It’s always a strange moment when a new customer shows up at your bar and asks for a recommendation. You get a read of their personality, the sort of food they ordered, then finally ask them their preferences, a question inevitably followed by the old familiar phrase: “I don’t drink much coffee, what would you recommend?”
After offering a few options, they pick one or simply ask you to, and you get to work. There’s a certain mixture of emotional high and terror as you slide the drink across the counter and wait to see if their capricious tastes find it satisfactory. In that second, the only thoughts running through your mind are, inevitably, “Did they like it? Did I mess this one up?”
It’s a feeling unique to tending any kind of bar, whether coffee or liquor, that Toge Production‘s Coffee Talk recreates with vivid authenticity and elegant simplicity.
The demo gives a glimpse into the slice-of-night-life bar dynamics that take place in sleepy Seattle. But there’s a twist in this well-explored setting, presenting a more shadowrun-esque fantasy world with freelancing orcs, graphic designer elves, and fashionable humans living side by side in the world-famous Northwestern American harbor town. After a quick introduction, you’re immediately thrown into a wonderful visual novel experience with light puzzle elements.
The idea of running a late night tea shop or coffee bar is a personal ambition I’ve held for years, drawn by the allure of the ability to dictate your own social repertoire with your customers, a lack of distractions, the tools and time necessary to hone your craft to an exacting degree so you can offer up the best possible experience with a side order of theatrics. It’s just you, the art of mixology, and the worn, weary audience that has come to your bar-stage for a much needed boost of stimulation for both body and mind.
Lights, Steam, Action: you gracefully maneuver from grinder to lever, pitcher to porcelain, all the while making delightful small talk and reaching into your customer’s psyche. It’s part stage actor, part psychiatrist, and part alchemist, but the result is always the compelling elixir of a drink for any occasion. That’s part of what makes Coffee Talk so likable, it zips from situation to situation, fully capturing the sense of what it’s like to actually be the Barista without over-simulating the mundane elements, pouring an overly romantic latte art picture of the experience.
Mechanically straightforward in the demo, you simply mix and match three ingredients then serve it up. It can be more challenging than you think to remember what a customer ordered, especially when you become overly fixated on their charms or learning the inner secrets they offer up unsolicited. Thankfully there’s a conversation log that helps you keep track, a feature many Baristas I’ve known would gladly defenestrate someone to have.
The delightful interplay of gorgeous art, a very “chill beats to study and relax to” soundtrack, and rhythmic social elements provides an incredibly cozy time that will no doubt be even more satisfying in the full release.
Coffee Talk definitely makes me reflect on the fact that so many narrative driven games have started to pop up as of late, a welcome trend given that there’s only so many gaps action games can fill in an audience’s appetite. Games like this increasingly flesh out our library with nuance and different life perspectives from our own.
Why don’t you give it a sip?
Emily Rose is an indie developer who writes for rebind.io and resides in the pacific northwest. She’s often seen in the local VR arcade and developer community participating in pushing the medium’s horizons. You can find her on twitter @caravanmalice