Whenever a kart-racer is released on a Nintendo platform it’s pretty impossible to avoid comparing it to the Mario Kart franchise; the mustachioed plumber’s sublime series of games is almost incontrovertibly the best option available in the genre, and it would take something pretty special to knock it off the podium’s top spot. Nevertheless, we often see developers releasing cheaper alternatives with their own slight twist – and that is exactly what we have here with Coffin Dodgers.
Set within the Sunny Pines Retirement Community, Coffin Dodgers has you racing around as pensioners on mobility scooters as you desperately try to avoid death at the hands of the Grim Reaper. You see, the game has a short story mode that sees you picking your favourite pensioner, entering a series of three-race tournaments against other community members, and then doing anything and everything to avoid coming in last place. At the end of each elimination round, the Reaper will take the soul of the person at the bottom of the pile.
As it turns out, coming last and being killed off by your hooded nemesis isn’t all that bad as it just means you’ll have to retry the three-race tournament you failed on. Instead, then, the plot simply feeds into the game’s overall humour – something that is definitely a focal point during the experience. As well as the obvious comedic value gained from having angry elders racing around on scooters, little touches such as using your walking stick to swat away your opponents on the track gives Coffin Dodgers that barmy, verging on ridiculous, approach it desperately needs to stand out on the eShop.
The racing itself is a little too imprecise to be considered truly great, but does just enough to get by as being a decent little offering. You’ll find item boxes littering each track – as you’ve likely come to expect from games in the genre these days – adding another layer of madness in the form of rockets, oil spills, protective bubbles, and even a gun to fire at your opponents. These items are used with a simple press of the ‘A’ button, and pressing ‘B’ uses your walking stick attack – if you hold down ‘B’ for long enough, you can actually charge up your attack and knock opponents out with a single hit.
Successfully making your way through each race in the story provides you with coins which you can then spend on upgrading your scooter. Everything from paint jobs and engine upgrades to improvements for your aerodynamics are available, and you’ll definitely want to purchase these whenever possible. The scooters have a rather mad, ‘swervy’, almost out-of-control feel to them until you get used to them, and the upgrades can help you to secure the victories you need. The controls, mixed with the often-aggressive AI, can sometimes create an infuriating experience, but if you put in enough time you’ll start to find yourself consistently nearing the front of the grid.
On top of the story mode, players can also compete against one another in time trials and a local versus mode for 2-4 players. There are some welcome menu options available here, with the ability to split the screen either vertically or horizontally at your choosing, and an option that allows you to race with either stock scooters or your own customised version from the story. Again, the racing isn’t deep or impressive enough to make you want to play for hours, but it’s a welcome addition all the same.
It is a shame, though, that this doesn’t extend any further to support online play. The crazy nature of the game’s ragdoll physics has the potential for hilarious multiplayer moments, but a lack of online means that this is heavily restricted. Similarly, with the story mode being so short (unless you wish to complete it with every racer), and some of the game’s 13 tracks feeling similar to others, you might be left wishing there was a little more content on offer for your cash.
A mode called ‘Open World’ had us initially optimistic about rectifying this issue, but the gameplay isn’t quite as grand as it is made out to be. The first open world option enables you, or you and a friend, to simply drive around Sunny Pines at will, but there isn’t really much point in doing so. The only thing you can do here is enter races from the story, but they are much more easily accessed through the story’s menu anyway, making this mode feel obsolete.
The second open-world option is a little better, tasking you with collecting as many items as possible which have all been scattered around the village. A GPS arrow gives you a rough direction to head in, and then it’s up to you to find as many of these items as you can before the time runs out. Again, this is a welcome addition, but you’ll likely have had enough with it after a handful of attempts.
Coffin Dodgers’ world has the potential for greatness, reminding us somewhat of the crazy cartoon shenanigans available in games such as Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare from PopCap Games. While the visuals leave a lot to be desired, the game’s bombastic soundtrack and core design ideas could help it evolve into something special, and if the game was to receive a generous makeover with a generous dollop or polish, we could see it taking off as something of a cult online hit. As it stands, though, there are a few too many flaws holding it back.
Combining crazy physics and an even crazier story scenario, Coffin Dodgers has managed to do just enough to stand out from the crowd, offering a decent little kart-racer that should generate a laugh or two. A slight lack of content and a less-than-perfect overall quality prevent it from being something worth shouting about, however, so you might want to consider your options before jumping in with an immediate purchase.