In most respects, I can see why this review may seem unnecessary. Coffin Dodgers is a critically disdained game already. But since I was tempted by a previous sale and a—surprisingly—moderate amount of favorable user reviews (on Steam and MS storefront), I figured I might have a decent time. Not really the case. Nevertheless, I still like the idea of critically expatiating on this faulty game because kart racers used to be my big genre at one point. And with being raised during the epoch of Crash Team Racing, Mario Kart 64, and Diddy Kong Racing (otherwise known as the holy trifecta), I think that lens could provide some insightful commentary as to how this game gets it so wrong.
One factor Coffin Dodgers gets right is the premise: The Grim Reaper has set sights on Sunny Pines as his next stop to harvest souls. The spriest of Sunny Pines who—naturally—think they’re too young to die challenge The Grim Reaper to motorized scooter racing in exchange for more time. The Reaper accedes to the contest and some goofy scenarios take place involving seven distinct elders racing The Reaper in their supped-up karts through various spots surrounding their community.
It’s got the hook to pique one’s interest. What about the actual content? Right out of the gate, the tutorial presages some of the game’s intrinsic problems; namely, the sense of speed and steering are rather unrefined. As the green light first flashed I couldn’t help but say “Whoa!” over and over again whilst attempting to acclimatize to the underlying systems. And those take so long getting used to because they’re—frankly—a backwards way of doing kart racing. For starters, there’s such an egregious inconsistency when hitting any barrier; oftentimes, the result can be the player-character bouncing off a fence despite driving head-on into it. This annoyance seeps further because the supposed ‘brake’ button (LT) is treated more as reverse. Think like the wheels don’t necessarily STOP when hitting the brake, just spin backwards. So, essentially ‘braking’ before bumping into another old-timer’s picket fence could result in you flying even further backwards before realizing what’s occurring.
These types of issues only seek to incentivize the safest method of moving forward: pedal on the gas at all times and turning when appropriate. Steering also feels like a headache adapting to because it seems like the modes of turning are limited to 0 degree-45 degree angle turning. There’s a difference between responsiveness and rigidity; the developer, Milky Tea, either couldn’t see that or didn’t have time to address it. While I should stress that one can grow accustomed to these snags (as they’re not ‘broken’ per se), it goes a long way in saying how there’s really just two big obstacles in mastering the game’s systems: the controls and your patience as ennui begins to develop upon understanding the ropes and getting out so far ahead.
This isn’t to say enemy racers don’t pose some kind of a challenge. Most of them are racing for their lives, after all. I’ve noticed some go after the cheapness of the AI as well in regards to weapon usage and general viciousness. For me: that seemed to be more tied towards sticking around with them because of starting with an un-upgraded scooter. Once I’d invested my allotted points towards engine and handling—which didn’t do much in improving the overall experience—I noticed how easy it was to get by the competition. Granted, this being a kart racer with weapon pick-ups the AI can try to climb towards the top but my experience was more relaxed as time went on.
Speaking of which, it’s strange Coffin Dodgers didn’t have weapons that’d fit the central tenet of the story; instead, opting for a more clichéd arsenal such as rockets, shield, firearms, and oil slicks. I will admit that the comedic elements to this idea come up through some of these weapons. The image of seeing an old Amish farmer sporting an Uzi is even on one of the achievement pictures. One great visual gag where the gameplay and story marry wonderfully is in each character having a melee weapon. Whilst it’s initially a cane by default, the garage gives the ability to have each retiree sport a melee weapon fitting to their current hobby, personality, or previous métier. It also works as one of the few ways Coffin Dodgers’ gameplay differentiates itself from other racers: dynamics of close-quarters attacks. And it’s a shame nifty ideas like that aren’t utilized more often, especially when it ties the potential mechanical uniqueness in with creative humor.
When looking past the scintilla of genuine inspiration found in its mechanics, what exactly does it accomplish beyond that? Words can’t really describe just how bog-standard everything else about the racing feels. Where’s that little something for expanding the skill ceiling such as in Mario Kart 8’s sliding, chain-boosting in Jak X: Combat Racing, or even the minute differences in hovercraft handling in and out of water with Diddy Kong Racing? There’s really none of that depth to be found here.
There are some other fumbles with the basics of a kart racer I can list out:
-Inability to discard unwanted weapons which can result in having to burn out an entire Uzi clip (or two) before rolling for another pickup you might need.
-Hitting a boost and ramp appears to be less productive than simply staying grounded at all times. This appears most obvious on a farm level with back-to-back boost ramps that take a little skill to line up. The tougher maneuver is enervating your track position and patience.
-There’s an absurd lack of shortcuts; so much so, I can only recall one off the top of my head. I mean...c'mon...shortcuts are part and parcel for this genre.
To end on something of a high note for the gameplay: the tracks of Coffin Dodgers—albeit simple—are decent in their design and variety. Each specific area (farmland, graveyard, retirement homes) has unique tracks with the final showdown being an amalgamation of each area to some extent. For better and worse, all of these tracks are actually part of one open world should one reject the story or time trials. For the better: it’s quite interesting to kart through each area to notice how they’re all interconnected; for worse: I think this in part plays into why so many of the singular tracks themselves seem so artificially constrained with having no shortcuts. Nevertheless, there’s often some extra built into each race such as being able to hit some bleating sheep or dodging trains when driving underground. They all function well enough but it’s a bit disappointing to see this world not explored further. Perhaps toss in part of a track around a swimming center with elderly people doing Pool Pilates or a cafeteria with rivers of prune juice. Stereotyping a bit much here but you get the point.
Not just limited to mechanics, Coffin Dodgers is lacking visually as well. To its credit: the selectable characters all look unique. I’ve heard it said in animation that a good visual artist communicates everything that character can be about from a single image. And if you take a moment to assess a screenshot from either Pixar or older Disney animated films, you’ll see that shine through so often; and in that respect, you see Milky Tea Studios taking that to heart too. The written description for each individual matches up with their look quite well.
The artistry put into the worlds, environmental details, etc. oftentimes range more towards the quality of Illumination Entertainment (the monsters which created Minions). While the houses look normal, you’ll notice these absurdist details for the cars and animals. And I get it being a totally absurd game. That’s fine. But these types of artistic liberties don’t feel cohesive or thoroughly considered.
The technical side tells an even grimmer story. For all the inconsistent-yet-passable artistic details one could spot for the game, there’s virtually nothing of praise to be doled out in this respect. Sure, there’s neat details like how characters react when they’re boosting (with one fellow’s sunglasses about to fly off his face and resetting them afterwards). By even the most generous of measurements however this looks incredibly dated. Mario Kart: Double Dash, a game released TWO generations ago, showcases more admirable detail in all but pixel count. Double Dash ran at a smoother framerate too. There’s also these odd hiccups from time to time where the game just momentarily pauses out of the blue, which threw me off a couple times.
Sound design is quite dated and basic as well. Since there’s so few unique areas, there’s no memorable instance of the soundtrack conjuring up a bunch of unique melodies; in fact, strident repetition sets in soon into playing through the campaign. General sound design has nothing of value to note. I’d contend there’s even missing sound effects. This struck me most often when bumping into certain barriers or hearing muted moments when either firing or getting hit by an Uzi. Just a cheap production all around.
“So you’ve brought up the premise without further assessing the story, beans?” To that I respond: “what story?” There’s only sparse story cutscenes in the beginning and end, with a secret ending to unlock by replaying the campaign as The Grim Reaper. Any other cutscenes are fluff, status updates of which racers Reaper’s killed (which come back as zombies). It’s a shame too because I got a few good laughs from specific scenes that were centered around this original idea, not just rehashes of jokes from the IP (movie or otherwise) from which this kart racer would’ve normally been tied.
I suppose a bigger thumbs-up from me would go to the game including up to 4-player splitscreen. Though I must admit I don’t get why it demanded unique accounts to be signed in instead of allowing friends to simply be guest accounts. Just another way this title mishandles one of its best qualities.
Coffin Dodgers’ trite, shallow gameplay effectively dates it back further than the near-centenarian residents of Sunny Pines. There’s motley semi-praises to be given at specific qualities; particularly, the very fact of it not being another game/movie tie-in kart racer all things considered. But an original concept can’t expunge the crusty visual-aural design, gravely unpolished mechanics, and a virtually dead-cold personality with only the slightest bit of warmth. All of this added up with an ephemeral campaign and limited modes makes the twelve-dollar price point (US/non-sale) incredibly exorbitant.
Consider this less of a review and more of a denouncement before its proper burial from my games library.
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