Sometimes, there are some titles that I can’t really wait to get my teeth into. Then there are some that make me yearn for the cold embrace of death, or at least the opportunity to take my teeth out and soak them afterwards. When Milky Tea and Wales Interactive revealed Coffin Dodgers, I was mildly optimistic for a decent effort at replacing the Mario Kart shaped hole in my Saturday evening drunk entertainment schedule.
Coffin Dodgers starts off by introducing you to the residents of the Retirement Village of Sunny Pines. This village has four distinct districts to race across. The story goes that the Grim Reaper has arrived in Sunny Pines to claim the hardy souls that survive there. A bargain is struck and the chance to survive is granted. All you have to do is finish as high in the race as possible and beat the Grim Reaper in a race, quite literally, to the death.
So, four districts to race around. Sounds easy, right? Not as easy as you’d think. The action is made more interesting by the introduction of defensive and offensive pick-ups for your motorised shopping scooter of doom. As you progress through the levels, the Grim Reaper, hungry for your soul, introduces an army of the undead to hinder your progress. There are also other obstacles in your path, like the local law enforcement or shuttle trains, which always seem to crop up in the most inconvenient places at the most inconvenient times.
Each district has three races to win and a mini league table. Depending on the level you’re on, you’ll have to finish higher than last, third from last, and so on. Beat your goal and you’ll progress onto the next district with the encroaching apocalypse that progress entails. Fail in your goal and you’ll be pushing up daisies in the most final of ways.
Racing your upgradeable shopping scooter is not as easy as you think though. The scooter’s handling is odd to say the least. There doesn’t appear to be any feeling of speed about the game at all. In fact, the handling of the vehicle is somewhat akin to a local supermarket shopping trolley. You know, the one with the dodgy wheel. There’s no drift function in the game either. The total lack of this feature makes the whole racing side of the game feel top-heavy.
That’s not all that’s wrong with the actual gameplay. The collision detection physics seems more than a little off. For example, I (completely by accident; honest officer) speared into the side of one of my competitors. Now, having seen many Police! Stop! style programs, I know that the laws of physics states that both vehicles should spin out at the very least. Did this happen here? No. I ended up rag-dolled across a picket fence while my adversary carried merrily on their way.
This in itself is surprising, seeing as some of the development team for Coffin Dodgers were behind the excellence of Blur. It’s definitely a head-scratcher.
Vehicle handling and collision physics aside, the graphics are pretty. They’re a blocky-cutesy, almost Crash Bandicoot style and each character has a personality of their own. It’s almost as if the developers have concentrated so much on piling all of their effort in to character creation that they’ve forgotten that getting the gameplay right is also a necessary part of a successful title.
While this is by no means a game breaker, it certainly doesn’t give the game any less of a frustration factor given the fact that the circuits, made from the roads and pathways of Sunny Pines, are so short. This often leads to repetitive tracks with frequent confusion as they are as well signposted as a hasty Motorway diversion. That aside, if you can fight your way to first often enough you can earn enough XP and coins to upgrade your scooter. I’m going to take a moment out her to describe how I felt this affected the gameplay. I couldn’t tell. Honestly, really, couldn’t tell.
I chose a speed up option and a dual power-up slot (shopping basket) upgrade. The theory goes that there is a way to switch between the two power-up slots, although I’m yet to discover how this is done.
The campaign is a fairly short if not minty boiled-sweet hard affair, then, with the final stages being the chance to face-off against the Grim Reaper himself. If you’re good or patient enough to beat this anthropomorphic personification then not only will your geriatric have cheated Death himself, but you’ll also get to play as Death in both campaign and Multiplayer.
Wait, Multiplayer? Yes. There is a local co-op option for Coffin Dodgers and to honest, it’s probably the most fun in the entire title. That’s if you can get a friend to enter the game with you of course. For some unknown reason, the Guest option is absent in Coffin Dodgers. This makes Local Co-op a total pain in the replacement knee if your couch adversary cannot remember their Xbox Live ID, as happened to us. Quite why the guest option is missing is anyone’s guess. Perhaps some form of elderly forgetfulness has made the developers neglect to pop it in. Who knows?
Audio-wise, the game has the standard tiny-electric motor style whining. Each character has their own unique victory groans and while the weapons are not FPS realism, they are more than adequate for the target audience. The accompanying soundtrack, rather than being the expected lift-music styled folk songs, thumps along and it very catchy indeed.
Wrapping up, Coffin Dodgers is a fairly competent kart racer, in the style of Mario Kart. The game is presented well overall but lacks a cutting edge and some polish to make it a really stand out title. It’s not quite in the same league as the Nintendo classic, despite some nice features. But for the addition of gameplay elements, like the drift ability, we’d be looking at a must-buy for some local co-op fun. The lack of a guest option and the baffling collision detection physics don’t necessarily spoil the game, but it does warrant a grid-penalty in the overall standings. Persevere with the game though, and you’ll uncover some short-lived fun in it. You will need to have some patience, and preferably a friend who can remember their Xbox Live ID, obviously, but if I’m completely honest, the game just isn’t long or difficult enough, without being completely frustrating, in the long term.