I’m a bad person.
I was given Coffin Dodgers months ago to review, when the game was about to come out to drum up hype. Problem was, I had a lot of other things going on, so I kept putting the game off until I had some downtime so I could properly invest some quality time into the game. With my “52 games in 52 weeks” going again this year, I sat down at my PC, finally downloaded the game, and gave myself a few hours to see what Coffin Dodgers had to offer.
When first booting it up, I couldn’t help but feel nostalgia for old PS1 games. The simplicity of the presentation, from the introduction, to the story, all felt so much like games I remember from my childhood. The simple characters, with funny names, and extremely limited tutorial all added to this nostalgia, resulting in my first 15 minutes of playtime feeling fantastically familiar, and down right pleasant.
The problem was, the main campaign just couldn’t keep this positive ride going. What starts off simple soon became a clash against the game mechanics itself, resulting in some of the most annoying gaming moments of 2016 so far.
Whilst the looks (and some of the gameplay) began with evoking feelings of complex cart racers, the physics engine soon just could not keep up with the slick presentation. Sometimes I’d get bumped off geometry that simply did not exist; other times the AI became a complete nightmare to compete with.
It didn’t help that there’s no skill involved in the core driving experience itself. You just drive around a track with your acceleration barely changing, with no jumping or sliding mechanic present. It’s so simple that there’s even an option to enable “auto-accelerate” should you want it. At least with games like Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing there was a skill to the game on corners where (should you be good enough) you could skid around and get a boost. Not in Coffin Dodgers, where your only way of progressing is luck based on the pickups you get.
So for a game so entrenched in making every appeal to 90’s gaming kids, what’s on offer that actually pleases?
Well for one, the graphics are absolutely charming. The town you race in is lovingly rendered, at times even looking like a Disney film. Then there’s the characters, who all have their own unique little traits, and who have fantastically hilarious names and backstory’s. I thoroughly enjoyed the premise (Death has said it’s time for the 7 OAP’s to die, so they all challenge him to a race in their scooters), and loved the ways the premise was used for funny weapons (smacking other racers with your walking stick will always be funny).
The courses were fantastically varied too, with each “theme” changing which area you’d drive around the town. The farming section for example starts pitting the racers against each other towards the outskirts of town, with each sub-race taking a different route above and below ground. Each course also had it’s own “destructibles”, items or characters placed around the track that could be run over for extra XP (the games’ way of determining how well you performed on a race, giving you an amount of gold for your effort), a great way to keep me coming back to tracks time and time again to destroy as much as possible.
There’s also an upgrade system, whereby you can spend your hard earned cash on upgrades for your scooter. whilst this was a fantastic idea in theory (who doesn’t love progression?), I found that the upgrades genuinely amounted to nothing, meaning by the end of the game, despite having a fully upgraded vehicle, I still didn’t stand a chance against the AI, meaning the entire game was down to luck rather than skill.
And it’s in that nuisance of “luck vs skill” that I felt Coffin Dodgers truly let me down. I came in happy and excited at the prospect of playing a game inspired by my childhood, but in the end, came away annoyed. Games should always have equal parts skill, and equal parts luck, but unfortunately with Coffin Dodgers I could help but feel I was an innocent bystander, watching as the game passed me by. I had next to no affect on the end outcome of matches, and would genuinely put it down to luck should I have actually won a race.
By all means give Coffin Dodgers a go; I’m sure it’s multiplayer would be enjoyable (playing on PC is a nightmare for trying that mode), but don’t expect much for your money. At an hour in length for it’s main campaign, Coffin Dodgers left much to be desired. It’s a shame, as the premise genuinely intrigued (and delighted) me due t the lack of good kart racers in recent years. I can only hope Milky Tea Studios learn from their first game, and continue in this genre: I’m sure they can make a great game, it just isn’t Coffin Dodgers.