Milky Tea Studios, a developer based in Liverpool, and established by just two designers back in 2005, is the brain behind the latest kart racer to hit PS4 and XBox One in the form of the comical Coffin Dodgers. Originally released on Steam in July 2015, the retirement racer boasts a simple backstory; literally race against Death to avoid your soul from being harvested.
Looking to hang up his Scythe, the Grim Reaper himself wishes to settle down in the peaceful village of Sunny Pines, but not before deciding to take the souls of all the residents who live there. Giving them a three day warning, for whatever reason, the old-aged residents decide the best course of action is to challenge Death to a race on their mobility scooters. Amused by the prospect, Death accepts, the racing begins and those in last place at the end of the day, which consists of three races, are eliminated, from life, and continue to race in zombie form. The aim, you may have guessed, is to not become a pile of undead flesh but to keep your soul intact.
When you first boot up Coffin Dodgers you’ll be welcomed by beautifully colourful visuals that are reminiscent of a Pixar movie, or more closely, the village is not too dissimilar from that in Blue Toad: Murder Mystery from Relentless Software on PlayStation 3. It’s bright, vibrant and the sun is always shining, so why would Death not want to live here? The races take place within this visual spectacular, and below to its sewers and subway tunnels. The underbelly of Sunny Pines manages to keep the constant style despite being a bit gloomy and rundown.
The racing itself is pretty simple, anybody can pick it up and play. Its simplicity, however, is also its downfall as there are no further skills to unlock or advanced techniques to learn like kart racers of yesteryear. Drift boosting in Crash Team Racing and Mario Kart spring to mind. I found it strange how turning your scooter slows it down more than you’d expect, meaning races feel very stop-and-start; slow, fast, repeat. You can upgrade your scooters using coins earned during races, making it faster, handling better, and increasing weapon damage but none of them undo this slow-down effect at corners.
Each of the seven playable characters, eight on completion of the story mode, have a handheld weapon, such as a walking stick or umbrella that you can charge up and swing at any time in an attempt to knock fellow oldies tumbling to the floor. Characters have a ragdoll effect when they fall leading to some, as the game description says “comedic” moments, of granddads falling over walls and grandmas spinning on the floor. Turns out this is more frustrating than comical as you don’t reset onto your scooter for four or five seconds while you stare at your prone, lifeless body. In what’s supposed to be a fast-paced race for your life every second counts, and hitting a speeding subway train a couple of times can put you seriously far back in the race. Fret not, however, as it’s far too easy to win by a large margin even if you do end up falling off and find yourself half a lap behind.
The background music throughout each race fits the tone of the game very well. They’re upbeat little tunes to match the funky world around you, but at the same time involve instruments such as an organ or string selection that add that spookier feel. Which, when racing the Reaper for your life, is quite fitting indeed. Similarly, the sound effects are also well-suited. The realistic roar of scooter engines and sound of rockets hitting old-timers are just like you’d expect in our real, less-colourful world.
Rockets are one of the weapons you can pick up in boxes as you scoot around the track. Another weapon is the uzi machine gun which feels a little unsettling: it’s not a form of attack you’d expect in any light-hearted kart game let alone one involving the older generation. The game is built around the primary premise of old people racing, the scooters, and the feel of the village. It’s strange, then, why the same thought didn’t go into the weapons which feel almost out of place, especially when Milky Tea is pushing the comedy value of the game. Surely false teeth replacing the oil slick or a homing newspaper instead of rockets might have felt more at home here.
Overall, Coffin Dodgers is not the kind of kart game that you’ll play for hours on end, especially for the older, more hardcore gamer. There are far better racing games out there, such as the free PS Plus game Table Top Racing that was released on the same day. Younger audiences, however, may find it amusing. For me, though, it’s a little too boring and easy. I want a racing title that makes me think and work for my victory. Coffin Dodgers feels more like a Sunday drive when you’re out in front and there’s very little going on. It’s not a bad game by any means, it looks good, it sounds fantastic but unfortunately as kart-racers go, it’s closer to six-feet under than living it up in Sunny Pines.
Lacking a Soul
Bright visuals, upbeat music and an entertaining concept aren't enough to save this rundown racer from the retirement home.