It's been a while since we were in the era of a new licenced kart racer turning up every week. On the back of Super Mario Kart's success, pretty much every publisher decided that games of that type were easy to make and ship, most of them overlooking the things that made Nintendo's evergreen champion just as good as it was and still is. Crash, Shrek, Digimon, LEGO, Looney Tunes, Madagascar, M&Ms, Pac-Man, Sonic, South Park, Star Wars, Toy Story, Woody Woodpecker…they all got a look in.
That isn't to say that the supply has dried up completely. Though licences are less prevalent, on Xbox One, we've already seen the lackluster Beach Buggy Racing hit the store and now, Milky Tea Studios are chancing their arm with Coffin Dodgers. The game is a darkly comedic take on the genre, featuring residents of a retirement village racing around on mobility scooters, attacking each other with melee weapons such as canes, the usual crop of power ups, all while trying to cross the line in first place after deftly avoiding or splattering the zombies that wander around the grounds.
The kicker is that if they finish toward the back of the pack, they'll be taken to their grave by Death himself, appearing themselves in zombiefied form from there on out. In the story mode you'll need to continually avoid Death's gaze, finishing high enough up the table in each event as the rest of the field end up going into the light, until you get to take on the Grim Reaper in a final showdown. It's a nice setup that provides a few laughs but, as with those licenced titles that we mentioned earlier, the gameplay has some pretty big flaws.
First off, it's all is far too easy. Our first play of the story mode saw us having to retry just one race, which was due to a bug that saw our vehicle refusing to accelerate. You may not win each time – you only need to finish in the top three - but if you do get far enough in front, the way that the powerups are distributed means that you can't be caught unless you make a mistake and run yourself off the road. Subsequently, if someone gets the jump on you and you're far enough behind in 2nd place, you'll be stuck there as you'll find yourself only collecting oil slicks, machine guns, or rockets, but no boosts, since the game thinks you're doing well enough to not need them. There's no Blue Shell equivalent here, so you need to be in range of the leader to be able to redress the balance. If you're not, then it sucks to be you. The opposite happens when you're at the back. You get boost after boost after boost, but given that the speed increase isn't all that great, you find yourself longing for rockets so that you can slow the guys in front down a bit.
Making things even easier on your second run through – where you'll likely play as Death (who is unlocked upon first completion) in order to get the achievement that success with that character rewards you – is the fact that all the upgrades you bought first time around are still with you, so you can win every race by almost a full lap without even trying. That's good news for those achievement hunters, as most players will pick up the full complement of 1000GS within those two playthroughs.
Coffin Dodgers' graphical performance is also of concern. Without trying to be overly harsh, the sometimes-endearing cartoon-style visuals aren't a million miles away from something you'd have seen on the Dreamcast – though of course, they're in HD – but somehow the game still has issues with keeping up in terms of framerate. There's nothing particularly taxing here for the console to do but most sharp turns (and most of the turns will be sharp given that the steering controls tend toward being far too sensitive) cause the framerate to drop. More so when there's more than one character on the screen. This becomes less obvious the more you play, but it's still sad to see.
All of this isn't to say that Coffin Dodgers isn't sometimes fun. With multiple players in the mix, there's a relatively decent time to be had for a while, but the way the weapons are meted out means that sooner or later, players will become frustrated by how noncompetitive things can become. The game should allow and promote rough-and-tumble gameplay, but that style of play is ultimately punished, no matter what you do. Whoever comes out of the pack in first place in the early going will more than likely win the race since nobody will be able to catch them or hit them with any weapons.
Harking back to the Dreamcast again, if you venture outside of the story mode and the multiplayer aspects, Coffin Dodgers does allow you to freely roam around the uninteresting game world and also provides the ability to take part in Crazy Grandad mode. A play on Crazy Taxi, this sees you picking up items as opposed to passengers, rocketing around the game world to get from point A to point B before the timer counts down. Much as with the rest of the game though, it feels undercooked, with no leaderboards or any other real reason to play it more than twice. There's also a time trial mode that literally consists of solo timed versions of each event from the story mode but again, it feels like it's been shoehorned in at the last minute, given that there are no leaderboards to be found.
Coffin Dodgers is a classic example of a good idea backed up by poor execution. The gameplay feels dated before it starts as it doesn't progress things from the karting pretenders that have come before, and the visuals sort of fittingly feel like they're from an older generation. The premise has lashings of potential and there's a chuckle or two to be found, but the game is far too easy and brief for single players. Multiplayer is limited to offline play only and is as enjoyable as in every other non-Mario and non-Crash Bandicoot-based kart game, which is to say that it won't be one that you'll be trotting out at your gaming parties for very long.