STAFF REVIEW of Coffin Dodgers (Xbox One)

Thursday, May 12, 2016.
by Kirby Yablonski

Coffin Dodgers Box art There is no denying that the world of kart racing games is owned by one franchise: Mario Kart. There, I said it. I thought it was prudent that we just get that out of the way right now. It’s true though, any and every kart game released on any platform is inevitably compared to Mario Kart given how much that series has gotten it right through the years. So, with that in mind, when heading into this review of the kart racer Coffin Dodgers, an indie game developed by Milky Tea Studios, and recently released on the Xbox One, I wanted to keep an open mind. Well, I am glad I did because if you strictly compare this game to the bar that Mario Kart has set you’d be very disappointed; however, Coffin Dodgers isn’t that bad, and there is some fun to be had here.

The premise in Coffin Dodgers is simple. A new resident has come to Sunny Hills, a nice retirement village for those to relax. It seems that the Grim Reaper has a plan, to retire in this little suburban setting and ‘harvest’ the souls of the residents that live near him. Well it’s not that easy, as seven feisty residents aren’t going to take this sitting down, or laying down when they are napping of course. They challenge the Grim Reaper to a tournament, one that involves scooter racing. It is a last man standing challenge; whoever is in last place at the end of each stage dies. What the Grim Reaper didn’t tell these seven brave seniors though is that once they lose, and their soul is his, they come back as a zombie racer hell bent on stopping anyone from winning.

The story itself is kind of interesting, but I feel there was a missed opportunity to make it really work. It starts off with a simple intro, from when the bad ol’ Reaper comes to town, to when the seven residents take a stand and challenge him to the racing tournament, but what’s there could have been more substantial. As you race you don’t get much of an update of the story and only a brief cutscene between stages of who lost and whose buried as a result. Even the ending is short lived. Personally, they could have done a lot more with the story telling and it could have been really enjoyable. In simple terms, it was a “swing and a miss” here. Sure, you might be able to get away with no story if your game is a stellar kart racer, gameplay wise, but as I mentioned earlier, Coffin Dodgers is not the best game out there, but it’s not bad either. Let me explain.

Coffin Dodger follows the same tried and true kart formula that is found throughout the genres existence. Here you have seven different characters, a kart (in this case scooter), power-ups, you earn XP and in-game money, you can upgrade your cart between races, and you have different environments to race in. Where part of the game’s weakness lies is in the control, as it is twitchy as hell. Yep, I said “…as hell”. It’s just not a smooth controlling game. I found myself having to really focus on fine tuning my in-game movement using the analog stick, more so than I remember doing in any kart racing game in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, it is manageable, but it could have been more refined, that is for sure.

Another issue is the length of the single player mode. It is only about a couple of hours max. Should you want to extend it you can try to get some of the more specific achievements, which aren’t that hard, but you may need to race certain tracks a few times in order to complete the task at hand and get the ‘cheevo’ sound to ‘ting’. The AI in the game can be cheap at times, but they are not hard to beat in the long run even though you’ll find the odd “face-palm” now and then as you wonder how they caught you, but this is not too often which is nice to see in a kart game.

But not all is bad though. The game has that ‘kart’ feel to it. There are some neat powers ups, such as the machine gun, speed burst, and missile launcher. There are others too, so there is some variety. There is also a melee attack that you can power up, and if you’ve powered it up enough you can knock your foe off in one strike. This is handy when you miss a power up or you haven’t come up on one yet. As you play, you are encouraged to modify your scooter, from the engine, the gearing to your storage basket and exterior mods, everything you modify has a purpose and makes your scooter a better racing machine. These aspects of the game are fairly good and something worth mentioning.

There is local multiplayer, via split screen, but there is no online play. I think that this game could have used the latter as it would have been nice to play the game online with some fellow reviewers that I know. The local multiplayer is ok though, as my son and I had some fun. He is turning 10 this year, and I found that he somewhat enjoyed racing against his ‘old man’ and that he didn’t mind the game at all; however, after about a half a dozen races or so he said that he was done and wanted to do something else.

Presentation wise, the track design is ok, but it could have been better. The visuals that correspond with all of the tracks have a simple cuteness to them, but you can tell that they either started to run out of ideas or that they didn’t have the time they needed to really make each environment more. That being said, there are some neat aspects to each level, such as the UFOs firing laser beams at the road in the ‘Farm’ level to the subway cars that block your path in the ‘Village’ levels main tunnel.

Technically I didn’t notice any issues even when the things got busy on the screen. Coffin Dodgers uses the Unreal 4 Engine, so when you get knocked off your scooter you become a limp crash test dummy and can be funny at times. Finally, the game’s sound is adequate at best. The kart sound effects, from engine to power-ups, get the job done, and the music is noticeable, but not memorable. If anything the game could have benefited from voice acting to tell the story and this is something that was lacking.

While Coffin Dodgers is not a bad game by any means, it does not excel in any one specific area. What really hurt this title from being something special was that it had a story that, if fleshed out, could have been comedy gold, even while the control was somewhat iffy as well. Luckily, the rest of the game, from the track design to the sound, was just good enough to keep it from belonging in the basement of bad indie titles, and for $11.99 you could definitely do worse.

Overall: 5.9 / 10
Gameplay: 6.0 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 5.5 / 10


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