Ever since Super Mario Kart established the kart racing genre back in 1992, many games have been inspired by the original SNES combat racer. Coffin Dodgers is one of the latest, and while it's not exactly the greatest addition to the category, I actually had some fun playing it – while it lasted.
Created in Wales by indie developer Milky Tea Studios, the game is a lighthearted and fairly silly take on kart racing. Its action is set in the Sunny Pines Retirement Community, where seven old age pensioners driving souped-up mobility scooters vie with the Grim Reaper himself in a championship series of 13 races. The reason for this – and yes, there is a plot to justify this bizarre premise – is that Death has decided to move into Sunny Pines, where he believes he can pick off the old folk at his leisure. They strike a bargain with him, challenging him to a mobility scooter championship race to the death. If they lose, Death can have their souls. If they win, the Grim Reaper must retire.
The action starts with a simple choice: select one of the seven aged crones as your primary driver. It seems a fairly arbitrary selection, since there doesn't seem to be much of a difference between the characters in terms of abilities and weight. They all drove the same to me, and if there are variations between them, they're way too subtle for me to notice. Once you've chosen a character, it's off to the races.
The championship plays out over four three-race rounds, and the objective is to simply score sufficient points to progress to the next round. After four rounds, there's a final extra-long race where you have to beat Death to the finishing post. Manage to do that and the Sunny Pines Retirement Community and its residents are saved.
As the championship races progress, coins are earned that can be used to upgrade your mobility scooter. In this fashion, the top speed and acceleration can be boosted, or, if you wish, you can choose a more sporty body and paintjob for your vehicle. In a way, upgrading your vehicle helps soften the difficulty level somewhat. If you get stuck on a round, the money you earn repeatedly replaying it lets you upgrade your vehicle to the point where you have an advantage over the competition, which will hopefully enable you to progress.
One of the most important aspects of a kart racing game is its feel, and Coffin Dodgers is fairly good in that regard. The karts react to joypad inputs very quickly, and seem almost too twitchy when you first start playing. However, they have very high grip, with little in the way of oversteer, and once you get used to their handling – it's a case of tap-tapping the joypad to effectively guide your vehicle, rather than using nuanced inputs – steering the mobility scooter is precise and accurate enough to not feel frustrating.
Another critical element of a good kart racing game is entertaining weaponry to use against your opponents, and Coffin Dodgers is also pretty decent here. The game follows the Mario Kart standard: When you drive over a power-up, you're randomly assigned a weapon or speed boost. There's a machine gun that you can aim at opponents to blast them off the road, deadly homing missiles, a shield that temporarily protects you from harm, an oil slick you can drop behind you, and a radius blast that spins out anyone within its area of effect. Power-ups are plentiful, although the random number generator can sometimes make or break a race. Get a few homing missiles in a row, and you're able to pick off anyone who's ahead of you with ease. Get lumbered with a shield or oil slick when you’re bringing up the rear of the field, and it's pretty much worthless.
Along with power-up weapons, each retiree can use their walking stick to bash other racers out of the way. Tapping fire waves your cane quickly, but only slows down opponents momentarily if you manage to hit them. Charge up your stick by holding down the fire button, however, and a successful whack will send them spinning off the track. I did find aiming somewhat tricky, although the opponents never seem to miss if you're foolish enough to let them get close enough behind you to fire off a swing.
As you can probably tell at this point, I didn't exactly fall head over heels in love with Coffin Dodgers – but I also didn't completely dislike it. It's a moderately entertaining game that lacks the critical finesse of a true Mario Kart title. The 13 tracks are pretty good fun to drive around, and while the graphics and sound aren't anything to write home about – the game looks more like an early Xbox 360 title than a latest Xbox One release – they're stylized enough to feel decently cartoon-like.
The game's biggest weakness is its difficulty level: I won the championship in one two-hour sitting. Beyond replaying the championship again with another character, that's pretty much it for the single-player game. Coffin Dodgers does offer split screen local multiplayer for up to four participants, however. Although the game feels a little rough around the edges cosmetically, its fundamental design is solid enough to provide fairly entertaining multiplayer competition. What's really disappointing, though, is that there's no online multiplayer. That would have given the game a lot more depth and lasting appeal.
Ultimately, Coffin Dodgers is an opportunity missed. While it ticks some of the right boxes in terms of what's needed to make a quality Mario Kart clone, it's just not polished enough to truly stand out. Sure, it can be fun for a while, but the lack of a single-player challenge and no online multiplayer mode means its appeal is somewhat limited, and unless you can take advantage of its local multiplayer mode, it won't keep you entertained for long.
The single-player side of the game is fairly easy to beat. Local multiplayer is fun, but there's no online racing.
The limited music soon begins to grate. Fortunately you can turn it off.
Basic, cartoon-like graphics look like something from early last generation.
While Coffin Dodgers follows the Mario Kart formula fairly closely, it's neither polished or finessed enough to really stand out. It's fun for a while, but unfortunately the easy single-player mode and lack of online multiplayer limits its appeal.