I wanted to review Coffin Dodgers because it looked like a quirky little racer with an amusing story and a cast of interesting characters. So when I sat down before dinner to play a few races, I expected to get a quick tutorial and then perhaps make my way through the first area. Less than an hour and a half later, I was at the final race of the story mode. It took about another hour to play through some of the other modes available in the full release of the game and by the end I felt as though I had sampled all that the title had to offer. To say I was disappointed by the experience would be entirely too accurate.
The concept of the game is fun enough; the Grim Reaper has come to the Sunny Pines retirement village and plans on reaping the souls of seven of its inhabitants. They decide to challenge him to a scooter race and if they win, they live. Little do they know that Grim is a creature of its word, he will literally allow the solitary winner to live and no one else. Time to race for your life!
After completing the tutorial where I learned the controls and the gameplay, I was presented with the choice between these seven retirees. They don’t have different stats or different style scooters or anything like that. The only difference is their appearance and their backstory. Great. I choose the old man who looked like Snoopy and launched into the first group of races. First each time. Great. Winning each of these races gave me enough coins to upgrade my scooter in the garage, adding a fine-tuned handling system to my ride. Onto the next area!
In this new set of three races, the AI-controlled characters had also souped up their scooters, but somehow they’d managed a few more upgrades than me. I didn’t ace these courses, so I barely had enough coins to upgrade my acceleration. Before heading onto the next area, I thought I’d go back and replay some races to earn more coins. No sir! No races can be replayed in the story mode… a design choice by developer Milky Tea. So as soon as you start losing, the AI gets smarter and you get no chance to redeem yourself. Great.
Shaking my head, but confident in my racing abilities, I headed to the Graveyard. Most of my competition was now racing with a maxed out vehicle while I was putting along with two or three upgrades. Could I respec my scooter to get some type of advantage? No sir! It took me two tries to complete the area, most of my failed races the result of a bad twist of fate. Some obstacles have a collision box a bit wider than their outline while others do not, so it made it difficult to tell which turns I could cut close and which ones I needed to give a wide berth. But I persevered and made it to the final race, where I needed to beat Death in order to emerge victorious!
I must have attempted this race a dozen times. The AI characters likely had every scooter upgrade at this point while I had four or five. And like a fool, I had spent some coins on a second item slot… what a waste! Every race, I would cut turns as close as I could, use my items as wisely as I could, and avoid all manner of pitfalls which wanted to slow me down. A few times, I finished 2nd when Death came in 6th or so. Had I won? The ending cutscene was ambiguous at best. I tried the final race again. And again. And again. Finally, I had lost enough that my consolation coins had amounted to enough to upgrade my top speed. I still wasn’t as fast as the AI characters, but maybe it would be enough?
Sure enough, one more upgrade tipped the scales in my favor and I ended my next race by squeaking past the finish line just ahead of Death himself. I was rewarded with a bizarre cutscene and then the game returned to the final race screen as if nothing had changed. I suppose I had won? The real prize was that I had experienced all the game had to offer and could file it away, never to be played again. While the concept behind Coffin Dodgers looked like a winner, the actual game was a buggy, unbalanced nightmare with not enough positives to warrant giving it another try. Avoid this title and let the residents of Sunny Pines fend for themselves!