Hours of my time at university were spent battling on the tracks of Crash Team Racing, mastering the weapons, layouts and intricacies of the multiplayer. Inspired by the success of Mario Kart, CTR was the flagship kart racer on PSOne, but by no means the only one. The fashion for cartoony slapstick racing felt omnipresent with Star Wars, Sonic and even Formula 1 jumping on the bandwagon, most without much fanfare. We’ve moved a few generations of console on since that time and have yet to really see anything that matches the fun and playability of the early games, so can Coffin Dodgers fill that current void?
Kart racers are at their most fun when the ease of racing is balanced with the accessibility of the weapons and the ridiculousness of the characters. Coffin Dodgers kicks things off by introducing you to Sunny Pines, a peaceful little retirement village where the residents want nothing more than to enjoy the relaxation not having to go to work brings. Things are not going to go their way though, the newest addition to their tranquil world is Mr. Grim Reaper who seems to have not hung up the robe and scythe just yet. How do the inhabitants of Sunny Pines tackle this intrusion? Why, by challenging him to a race for the right to keep their souls of course! Everyone knows beating Death at a game is the only way to stave off being turned into a zombie… well, in this game they do.
Story mode is fairly standard fare once you’ve got the narrative setup – race around a variety of tracks in a number of locations with the aim of winning each race. Points are awarded for finishing positions, and after three rounds the winners and losers are decided. You need to place at the top to continue or risk becoming one of the Grim Reaper’s zombie racers. Make it to the top of the table overall and you’ll be in with a chance of beating Death and saving your soul from eternal damnation. There are 21 tracks over 4 environments that make up the world, and 7 characters with their mobility scooters to choose from. Because all the areas make up the full Sunny Pines world, there’s also a free-roam mode so you can explore at your leisure, refine your racing lines, or play a game of Crazy Grandad (yes, there’s a sort of Crazy Taxi clone in there).
So the setup is pretty familiar for a kart racer, and the controls are too, if somewhat a little basic. There’s no jump or slide, just accelerate and brake – which isn’t a problem, especially as I think I only even used brake in the tutorial, or to reverse myself out of a wall. Weapons are also very recognisable with homing missiles, machine guns, shields and oil slicks being picked up from smashable icons on the courses. An addition is close quarters combat too, so if you’re side-by-side with one of your geriatric friends you can batter them with your walking stick and try and knock them out of the race. The best tactic however is to simply level up your scooter and leave the opposition in the dust.
Each race finish nets you XP and coins to spend on your scooter so it’ll handle better, go faster and be deadlier. I’m not sure if there’s a correlation between the amount of XP you earn and the amount of cash thrown your way, but you definitely get more for finishing in first place; and additional XP comes from performing additional activities during a race like taking your opponents down, running zombies over and wrecking fire hydrants. I’m actually not even sure what XP can be used for to be honest, there’s nothing locked behind an experience paywall, nor levels to measure your progress against. Coffin Dodgers has the standard mechanisms you’d expect from a game of its ilk, even if they do feel like they’re there just because they have to be, and to get the most out of the upgrades and characters you’ll be working your way through the story mode races several times – but you don’t need a full levelled kart to win the final challenge, so it’s a little redundant.
Where Coffin Dodgers slips up and fails to the deliver the addictive nature we’ve seen in the classic karting games is that it’s a bit too easy and doesn’t have a lot of depth. Story mode can be completed in a single sitting, there’s not much to do in the free-roam, Crazy Grandad wears a bit thin after a few goes, and there’s split-screen but no online multiplayer. It’s very simple to play and get into making you think that it’d be perfect for kids, and you’ll have fun with it, it’s just a shame that it doesn’t distill the collective years of the characters into longevity for the game. That said, this isn’t a full price title so it’s worth a punt if you’re craving some karting action.
A PS4 review copy of Coffin Dodgers was provided by the MilkyTea Studios PR team, and the game is available digitally now on PC, Xbox One and PS4.