For everyone that loves kart racers, Mario Kart has always stood head and shoulders above the rest. There have been attempts at the crown, the most notable being Crash Team Racing on the original PlayStation. While other racers have come and gone there have been no shortage of attempts. The latest contender comes in the form of Coffin Dodgers developed by Milky Tea. Has Mario Kart finally found a contender to take its place in the winner’s circle? Or will Coffin Dodgers crash and burn?
(Review is based on the PlayStation 4 version)
Death has come and it’s after the residents of Sunny Pines Retirement Community. It tells them in three days it’ll take their lives. However, the scrappy geriatrics refuse to go silent into that good night. The residents decide to challenge Death to a series of races. If they win, they live. If not, well…you know.
Thus is the premise of Coffin Dodgers short, but amusing story. I thought it was neat to have a kart racer actually have one. I don’t recall the last one I played that did, but to be fair the only kart racers I’ve spent any real amount of time with is the Mario Kart series; so take from that what you will. The story was short and lacking anything other than the set up and ending. It could have been more fleshed out if each driver had their own cut scenes, but since every driver has the same motivation of not dying it seems reasonable. It’s still a shame though. It could have added replay-ability to a short game. Each character has their respective bio available to be read in the character select screen. It helps you get a feel for the character you choose, but it’s only on the surface level. I only cared about beating Death, not who was going to do it.
The cartoon aesthetics match very well will the general tone and light hearted humor of the game. However, it doesn’t excuse how outdated it looks, or rather, how simple. The animations of each character; whether it’s using melee attacks, being thrown from your scooter, or celebrating a win, are all basically the same. Character models of each racer, while all unique, lack any sort of detail. Same goes for the tracks, motorized-scooters, and everything else in this game. The tracks suffer from asset reuse overload to the point you feel like your racing on the same track over and over.
The frame-rate wouldn’t drop so much as just freeze for a second or two. It would happen at random times. It didn’t matter whether the screen was filled or just you leading the pack by yourself. The freezes just happened, not all the time, but enough for it to become annoying. It may be an indie game, but it looks like Coffin Dodgers would be more at home on a PS2 than a PS4.
If there was anything to single out as the worst part of the game, it’s the sound. The background songs change depending on which area of the game you’re in. Since there’s four areas with three races each you get four songs. Even though I still think there’s less. Two are distinct; the others not so much. The songs sound so similar you get the feeling it’s the same one over and over again, so it gets old very fast. The themes to the tracks aren’t particularly bad. The overuse is what makes you hate them. It’s like a song you hear on the radio that isn’t really good, but a part gets stuck in your head. So you repeat that part in your head ad nauseam. The song isn’t bad; it’s the repetition.
The sound effects do a enough decent job. Things sound the way they should: motorized scooter engines rumble, gun fire sounds realistic, and swinging your cane sounds like you’re swinging it with force behind it. It’s the sounds you’d expect to hear from a Saturday morning cartoon. Voice acting could have added a little more charm to the experience, but it doesn’t detract from it. Death’s laugh can sound off putting, but not in a threatening way; just annoying. Same goes with the grunts and groans of the seniors.
Coffin Dodgers gameplay can be best described as a Mario Kart clone with a sprinkle of Road Rash. It starts simply enough by picking your character, but oddly; gives a brief history of the character, but not any stats for their respective motorized scooter. Kind of odd for a racer not to have. So you can automatically assume that everyone starts off equally. You can customize your kart by earning money through the story mode. You can fix the handling, speed, paint job, ETC. You also earn XP during races, but I still have no clue as to what it’s used for. Just an overall points earned I guess.
Racing itself felt fine, the handling could be tighter, but overall fine. The controls responded as they should. Aiming the Uzi to actually hit other racers felt like a chore, but the other weapons were easy to use. The addition of paper boys, skateboarders, and zombies (yes, zombies) to hit gave you something to do if you were racing against yourself. Like Mario Kart you can pick up power ups during a race: rockets, shields, Uzi’s, ETC. and like Road Rash, melee attack when close enough to someone else’s kart. The combat dynamic is the most fun part of the game, but the tracks are much too short for it to last for any type of length.
During my play I found that there were only two ways races went: Either I got so far ahead that it was impossible for anyone to catch me (aside from stopping completely) or the AI would become frustratingly cheap and cause me to fall behind early and never recover. There was no in-between. With the track length being so short falling behind usually meant you were staying there. The only track that was reasonably sized was the last race. This would have been a highlight, but the final track was just a patchwork that borrowed parts of previous tracks (and for some reason the developers made it a two lap race instead of the usual four).
Aside from story mode, the game features four player multiplayer, but no online multiplayer. This I feel is the biggest feature that is lacking. Online multiplayer could have given this game legs. For me, kart racers are best enjoyed with others. There’s also a free roam mode that lets you drive around with all the tracks connected, but with no other point then to wonder – it gets old fast. Also another mode that’s exactly the same except you collect items within a time limit. All in all, not much value for someone looking for a deep single player experience, but good when played with friends.
While technically a decent game, there’s nothing particularly special about Coffin Dodgers. The story could have helped, but there isn’t enough there, and the lack of online multiplayer really hurts it. When the measuring stick is Mario Kart; the expectations are high. Coffin Dodgers was a good attempt, but falls short of the finish line.