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Coffin Dodgers

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Wales Interactive
Developer: Milky Tea
Release Date: May 3, 2016

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PS4 Review - 'Coffin Dodgers'

by Brian Dumlao on June 1, 2016 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

Coffin Dodgers sees you take on the role of saving one of seven quirky retirement village residents, each racing for their soul in "pimped up" mobility scooters against none other than the Grim Reaper himself.

Kart racers are dependent on good racing and attractive characters, with the latter being the real selling point for most players. It can be the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom, Sega's parade of characters, Chocobos or even cartoon-style F1 racers, but as long as the characters are somewhat familiar, people will be interested. Should that fail, however, there's always the premise. Coffin Dodgers relies on the premise to hook people, but everything else about the game will steer them away.

After many years on the job, Death pays a visit to the retirement suburb of Sunny Pines. While some of its more eccentric residents sleep, he warns them that he'll take away their souls in three days' time. Not feeling like they've reached their end, a small group of residents bands together and presents Death with an arrangement. If they can beat him in a mobility scooter race, Death has to leave the group alone. Thinking he can't lose, the Grim Reaper agrees.

For such a nice premise, Coffin Dodgers fails to take any advantage of it. There are some interesting descriptions for each of the seven characters, ranging from a failed blues musician to a World War II vet and an exercise instructor. They might fit some typical stereotypes of elderly people, but none of that is conveyed beyond the character selection screen, so they're devoid of any personality during each race. Likewise, the story only shows up at the beginning and end, with no cut scenes to maintain the narrative. The story is forgotten long enough to make the ending feel thrown together with a useless twist, so from a narrative standpoint, the whole affair is rather boring.

The main mode is the campaign, which takes you through four different stages with three races each. The core racing is what's expected from any kart racer. There are eight racers at the starting grid, and you're always in last place. You have four laps to get to first place and hold it to earn the most points for your circuit. The standard assortment of weapons is at your disposal, from missiles and an Uzi to oil slicks, but you also have a trusty can to knock people around, similar to the original Road Rash. As you progress through the environments, the person who finishes last dies and becomes a zombie. Further into the game, your placement is even more important since the last living person becomes a zombie, effectively limiting how far you can go down the rankings before you lose. In the end, you face off against Death in a race where you need to finish first.

Though the campaign is functional, it suffers from a myriad of issues. From a functionality standpoint, you can't restart a race while you're in the middle of it. Despite the option being present in the pause menu, hitting it does nothing, so your only option is to quit the race, get kicked back to the title screen, and continue the campaign to retry a race. The other option is to finish the race and immediately select "Try Again," since you can't go back to the race menu and select previously raced tracks after you've clicked "Continue."

This is something you'll want to do quite often since the AI is absolutely ruthless, almost in an unfair way. The game seems to employ some catch-up code whenever you're ahead, so races can be close unless you're constantly dumping oil slicks and dodging everything. However, if you're in the middle of the pack, racers from behind still nip at your heels while racers ahead of you don't slow down, forcing you into taking fourth place no matter how many mistakes the AI commits.

The lack of any real weapon damage and consistency also plagues the title. Once again, this favors the AI more than the player, as getting struck by missiles consistently puts you in a bad position compared to the AI racers that get hit. You'll get lucky at times and actively cause your opponents to mess up, but you also have an equal chance of having a weapon hit with very little effect. That consistency also plagues objects on the road; you'll hit a skater or sheep and be absolutely fine, but hitting a lamppost causes you to come to a stop and actually kicks you back a few feet.

Track design also seems pretty haphazard and features lots of blind, sharp turns. The distance between these turns can be short, and while there are indicators for the turns, they blend into the environment too well to be noticeable. Some of these turns and jumps aren't helped by the camera angles, which can be more detrimental than the obstacles. One such instance happens in one of the later races, where you come out of a portal and the camera decides to show you the front of your vehicle before returning to a normal view — but you only have a second before hitting the turn signal wall.

There are also some elements that aren't explained at all. Zombies on the road make sense since how your friends turned into them after losing races, but other elements, like active car chases coming in the opposite direction and UFOs shooting laser beams on the track, don't fit in at all. On top of that, everything you do gives you XP, but those points do nothing for the game. It's almost as if the XP were thrown in because that's what people expect, but there was no plan to do anything with them.

Even the game's speed, something that you'd think would be a priority in a racing title, falters greatly. The scooters have some zip to them, but you're never going to reach the point where they feel too fast. Hitting ramps feels so slow that there's no perceivable advantage to taking them instead of going around them. The same can be said for the speed boosting arrows on the ground, which sound like they make you go faster. Truthfully, it isn't enough to distance yourself from an AI racer creeping up on you, and the scooter upgrades that you can buy don't seem to improve things, either.

The biggest issue is with performance. The earlier courses provide some smooth experiences, so you might think things are fine. Later tracks start to chug, and the frame rate gets worse as more elements are introduced on-screen. Worse, the title suffers from pauses that last up to five seconds, usually in the middle of a turn. Even the poorest of kart racing games get the fluidity right, so this glaring performance issue negates just about any positive things one can say about the title.

Once you complete the campaign, there are a few more things you can do in solo play. Time Trials has you racing for the best time on any track but without any of the AI opposition to distract you. Quick Race lets you do individual campaign races instead of as part of a circuit. Explore mode lets you drive around Sunny Pines undisturbed while Crazy Granddad adds a timed mode where you need to dart the town and snag items before time expires.

The extra modes feel very much like filler. Time Trials and Quick Race have their place in a racing title, but the Crazy Granddad mode seems rather pointless since you're darting around an open world with no reward to show for it. Even more pointless is the Explore mode, which is nothing more than a hub for you to access the races.

With the single-player components lacking staying power, it's up to the multiplayer section to keep people interested. Sadly, the multiplayer suffers greatly due to the aforementioned issues with the solo game. The option for local four-player split-screen is always welcome, but the erratic frame rate and constant pauses during gameplay are only amplified, making for a subpar racing experience on top of the bad track design and lackluster weapons. As for the exploration mode, you can have some fun with it if you try to turn it into an impromptu car combat mode, but it pales in comparison to something like Cel Damage HD and the port of Twisted Metal Black, which is already on the system.

There's only one saving grace to Coffin Dodgers: Trophies. For trophy hunters, the game is very generous in handing out Silver and Gold ones, and all it takes is an afternoon before you score Platinum. It isn't much of an incentive since there are so many other issues, but it is something.

The graphics will make you wonder if you're playing on a PS2. Character models look too angular and have dead expressions on their faces. The environments are similarly flat and uninspired and come with a decent amount of pop-up. The colors don't "pop" despite the use of bright hues, and the particle effects and other specialties, like explosions and scooter destruction, feel rather lifeless instead of spectacular. All of this piled on top of the performance issues mean that the title is out of place when compared to the rest of the PS4 library.

Likewise, the sound isn't the best. The music isn't bad, but the volume is so overwhelmingly loud that you have to turn things down to make it tolerable. The short length of each piece and the apparent loops may drive one to mute the music entirely. Effects are fine, but the lack of voices contributes to the game's lack of personality.

Unfortunately, Coffin Dodgers is a mess. It squanders its interesting premise, and races are plagued with poor track design, ineffective weaponry, and a lack of meaningful content. The multiplayer fares about as badly as the solo game, making it a blessing that this isn't online, and the constant frame rate issues sap any potential fun from the title. Unless you're willing to pay for a quick boost to your Trophy count, there's no reason to touch this title.

Score: 3.5/10

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