Kicking the bucket
There are some pretty unique concepts for games out there, and a group of pensioners taking to go-kart racing in order to avoid their graves is right up there.
Coffin Dodgers has the aforementioned old-agers making a pact with Death that if he can defeat them in a race across their sleepy town, and Death, amused by the prospect agrees. Across the game’s story mode, you’re going to need to stay ahead of the pack as a set number of racers who finish towards the back are going to rest in peace.
It’s nice to see a story mode in a kart racer, so kudos must go to its inclusion, but to compare it to the all-time best karting story mode, Diddy Kong Racing, Coffin Dodgers is limited to simply being about the races. The town setting, which you can view ahead of the races, would have been a nice overworld to drive around and locate new missions to take part in. As it is, it goes quickly from race to race, and other than the different courses, there’s not a lot to distinguish each of the races on an individual basis.
You can upgrade karts along the way, but sadly the racing itself is pretty limited in terms of the handling, so the upgrades don’t make a massive difference. As with most other racing games, you’ll need to hold the ZR button to accelerate, but the racing is never fast enough to require you to let go of the button for the entire race. It’s not like there’s a Mario Kart-style snaking system for getting maximum seconds out of the corners.
Due to the limited graphical power of the game, it feels like you’re driving through an angular racetrack. Turning does feel a little awkward, and it feels closer to an eight-point compass to turn on rather than a fuller 360-degree experience. The Gamecube and possibly even the N64 would have had next to no trouble in handling this game, certainly – character models are blocky, and while the developers have tried to get around that with the quirkiness and comedic nature of the game, you can’t help but feel that the game would have benefitted from some extra work on a visual polish.
Much like your Mario Karts and Diddy Kongs, weapons and powerups are dotted around the tracks, which can range from a locking-on rocket to a shield or speed boost. Oddly though, there seems to be little correlation between your race position and what power-up you get. Getting a shield when in last place is an annoyance, and does little to level out the field. But you can hit the B button to whack anyone in range with your walking stick. You can get knocked off your buggy, costing you seconds, but setting a great race time is never really a priority.
It’s sad then that it never quite feels like you’re racing beyond the first lap. The leading pack will zoom away from the rest quite early on, so if you find yourself knocked off your buggy earlier on, there are very slim chances for you to make a recovery. Without being able to launch a Blue Shell-type weapon, it’s almost impossible to catch up when you lose sight of the leader, and sadly, this has got a way to go to catch up with its karting contemporaries.
While by no means a Mario Kart, Coffin Dodgers does have its own personality. It just would have been nice to see some sort of sandbox element, and more time spent on polish and more control over the racing experience.