Tuesday, March 13

Review: Coffin Dodgers [Nintendo Switch eShop]

When it comes to kart racers the unfortunate reality is when releasing something new on the Switch it will inevitably be put up against Mario Kart, the reigning king of karts. Though several racers have come to the console in the hopes of knocking the king off its throne not only have none succeeded but the gap in quality between MK and its hopeful successors has been substantial. New on the scene is the comically-themed Coffin Dodgers, pitting a pack of geriatric wannabe racers against the Grim Reaper himself. How does it measure up? Unfortunately, in some key areas it has fallen and can’t get up.

While there are some mode variations that provide some temporary distraction the meat and potatoes of kart racing is the core driving experience. In the case of Dodgers this makes for a mix of good and bad. On the plus side once you get used to the pretty tight handling control at least works fairly well. Another positive is that most of the power-ups are useful and make some degree of sense, whether the AOE shock paddles, the lethal missiles, or the likes of the shield. The inclusion of the multi-hit close-up uzi I was generally less thrilled with and tended to just want to use as quickly as possible so it wouldn’t take up an item slot. It works, it just is literally hit or miss and takes a while to deplete. Similarly down the middle in “Meh”-ville is your melee attack, which absolutely can be useful, but usually only in the very early race when you’re vying for position.

Going through the balance of concerns for racing games the track design is decent but, for the most part generic. There are simply too many stretches of track lacking in detail and interest. Boost strips and ramps make an occasional appearance but mostly feel under-utilized. Some hazards are present in limited cases in specific areas but nothing screams “inspired” despite the very specific theming in the game. That extends to your choices in racers, who are at least visually eclectic but in terms of performance seem completely identical. Your opportunity to differentiate comes from collecting coins which you can then use to purchase upgrades for your scooter, whether to improve your basket (tied to your item pick-ups) or your melee weapon range on top of the normal racing suspects. Local multiplayer isn’t incredible, though mostly due to the nature of the entire racing experience and not faulting it specifically.

Where Dodgers struggles the worst is really in terms of the big picture, putting all of the various pieces together to form a compelling whole. The racing isn’t too bad or sloppy, it’s just not hard to see that, for the most part, it’s unremarkable even if the core story has the potential for amusement. Aside from the characters, the karts themselves, and one particular power-up there’s not much capitalizing on this being a bunch of geriatric racers. A used colostomy bag instead of an oil slick? Racing through the old folks home itself? It just feels like there are missed opportunities. While the final resolution to the game’s story mode has some humor at least the final showdown race with the Grim Reaper himself was completely underwhelming as well. In terms of overall race dynamics the worst elements are that when you’re hit or crash you immediately lose your power-ups and once you really get behind there’s not much that will get you back to the rest of the pack. This means that if you’re in the lead and get hit with a string of bad luck (in particular from missiles) you can easily drop to last and have little opportunity to get back into the race. Then, just as a general note, while you do accumulate experience (including bonus experience for hitting cones and objects on the track) I’m still unclear what purpose it serves as a whole. There’s just a collection of questions and issues that don’t completely add up.

While I enjoyed playing through Coffin Dodgers to a degree even against the other somewhat lackluster kart racers that have already released on the Switch it fails to differentiate itself significantly. The best hope would be that you and some friends could get some silly enjoyment out of the local multiplayer but that will come down to people’s tastes. While it is good for kicking around and having some fun with for a while aside from the multiplayer angle it won’t likely hold your attention for very long.

Score: 6

  • A unique theme… though somewhat criminally under-utilized
  • Overall, kart handling is decent

  • The single-player campaign ends with a whimper
  • Too many stretches of track that lack excitement
  • Fails to pull away from the rest of the average kart-racer pack