Coffin Dodgers – An amusing premise can't save this cart racer from mediocrity
Reviewed August 03, 2016 on Xbox One
Disclosure: An Xbox One download code was provided by the publisher for this review
Coffin Dodgers is a cart racer in the vein of Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing from UK-based developer Milky Tea Studios. Set in a retirement village, the game's characters drive "pimped-up" mobility scooters which have been armed with a variety of weapons. After the Grim Reaper settles in the village, seven of its residents make a deal with him: if they win a mobility scooter racing tournament, the Grim Reaper will allow them to live.
This tale forms the basis of the game's campaign mode. Though it is very basic - a short scene to open and close the story, with occasional text between races, is the full extent of the narrative - it is fairly amusing and provides a reasonable justification for the rest of the game. It makes the game feel weirdly charming despite the grim overtones (even if the player wins the tournament, the six other competitors are doomed to their fate at the hands of the Grim Reaper). At one point, I was driving around as the Grim Reaper wielding an Uzi; it's difficult to not at least appreciate a game that allows that.
However, the goodwill that Coffin Dodgers has earnt up to now does not overcome the fact that the rest of the game just isn't that good. The game's sense of style is almost entirely undermined by the sound design and a clunky interface. The music initially sounded fine, but as far as I can tell most of the tracks are variants of a single theme. Within just a two or three races, the music starting feeling very repetitive and was borderline obnoxious towards the end of the game. It certainly isn't helped by the fact that there is not much other audio in the game - engine sounds are quiet, there is no voice acting or narration either in or between races, and the weapon sound effects lack impact.
Furthermore, the game's interface is poorly thought out in places, and there are numerous small issues that should have been fixed prior to launch. There is just a general lack of polish, and it seems, at times, that Coffin Dodgers shipped before someone got around to finalising the UI. For instance, there is no way to differentiate between tracks within a setting - they are merely called Track 1/2/3. It's functional, but feels like a placeholder.
The game has a roster of eight playable characters (seven retirees plus the Grim Reaper), but it's not really clear why. As far as I could tell, every character plays exactly the same. There didn't seem to be a "this guy's fast but weak" versus "this guy accelerates slowly but has a great top speed" sort of trade-off, which is something I would have expected when given a choice of racer. This seems mainly due to the fact that the upgradable scooter is shared by all of the characters. The vehicle upgrades are purchased using coins earnt in story mode, though the upgrade remain functional in the game's other modes. An upgradable vehicle is nice in theory, but like the rest of the game feels very shallow; just maxing out top speed was enough to win all of the game's story races, rendering the other upgrades (acceleration, grip, melee weapon, item pickup slots) largely pointless.
These periphery issues could largely be ignored if the actual racing was of a high enough standard. It's fine, but nothing to write home about, and certainly not good enough to excuse the other issues with the game. The handling generally felt good, though taking anything more than a gentle turn results a massive loss of speed. Coupling with the inability to drift through corners, this meant the handling was perhaps a little too sensitive - a slightly too sharp turn could easily result in going from 1st to 5th place. The game's frame rate frequently drops for seemingly no reason, making it all too easy to oversteer by mistake. With a few tweaks and performance improvements, the racing would be serviceable, but in its current state it quickly becomes frustrating.
In terms of content, there isn't much to Coffin Dodgers. The story mode goes through all of the tracks in the game (4 laps per race), yet can be completed in under two hours. After beating the story mode once, the Grim Reaper is unlocked as a playable character. Replaying the story mode with the Grim Reaper reveals a hidden ending, but the rest of the mode is identical. The Grim Reaper even continues to taunt the player, meaning that the Grim Reaper is basically taunting himself. The hidden ending also closes with a potential sequel tease, which is a little difficult to swallow given that this release is so lacking in content.
Outside of the story mode, there is 2-4 player local split-screen, time trials, an exploration mode and the "Crazy Granddad" mode. The open world mode is neat, as it appears to show how all of the game's tracks form a continuous space, but other than that it feels pointless. The Crazy Granddad mode is a Crazy Taxi inspired mode where players must race towards an item, and the direction towards it is indicated by a large arrow at the top of the screen. The winner is the player who collected the most items at the end of the time limit. This mode is fine, but I can't see it having any lasting appeal.
In conclusion, Coffin Dodgers is an interesting concept, but the game as a whole falls flat. The lack of content and the general unfinished feeling makes it an overall unsatisfying game to play. With some fairly major patches, Coffin Dodger could be molded into a reasonable cart racer, but the state it was released in is not that. As it stands, there is little reason to play this game.