to the weapon and character modification mechanics. After bringing the lab head to his knees, you decide to team up against the real enemy and get back the stolen cola.
Soda Crisis is at its core a 2D sidescrolling shooter, but one that emphasizes movement and timing. In addition to your weaponry, you have a grappling hook, the ability to climb walls, and a sliding dodge that grants brief invincibility. Levels require you either to defeat your foes or reach an objective, and while you can plod and potshot your way through, Soda Crisis is at its best when you’re in constant motion. The level design encourages this with vertical branching, environmental hazards, and incentives to dive behind enemy lines, for example, to take out a shield generator and soften your remaining targets. Similarly, many enemies have targeting reticules that slowly converge on you and if you’re quick enough you can destroy them before they get a shot off.
At times, Soda Crisis even feels like a runner. Obstacles test your timing, ability to quickly process information, and of course your trigger finger. You don’t die in one hit, but neither you nor non-boss enemies are particularly durable, so dodging is imperative. Things are nicely balanced to be difficult without becoming punishing, and though death is common, the design accounts for this with frequent checkpoints and quick respawns. As a result, Soda Crisis does an excellent job capturing the qualities that make arcade games fun. The fast-paced action keeps you on the edge of your seat and levels break things up into bite-sized engagements that end quickly and decisively, all the while rewarding skillful play with a satisfying dose of destruction.
Flavors of Bubbly Bedlam
While Soda Crisis’s gameplay is simple, customization provides enough variety to keep things fresh through the 4-hour campaign. You’ll unlock an assortment of guns and gear that let you change your playstyle, limited by an available energy pool that expands when you find batteries. I most enjoyed going spray and pray with fully automatic weapons, but other loadouts can focus on accuracy, timing short bursts of massive damage between reloads, or melee attacks. You can also gear up Doomie, a robot companion who follows you around. Most of Doomie’s abilities trigger during what Soda Crisis calls “counter time”, meaning just after you dodge an enemy attack. I thought this mechanic could have been explained more clearly, as it wasn’t immediately obvious to me how it worked.
Soda Crisis also mixes things up with the occasional boss fight. Bosses hit hard and have staying power, so they challenge your ability to play defense more than regular enemies, who you can often kill before they attack if you’re on point. Some boss stages include unique mechanics. My favorite was a boss stage that forced me to go melee and fight while dashing through constantly shifting terrain. Bosses also give you a chance to try out some of your more situational abilities. For example, shooting three bullets in a spread is highly effective against huge bosses with more targets to hit. And while bosses are challenging, it’s an exciting and fair challenge. No cheap shots or bullet sponges here.
Art, Sound, and Extras
Soda Crisis uses a cartoonish 3D art style that meshes nicely with its silly concept and lighthearted mayhem. Models and textures are pleasantly polished, and more importantly, convey the information you need. The action can get crazy, and Soda Crisis smartly sticks to neutral colors for the background while using bright reds, yellows, and blues to make characters and projectiles pop. Likewise, the backgrounds have enough detail to set the scene but aren’t so busy they become distracting. It’s always possible to read the action at a glance, which you’ll need to do to survive the chaos.
Your run-and-gun rampages are set to pounding electronic beats, exactly the kind of music I want to get my blood pumping for the action. A few brief cutscenes punctuate the level breaks, but they don’t overstay their welcome, and the story is tongue-in-cheek anyway so there’s little harm in skipping them if you want to get back to shooting stuff. There is occasionally Chinese text in the cutscenes that isn’t translated, for example on billboards or screens, but I never felt I was missing anything important, and all the game text and subtitles read fine in English.
While Soda Crisis is primarily a linear campaign, you can find the occasional secret by venturing off the beaten path. Usually you’ll find a piece of equipment or some extra currency for the shop that appears every few levels. I didn’t spend much time looking because I felt it sapped my momentum, but there are rewards for those more inclined to explore. There’s also a bit of post-game content in the form of an extra level that sees you armed with an umbrella and a speedrun mode. I don’t know that I’ll revisit Soda Crisis after finishing, but once through the campaign is sufficient bang for your buck.
Soda Crisis serves up a sugary, refreshing can of good old arcade-style fun. Whether you’re in cola withdraw rage or just want to blast baddies and cause chaos, Soda Crisis goes down sweet and satisfying.
SODA CRISIS IS RECOMMENDED
Many thanks go to Bilibili for a PC review code for this title.
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A veteran of Oregon Trail and Battletoads, Wes has been playing and talking about games for as long as he can remember. He’s down to try almost anything, and he especially enjoys games with gripping narrative experiences.