Let’s just get this out-of-the-way, right out of the gate: Coffin Dodgers is a brilliant premise. I won’t argue with you, because there is no debate. Old people fighting off Death (the entity AND the action) in races with their mobility carts? It’s awesome, and as I said, I won’t hear anyone saying otherwise. I have no idea where the genius idea came from inside Milky Tea Studios, but I’m so glad it did.
So the basis of that whole premise is thus: Death has come to the retirement community of Sunny Pines to take everyone out, in the ways Death is known for, but these 7 old timers aren’t ready to go yet, at least, not without a fight. It’s proposed and agreed upon that they will have a racing tournament and the champion of that will get to keep their life as they know it. The losers, well, they get sent straight to Hell. Death ain’t playin’, yo.
The moment you start the game you’re treated to a wonderful (if not a bit too loud) little title jingle, and from there, the music doesn’t disappoint. Every track is kind of the same, but varied enough to warrant its existence, especially when you factor in they’re based off the level motif you’re in. Whatever the case may be, the music in this game is jumpy, catchy, and if my memory and feelings don’t deceive me, almost Wallace and Gromit/Pixar-esque in style. Clearly, I really like it.
Graphically, Coffin Dodgers isn’t going to (or even trying to) win awards with earth-shattering graphical prowess. However, what they do offer up is actually pretty charming. The overall look and feel has me thinking if you didn’t know any better, this was a really high resolution port of an N64 game, right down to the movement and animations. I know what you may be thinking here, but no, I do not mean this as a bad thing. Like I said, the look of the game is charming, and this art-style really helps that out. It feels like this could have gone toe-to-toe with Mario Kart 64 almost 2 decades ago and given it a run for its money. That’s both a good and bad thing, but I’ll get into that in a bit.
Within the story mode, which is perhaps the main attraction here, there are as mentioned, 7 playable oldies to choose from (with Death unlocked at the end). Each gets a nice little write-up for us to connect with them, but other than that, everyone is essentially the same, right down to the cart. Where you venture off eventually is in your garage, in which you upgrade your vehicle with things like better engines, gearboxes, and baskets (for holding consumable weapons). You earn experience by hitting racers, bystanders, or certain objects in this mode, and with that, at the end of each race, you get money to spend on the upgrades. By the end, should you survive that long, your ride is a much better machine to help you stay ahead of the inevitable.
There are 4 locations in Story mode (and the game) to battle it out, each with 3 levels to race and cause havoc in. At the end of each area, the bottom performers are left to their word and their fate is sealed – Death takes them. The interesting thing this time is, Death doesn’t just put them in the grave to stay, he resurrects them as his zombie army and uses them to race against the remaining seniors. If you end up being the last place “alive” racer in the next series, you become the racing dead, too. Again, it’s a damn good idea, this game.
At the end of it all, when you win, Death is ousted from Sunny Pines and you live to see another day. The cool thing about this is, when you do win, you’re encouraged to play through again, only this time, as Death. Not only because of the Achievement/Trophy tied to it, but also because the ending changes and you get to see the aftermath of Death winning, with, what I really hope, is the hint of a sequel. Milky Tea friends, make it happen!!
The other modes are a mix of classic racer and new ideas. The Quick Race (1-4 players) and Time Trial (1 player) modes are staples, but we also have at our disposal a couple of Open World modes, one where you can explore all 4 areas at your own pace, alone or with friends, and a single player mode called Crazy Granddad where you race against time to collect some oddball old-person themed items littered around the land. The Open World stuff a nice little idea, and I did have a few moments of fun, but ultimately, it’s a side attraction you may not play more than a handful of times.
The racing itself is pretty standard fare, and exactly what you’d expect from a kart racer game. Comparing this to Mario Kart is a very valid thing, so if you know that game, you can jump right in here, although sans drifting but with a Road Rash-like strike attack. You’re lucky these old bags can even wake up to race, so don’t go asking for the moon, here. And while there is definitely fun to be had throughout, also throughout there are issues that creep up on us.
The frame rate can get really moody, especially with a logjam of old fogies or while going around twists and turns. It’s not always a problem, but you do notice it and it can take you out of the experience on occasion, especially if you’re prone to motion sickness in racing games, because these pimped out rides are speedy. The consumable items and weapons you pick up in races are in old-timey suitcases, which is a nice little visual touch, but when trying to grab them, it feels like the hit boxes on these are really precise, with little to no leeway on squeaking by and nabbing them. It may be a little gripe in the long run, but there were plenty of occasions I felt like I was right on top of one, but cheated out of getting an item.
Another control issue is that they overall sometimes feel really floaty, not as badly once you upgrade your cart, but even with a fully upgraded ride, the controls can still turn a simple move early on into a race ender. With the Story mode, being the main attraction – and how could it not be with this premise!! Have I told you what I think this game’s premise yet? Do you have a couple of hours of free time right now? – I’d have liked it to be a little bit longer. It felt like it was over so quickly. Yes, there are 13 races, but each track isn’t 100 miles long. They can be over in a few minutes. Sure, you can replay it with Death to get a different ending, but those are the only incentives other than upgrading your cart (which can carry over to every mode should you choose), but that can be done in 1 run if you’re diligent. If every character had their own ending, this mode’s length wouldn’t be such a downer, but, they don’t. It’s Us vs. Death. I just think it would have resonated more if each elder had their own ending. I understand the overall ending and how it exists, but that didn’t have to change. You could have added on specific endings.
And one final downer I wanted to bring up was a pretty annoying bug I encountered while using the shield item. If you had a shield in your basket and were knocked off your cart, using that shield meant you pretty much should just quit and restart the race because it caused you to stutter and move in tiny spurts. There’s almost no way to recover from that. What’s worse, is you kind of have to use your items, unless you just want to forgo any others the rest of the race. This was mostly encountered on The Graveyard races, but it happened elsewhere, once or twice. Overall, it happened a lot.
If you’re a fan of easy Achievements/Trophies, this game should be on your radar. You should have no trouble completing this game. In fact, you could do it in an extended play session. I do love me a quick completion, but I would have loved it more if there were Achievements tied to other modes, like exploring the Open World for a set amount of time, or beating certain times in Time Trial mode. Things like that. We get some quirky ones, but, not enough for my liking.
Overall, if you’re in the market for a local multiplayer only kart racer, you might want to look into this game. Of course online play would have been great, and it definitely would’ve given this game more life (no pun intended, I think…), but such is the give/take of small studios. Maybe if the game does well we’ll see an add-on or maybe a sequel with it. And, rag doll physics are still a good time, even when used on people who have been around for over 6 decades. The wipe outs can look hilarious. Content-wise, it’s a bit lacking and on par with an N64 game, but to its credit, it isn’t asking for $60 to $80 to own it, either. I had plenty of fun with Coffin Dodgers… While it lasted. It just unfortunately didn’t last as long as I would have liked.
Coffin Dodgers is out now on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 for $11.99 (with launch week discounts of 10% for Gold or Plus members). A code was provided by Wales Interactive for the purpose of this review.