Grave Dodgers doesn’t do enough to stand among the greats like Diddy Kong Racing, Crash Team Racing or Nintendo’s flagship franchise. Despite its adorable premise and fantastic art design, the game falls flat when it comes to map layout, power-ups, and strategy. The online mode has already been deserted, and there’s nothing outside of the main campaign to offer players. There’s some fun to be had here, without a doubt- but I can’t imagine this game standing the test of time. I would love to see a sequel, as there is some real opportunity here, and the clever innovations and melee combat make this a real contender for something new in an overly dominated genre.
WHAT WE LIKED
º The story and setting are imaginative and a breath of fresh air.
º Ragdoll physics and art design are top notch for an indie game.
º Melee combat is a welcome addition to a stagnant genre.
WHAT WE DISLIKED
º Racing feels like you’re on ice, lacks drifting and feels really old.
º Limited power-ups are boring, and tracks lack any real strategy.
º Online community is absent, and there’s not a lot to bring you back.
I, like many, was psyched when I saw the trailer for Coffin Dodgers. A game where senior citizens race against the Grim Reaper in an all or nothing race for your very soul. I was hooked the moment I laid eyes on it. Now, maybe I’m just spoiled, but while playing I couldn’t help but dream I were playing Mario Kart. Everything the game does, Nintendo has already perfected. That’s not to say there aren’t some innovative ideas on display here, but it’s imaginative charm can only drive it so far.
The story is simple and engaging- Death steps into the peaceful retirement community of Sunny Pines, where we meet several of the stereotyped residents who live there. It’s home to Rudolf the veteran who still wears his soldier’s uniform, an Amish farmer, an old biker, a forgotten model, and even a mad scientist. The Reaper tells everyone in the town that he’ll be coming back to collect their souls in three days. Our seven racers agree to challenge him to a “mobility scooter race to the death!” This is a humorous and clever way to set up the game and provides a nice incentive for this crazy contest. Each of the characters feels diverse and tops Nintendo in concern to setting a narrative tone.
The game starts with a tutorial stage, and this is where some of the game’s shortcomings start to rear their ugliness. The scooter controls in a way that goes against the standard feel of driving in other kart racers, feeling closer to Mario Kart 64 rather than the eighth iteration. The scooter slides around, which granted feels more like a hoveround would, but still feels less like a ‘racing’ kart and more of the ‘shopping’ variety. There is no powerslide, and the developers have opted to go with the longer you hold the turn, the more you drift. These controls force you to rely on planning your turns to a T and don’t offer much regarding forgiveness. You’ll be riding the brakes constantly, just because you have no alternative.
Pickups, sadly, aren’t very fun either. There’re the standard missiles, and these are the best pickups in the game. You get two for each pickup, that fires at the same time, with the possibility of locking on and hitting two different racers. If they take a turn right, or something else gets in the way, you can easily miss your target. Pretty standard, but this will be your most desired drop if you’re behind everyone else. In these games, I think the power-ups are the most important aspect outside of tight controls, but all of the other pick-ups are highly disappointing.
You can get a machine gun, which sounds amazing, except your character’s aim seems completely random. If you shoot someone while they’re turning, forget about it. You have to be right up on their butt, and even then, the game will sometimes decide they’re not going to connect. Even if they do, it’ll take almost a whole clip to knock them off of their kart. Even worse, once you get a machine gun, it’s there until you use all of your ammo, forcing you to waste as much as you can before the next pick-up, if you can in time.
There’s an oil can, your standard slick/banana peel, but I even have complaints with that. There’s a delay in its effect, so if someone’s tailing you, you can’t just drop it and nail your tailgating annoyance. There’s also no way to look back, so it’s hard to strategically use them. That, and it’s almost impossible to see these slicks before you hit them. There’s no indication, and you won’t see the tiny splash of black oil until your wheels are running over it. Thankfully, it doesn’t send you flying off of your kart, rather sends you spinning for a few seconds. But in this game, those seconds really matter. You can be in the lead for the majority of the race, and then suddenly hit one of these phantom land mines, and you’re suddenly getting pegged by five racers sending you back to last place.
There’s also a shield, which does its job. Not much I can say about it, other than it protects you from attack for about 10 seconds. There’s also a defibrillator, that electrifies the area around your kart, shocking your opponents momentarily, which slows them down and takes their pick-ups. There’s also boost packs (along with ground boosts), but to be honest- I don’t think they add much of anything to your speed. In fact, I swear the amount of pull back before they hit full speed takes away any benefit they may have had. This is the extent of the weaponry, and I have to say, I was really looking forward to more.
One thing that is cool is the ragdoll physics. When you do get nailed with a missile, you’re bound to go flying into someone’s front yard, or thrown into the jaws of your rivals’ wheels. These moments are enjoyable and offer an awesome amount of carnage you don’t see in Mario Kart. It’s not just when you take a direct hit though; it also happens when you miss a turn and slam head-first into a wall or obstacle. If you can look past the fact that you’ll most likely be in last place because of it, it reminds me of flying out of the windshield in GTA, and plays into the fact that you’re riding a vehicle without a seatbelt.
The obstacles are clever to the point where I like them in some ways more than other similar games. There’re UFOs that spill laser beams down the center of the track. Police chase criminals against the racers. Zombies fill the roads, and they splatter with screen-obscuring blood. Not to mention the random stacks of boxes, which always make me feel like I’m in a bad chase scene. These are really fun, but some items are placed in a way that will punish inside turns. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hit a sharp turn, only to find the corner housing a lamp post you get stuck behind. Sadly, I got stuck on flat walls and rounded bushes, which will infuriate the calmest of drivers.
I’m also not a fan of the AI. Character stick to the center of the lane, and in some segments drive in a straight line, void of any excitement or chaos. They don’t feel like racers with a real strategy and tend to take a very narrow path, firing off whatever they get whenever they get it. With the use of canes however, they are as relentless as you would like. There is real pleasure in riding up next to another racer and slamming them so hard in the face they fall off of their rascal. Keep in mind though, they can do it too, so powering it up and getting one good shot in is paramount to coming out over your opponent. This is an awesome addition you don’t see in many kart racers and fits in nicely.
I loved the fact that all of the courses are based off of the city, so all the maps in the game consist of reused, partitioned roads. There’s a city, farmlands, cemetery and town area, and they’re all connected. Each of the ‘cups’ is separated out by these unique areas, consisting of three layouts for each. You’ll learn the lay of the land pretty well, but this setup makes you forget which path is blocked and which is open when playing one of the maps from each. It makes the community feel more real, and less like 12 maps randomly thrown together. It’s also a clever way to get the most bang out of your development buck.
Online is a ghost town. I attempted to race against some humans and only found one in my endeavors. Even when I did manage to connect at the same time as someone else, each time it was a blowout, and they didn’t hang around. I can sometimes expect this if a game hasn’t come out yet, but this game is in the opening month, so I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re looking for anything outside of the game’s meager story mode.
There’s also a mode called ‘Crazy Granddad,’ which I can only take to be a parody on ‘Crazy Taxi.’ You’re given a limited amount of time to pick up as many items as you can, with each pick-up adding more to the timer. You drive around the open world, but since the roads are all curvy, and you’re only given an arrow, finding items can be pretty difficult. The game does provide you with a small window showing you the exterior of buildings and landmarks, so this is a great way to discover the whole play area, but there’s not enough here to keep you playing and learning. There aren’t even any obstacles or roaming vehicles to get in your way. There’s also an ‘Open World’ mode, but there’s nothing here except portals that take you to the game’s races. So, the only mode really worth jumping into is the main quest- so I hope the prospect of playing the same game with eight characters interests you because there’s not much in terms of replayability.
The visuals are actually really nice. While they’re not the most polished, the art design has a clever look and charm to it. Everything is so bright and playful, and the game only gets really grim looking towards the end. The characters all have a distinct visual personality, and the animations are nice and smooth, especially the ragdoll physics. However, the game’s visuals do hurt the gameplay. I have mentioned before that I don’t have a top of the line rig, but I should be able to handle a game like this, and it dropped to less than 15fps on several maps in the same areas. This is sadly unforgivable in a racer, and should’ve been smoothed out or compromised in order to maintain a consistent framerate.
The music fits nicely into the theme and style of the game, sounding like it belongs in the background of a Tim Burton animation. Racing music is chaotic, consisting of rhythmic bass, slow woodwinds, and childish percussions. It fits in beautifully, but a few more tracks would’ve been nice as they will become repetitive rather quickly. The game also doesn’t fade them in and out very well, and sometimes music starts and stops abruptly. Sound effects are pretty good, but nothing that stands out as particularly noteworthy.
Grave Dodgers is unforgiving, which I can say is different that Mario Kart. I’m not sure if I love it or hate it though. There are no Blue Shells, lightning bolts or chain chomps to even out the playing field, so if you’re losing, you should’ve done better. If you’re winning, one mistake may ruin your run. Sadly, there’s a few too many mistakes in this game that keeps it from placing. It’s has a great premise and looks amazing, but sadly there’s not enough polish here in the areas that matter. For the price, it’s not a bad diversion if you’re a fan of the genre, but if you’re looking for a good party game or solid racer- stick to the classics.