I think I should start this review with a confession. Hello, my name is Stian, and I am a cola-holic. This is honestly not untrue. I love caffeine, be it through a cup of hot coffee or any form of cola, to the point that I have had a hard time functioning without either. I am somewhat better now than in my younger days, but that is honestly not saying much. So you might expect me to be excited for this title right? Well, I honestly do not care for the type of cola I drink. It can be Dr.Pepper, Pepsi, or any other form. I honestly could not be bothered as long as it tastes like cola.
So what made me want to check out this title specifically? Purely curiosity and that sweet Coca Cola Game Gear in my favorite color. I sadly could not find much info about the development or promotion of this title, except for that the developers are known for quite the mix of good and bad titles for the Game Gear, be it the forgotten gem Legend of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse, or the rather disappointing Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe.
The problem with sugar-rush and too much caffeine
So I am not well-versed in Japanese, and since I am not even going to try to translate this game, I will go by what the fan-translation says. A man by the name of Mr. Iwayama kidnaps Ms. Sakurako, which is Coca Cola Kid’s, or “Cokey’s” teacher. He hears her scream and decides that she must have been abducted. Thus, he is off to save her. The story is not even trying, with the exception of an off-putting ending. At least, it shows that the story is just there to give you a reason for this coke-addicted kid to go on an adventure.
It is, however, fitting that our young protagonist goes on this journey, as he is quite the versatile character. Cokey can jump, wall-jump, do a charge-attack which combined with a jump makes for a long jump, kick enemies, and hang on platforms. If that was not enough, he can also collect power-ups in the form of a frisbee that replaces his normal kicks and is lost after getting hit, a short-lived invincibility that I never found, and a useless skateboard that serves no purpose other than to make Cokey go faster than he already is, which can easily make you bump into enemies and is also lost after one hit. With this amount of moves, though, it is engaging to think what possibilities Coca Cola Kid offers in level-design.
Well, this is where Coca Cola Kid becomes messy. About 50% of the stages are rather uninteresting in design, despite some fun secrets to be found by exploring the area and enemy-placement that is incorporated well to be more obstacles than combat-focused. You see, the ability you are going to need the most early on is your standard jump and with the first levels being rather straightforward, they are quickly rushed through. The rest are engaging due to using wall-jumps for saving you from bottomless pits, along with some tricky platforms such as conveyor belts or other neat ideas like sliding being needed to accurately avoid stage-hazards.
This could have been enough to make Coca Cola Kid entertaining, as it has some great ideas by combining different platforming-abilities for some fast-paced gameplay, and even some fun exploration for secrets. However, Cokey slips and slides all over the place and while his speed is never an issue thanks to it being well-paced and having more screen space depending on which way he is running, his momentum is off. This can easily get you hit if you are not careful and it feels unfair when it is out of your control. If that was not enough, the hit-detection is severely off and while it never gave me a game over, it did cost me unnecessary health-points or even an extra life.
Luckily, the game is forgiving with secrets rewarding the player with power-ups, health-replenishing cokes, and even extra lives. What you will also want to gather throughout the stages are quarters which can be spent after each bossfight on continues, extensions to your health-bar, or a frisbee, with all being worthwhile investments. I never had to continue on this game, but they function as extra lives, meaning they will start you on the beginning of the stages and, while they have no checkpoints, they are so short they don’t need one. You might be rewarded with more extra lives after a stage is finished with points on how well you did, so you will probably never see the game over screen. There are also 5 bosses to fight against, but these are a joke. Either they can be taken out by simply spamming the kick, or just rudimentary dodge & punish strategies, making them a complete waste.
With 10 stages in total and 5 boss-fights, Coca Cola Kid should not take you longer than 30 minutes to finish and is rather a comfortable title to get through. It has some severe problems and could have used stronger level-designs early on and better hit-detection. Still, there is fun to be had, despite it not being a strong title. It is uneven and has technical problems, but there is also fun to be had, and I think this could be fun for a beginner’s speedrun. It is just a shame that only 50% of the level-design is made with our kid’s moveset in mind, and the rest are just lackluster.
Gameplay Score: 4.5/10
Coke-city is a city alright
Cokey lives in a suburban town and he will travel through a disco-club, downtown, through a park, inside ruins of buildings, and a factory. While there is a decent variety between these locations with Coca Cola’s logo plastered around and being the source of Cokey’s health, there is little else to speak of in terms of creativity. Sure, all enemies fit in, such as disco-balls firing lasers, Japanese boxers in downtown, and there are some fitting constructions, such as telephone boots or signs, making the areas have some fitting decorations. However, besides Cokey and his powers, and some jetpack-flying gunners, there is little to speak of in more abstract creativity with the characters. At least the bosses are entertaining in their designs, with one being based on an old Japanese era and another one that has been too obsessed with operas.
The game is otherwise pleasant to look at with strong color palettes to create shades and Cokey has great animations that complement all of his different abilities. I also do like his look as, while it is rather generic 90s kid setup, the colors fit Coke’s logo and is rather simple in design, which is good for making him memorable. The portraits in the beginning, the end, and after the bossfights of the game, are also of high quality, giving each character a visual identity that is easy to remember them by, due to their strong designs.
Then there is the audio, which utilizes the Game Gear’s audio-chip to a great extent. The soundtrack consists of good tunes for each area you visit, such as the factory having a low-tune and fast-paced track, the park and downtown have their own happy-go-lucky themes that are long and diverse, and the rest follows in the same footsteps, making this worth having good headphones for. The only exceptions are the intro screen and the disco stages, which both have repetitive and short songs that are rather bland. As for the sound-effects, they are high-pitched, but never ear-grating and I love the simple sounds of jumps, attacks, or just getting a coin, as they are psychedelic. My favorite is the pop-sound and bubbles of cola being poured into a glass at the opening. Man, I could go for a cold one.
Presentation Score: 5/10
Coca Cola Kid is a mixed bag that makes it bland overall. There is some potential here with some fixes, as the abilities Cokey has are diverse, the developers show they had some ideas, and the colors and soundtrack are pleasant. However, there are plenty of poor stages, bosses are worthless, and the visuals lack creativity. I think a sip of Coke would have been better. Or just stick with water.