Mario Kart has spawned many clones since its debut, but few have gone anywhere close to the direction of Milky Tea’s Coffin Dodgers. A game about old people challenging the Grim Reaper in souped up scooter races, it’s definitely got some originality to it. At least, as far as its premise goes.
The aptly titled Coffin Dodgers begins, and never leaves, the fictional Sunny Pines retirement village. That is where all of our playable (and quite geriatric) racers live, relaxing their days away with games of cribbage and reminiscent stories of days gone by. Things are not all great in this large, upscale town, however, as its Grim Reaper is quite the greedy jerk.
Following a short cutscene that introduces one of the area’s residents – a former war veteran who spends his day looking at old photo albums of his glory days – things abruptly shift to a nighttime scene wherein the Grim Reaper visits the sleeping man (as well as several of his friends) to tell them that he will be back to take them away in a mere three days. Yes: all seven of them on the same day.
Not wanting their zest for life to be tarnished by moving six feet under, the old folks band together and march into the Reaper’s office to bargain with them. Their plan? To challenge him to a ‘kart’ racing contest, which will use mechanically improved mobility scooters as its chariots. Of course, the death-dealer agrees, and thus begins a very short ‘story’ mode that is comprised of less than fifteen races.
As expected, all of the course-based events take place in and around the Sunny Pines retirement village. Things kick off on its scooter-friendly streets, before moving to the local town, farmland and cemetery. All the while, the Grim Reaper remains a constant adversary, using his scooter to quite often assume first place and test your mettle. Well, a bit.
Coffin Dodgers has a good premise, and it’s got some humour to it, but it’s not a great game. It’s also a very easy game when it’s not being cheap and frustrating. Gaining a huge lead isn’t hard, but you will get mad at the times when cheap hits (melee or weapon) take you out and screw you out of a first or second place finish. Thankfully, the races are short and the frustration isn’t constant. In fact, I rather easily obtained golden, first place finishes in every event, including the final one which I beat on my first try and with a commanding lead.
I would have altered the difficulty, but could not find the option to do so. Either it’s very well hidden, or it’s simply non-existent. And, with new game plus being an option (even if you switch to the unlockable Grim Reaper character after beating the game once), it becomes even easier. That’s because your cart is both upgradeable and customizable, allowing for better engines, handling, gear shifters and paint jobs to be purchased with currency earned while racing.
Speaking of the currency, I should also note that it’s joined by an experience system. However, even now, after beating Coffin Dodgers twice, I still don’t know what purpose it serves. You earn points for running over zombies and paper boys who get in your way, or by successfully hitting an opposing racer with your cane or one of the game’s different weapons (which include rockets, defib paddles that turn into EMPs, uzi guns and oil slicks). Conversely, experience points are lost whenever you’re knocked out of commission.
Despite being a rather obvious Mario Kart rip-off with different aesthetics and geriatrics instead of iconic members of the Mushroom Kingdom, Coffin Dodgers had the chance to be pretty fun. And while it does have the odd enjoyable moment, it’s held back by wholly unoriginal gameplay, problematic controls, technical problems and frustrating glitches. Not to mention AI that can be quite cheap from time to time.
Also, did I mention that the “Restart Race” option doesn’t work. Seriously, I could never restart any event. In order to do so, I had to quit out and reload the race in question. Sure, it didn’t take long, but it was a pain in the ass, especially since a greyed out restart option was sitting right there in the pause menu.
The story mode isn’t all that there is to this game, but it’s the crux and it’s sorely lacking. It’s joined by a crappy open world mode, wherein you follow an ugly arrow to randomly placed items, basic time trials and split-screen multiplayer. You won’t find yourself wanting to spend much time in Sunny Pines, though, and it’s too bad. This could have been a really fun game.
Those who value good graphics will also be turned off by how this kind of resembles an up-rezzed PS1 game. Yes, that’s an exaggeration, but it not only looks, but also feels that dated. Despite this, it runs poorly, with five second freezes occurring at random and a poor frame rate in general. The animations also leave a lot to be desired, as does the audio, which is mostly made up of horrible music.
As much as I wanted to have fun with Coffin Dodgers, it always did its best to throw a wrench in front of my scooter. Milky Tea deserves some credit for their narrative creativity, but their game is very much an undercooked, problematic and not very fun experience.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Coffin Dodgers is a missed opportunity which wastes a comedic premise. It's a poorly performing and far too easy Mario Kart clone, which will last you only an hour unless you somehow find someone who's willing to play split-screen multiplayer.