The concept of Coffin Dodgers was so simple that you want to play it on general principle. With a name like “Coffin Dodgers” – a slang term for an elderly person overstaying their welcome on Earth – the dark comedy seems inherent to the game’s identity. I was thinking that even in a simple form this running gag could be good for at least a Naughty Bear amount of laughs regardless of how good the game is. I was wrong. Coffin Dodgers is nothing more than a mobile game, complete with the tactics of free-to-play games attempting to be a Mario Kart knock-off.
At first you want to give it a chance. I was eager to play the game, especially because consoles like the Xbox One and Playstation 4 could use a good kart racer. You get to pick one of seven senior citizens on motorized carts to race against, the eighth character being Death (the Grim Reaper) himself and is unlocked upon completion of the story mode. I was trying to tell the difference between the different characters when selecting my racer, but as it turns out there is no difference whatsoever save for aesthetics. So all racers are basically skins of one another, which isn’t that much of a disappointment but just comes off as lazy. If you dive into Story Mode then you are immediately dropped into a 3 part tutorial where more interesting flaws become apparent. For starters you learn that there’s a looseness to the way your character corners, but this isn’t too much of an issue because your speed is relatively slow and the track is as basic as it gets. There is an acceleration and brake system, so I was trying to do different tactics (like power slide) or tight corners to shorten my lap times but nothing seemed to have much of an effect. Okay, also not a huge deal, but it makes you start to wonder how the variables of racing are going to play out if there is no way to shave off seconds in a lap and no distinguishing traits between racers. The answer is that there are two forms of attack: melee and projectile. Melee attacks are your second tutorial and the first thing that is demonstrated is how poor the collision detection is. You will literally need to have it fully charged and be grinding up on another player for your melee attack to be worthwhile. If going up against an enemy AI, wouldn’t you know that they always execute their attack with perfect precision and no lead time. Projectiles are much more polished but what shocked me is there are a whopping three weapons and 2 additional pickups. Yep, you’re either shooting a homing rocket, a machine gun, or dropping an oil slick behind you for the offensive and a shield and boost provide a little variety in the pickups. While I admit the weapons are worthwhile, the boost rocket on later races doesn’t seem to help at all and the shield is almost throw away because you never seem to get it when you’re in the thick of racers and need it most. It would appear the pickups you get are pre-determined by the game because you will literally see the rotation of the pickups swap instantly from whatever you really got to a shield if you’re in the lead or a rocket if you’re trailing far behind. Now we have a stacked deck for pickups, which had me very worried about how races would go.
Just as I feared, the biggest problem with Coffin Dodgers is one you can see coming a mile away, it’s a boring racer. Aside from the large cluster that makes up the first lap of the race, you are in one of two positions in any race against the AI, first or last. Either way you are racing alone and there’s little need to do anything more than navigate the bare bones track that is less complicated than a residential street. As you progress through story mode things don’t change much on the track front and we’ve already established gameplay won’t be enhanced by different racers or pickups. Nope, what does change is that the upgrades of scooters get exponentially enhanced for your opponent racers. This means that the first few races shows you in first place without any hope for defeat, but quickly your scooter is slower at accelerating, can’t make the same turns, and doesn’t have the same top speed as your opponents so there’s literally no way to win. “Well, why not upgrade yourself?” you may say. That’s where the free-to-play mechanics come in because the currency you get to upgrade your scooter doesn’t come nearly enough so you’re heavily limited to how much you can upgrade. I got 1st place in the first 6 races and only made enough for 3 upgrades, which can either be 3 individual first level upgrades or one fully maxed out third level upgrade. Since there are five items to upgrade, you can imagine how long this will take in a game that only has 5 different worlds, each with a handful of races. As a result you’re forced to replay the 3 races on the world you are stuck on, losing all the time, and only getting a fraction of the upgrade money you are used to. I think I had to replay the farm world 10 times to have enough for another significant upgrade. That’s almost 30 failed races before I started to get competitive. I was unable to beat story mode for the same reason, but I can only imagine how many hours of boring, losing, race grinding you have to do to fully upgrade your scooter and take on Death in the end. On the single player front there was also an exploration mode, which is just an open area that you can drive around doing nothing in before finding a race on an individual track from the Story Mode and racing in it. I didn’t see any rewards for it, upgrade currency or otherwise, and there weren’t even trophies/achievements associated so you have literally no draw to play it more than once. The same is true for the scavenger hunt mode that drops you into the same open area to collect items, again for no reason at all. No rewards, no currency, no trophies/achievements. One and done.
No problem, I thought, I didn’t get this game for the single player anyway. In truth, I’m not much fond of the single player component of most kart racers, Mario Kart included. I decided to move onto the multiplayer, which was the reason for Chip and I getting two review codes. The only problem is, there’s no online multiplayer. That’s right, a competitive kart racer that does not allow you to play online against others. You would think that the rep giving me the codes would mention it since I wanted to get multiple review copies for this reason, but they didn’t. This, like so many other aspects of Coffin Dodgers, was extremely disappointing. There was a split-screen mode, however, and I have plenty of kart racing fans around the house including my wife who is a genius at Mario Kart. Even that couldn’t hold up with the same result from campaign happening in multiplayer. At all times one of us was in the front and one of us was near or in the back. It was as if all the enemy AI were clustered together in a part of the track neither of us was on and we missed out on all the fun. Usually the only reason the person in back was there was because the other human racer had hit them with a weapon that they couldn’t recover from, but we may as well have been playing alone. I do know that there is 4-player split-screen available and I’m betting that is probably the best way to play, but I rarely have 4 people at my house ready to go and I don’t have 4 controllers on PS4 (or Xbox One). There was an open map for the two of us to go head to head against, but the last thing you want in a competitive kart racer is a vast open space where you barely see one another. After a few minutes of trying to find each other, we gave up on that mode too. I didn’t think it was possible, but the multiplayer (if you can even call it that) of Coffin Dodgers is even worse than the single player.
When you break it all down it becomes clear that Coffin Dodgers is a charming wrapper on a mobile game that was brought to consoles. I did not see it in either the iTunes store or the Play store, so apparently it was only made for home consoles/PCs, but the traits of this game from start to finish are what you expect from mobile games. Even at the lower price this game is asking, it’s far too much for an experience that just isn’t fun. I’ll give the developers credit to the fact that the general theme is hilarious even if only for a few minutes, the game drew attention from people passing the TV, and there are no apparent bugs or crashes. All in all it’s well programmed, but unfortunately it’s not well designed. This is a blatant attempt to cash in on the kart racing craze with some of the laziest concepts and most boring gameplay I’ve experienced in a long while. Whether or not this was offering you remote interest, you should take a pass on Coffin Dodgers.
Final Score: 2 out of 5
A code was provided for the purposes of this review and it was played on the Playstation 4. Coffin Dodgers is available for $11.99 on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows (XP+), Mac (OS X) and Linux (Steam OS/Ubuntu). It was played for a total of 5 hours.