With some amazing cel-shaded visuals, fantastic animation and the over-the-top array of weapons and excellent physics modeling that makes you feel like youíre in a cartoon, Cel Damage is an innovative entry in the car-combat genre. Itís not perfect but it is solid. While itís out on the Xbox first, itís also coming out on multiple platforms, so itís worth looking at in a general sense as well. It wonít win any awards for originality in the gameplay department, since it stays true to most of the conventions set to date. However, whatís most immediately apparent are the stunning graphics, which are beautiful and amazing to behold. While Segaís Dreamcast sleeper Jet Grind Radio pioneered this relatively new technique in gaming, Cel Damage takes the effect to stunning new heights with a crisp appearance that really makes the player feel like theyíre in a living cartoon world. It does a good job of taking advantage of the Xbox consoleís processing power because the visuals are smooth and the gameplay unfolds quickly with little in the way of pop-in or jaggies.
The game features 4 different main levels, each with their own sub levels and the environments are impressive, though a little bit small. Whatís more impressive is that the whole game looks like a cartoon, from the vehicles to the objects to the physics. Its exaggerated physics and beautifully animated vehicles make for an intense experience that is incredibly easy on the eyes. The vehicle controls also reflect the animation theme and respond quite nicely to your commands using either the standard D-pad or the analog sticks for direction and controls. Between the excellent voice-overs and the myriad of special cartoon sound effects, CD sounds just right for the environment. Youíd expect the game to have a nice feel and it does, with the levels appearing bright with simplistic layouts. There are a few hidden areas as well, but for the most part the action unfolds fairly straightforward. For such a small developer, the effort and detail that have gone into this title is quite impressive. Cel Damageís overall production values are unbelievable and the action-packed gameplay in spades, making for a fun title.
The game play is incredibly simple which means most players should have very little trouble understanding the game. Destroying competing cars before they obliterate yours, collecting the many zany power-ups, weapons and health restorers is pretty much what Cel Damage is all about. Doing that and trying not to laugh while surviving the car-combat is the main challenge you face. This makes it highly and instantly accessible for most players. Cel Damageís main tasks and goals should be quite easy to understand and the gameplay is streamlined, emphasizing action over strategy. Players looking for something light will find no learning curve here.
To cover the basics, Cel Damage offers 3 modes of play with the main one Smack Attack where the first player to earn 500 points wins. This is a lot harder than it sounds because the opponents in the mode are absolutely merciless. It will probably take you a few rounds before you can get your grips on the controls and youíll probably find yourself falling helplessly behind more often than not. Donít give up however, because the game is a lot of fun and is worth the effort it takes and really isnít that hard. Once youíve gotten the hang of this mode and win some rounds the rewards come rolling in. Initially, you can unlock other modes such as a checkpoint race, and a flag capture mode both of which are relatively fun. Later on, there are additional levels (though these take place in the same four environments) that you can unlock. Luckily the game offers a decent selection of vehicles to play as.
There are ten playable characters to choose from and each has their own skills, abilities. Whatís even cooler is that each character has unique weapons that make playing each one less tedious than youíd expect. Each level is also distinct and has its own power-ups to use and these include more 30 cartoon-ish weapons which really fit the mood of the game. You can use chainsaws, machine guns, bombs, freezes, grenades and other devices on your opponents which gives the metallic melee quite a bit of variety, effectively combating the monotony that settles into these times of games quickly. All of the weapons are loads of fun to use and some of them can destroy a rival with a single stroke which makes for some pretty intense action. You spend a lot of time in each round searching for opponents and looking for just the right power-ups since some are more powerful than others. Overall, thereís a good balance between the characters with the main challenge memorizing the locations of power-ups and unleashing them at just the right time. There are 4 main themes to the levels, and each one of these has several sub-levels, giving Cel Damage plenty of variety, though each area is small, which can seem a little constraining, but on the other hand you wonít spend a lot of time searching through the levels for an enemy to take out, which is cool.
Cel Damageís biggest problems are in how it plays. Itís this area which doesnít seem to have been paid as much attention or as polished as the graphics obviously were. It depends on how you look at it, but from most gamersí perspective, Cel Damage can be incredibly aggravating and is unnecessarily frustrating since your vehicle takes on damage at every turn, making you spend seemingly half of each level waiting while your car is regenerating, and the animation of the car coming out the crate gets old fast due to the repetition. This tendency gets better as you master the controls but still happens too often and ruins the flow of the game. The on-screen radar is useless because while it tells you what direction the rivals are coming from, it doesnít measure their distance which is annoying and makes targeting them too difficult. Luckily, the arenas are small so this isnít as big an issue as it could have been. Also while the techno soundtrack is nice, it doesnít really fit in that well with the overall theme of the game. Still, the unique visual look of the game wins you over, and the extra modes and characters add a lot of variety to the experience. While Cel Damage isnít perfect, the fun it offers more than counterbalances and flaws it may have. Cel Damage looks great but the key to its appeal is that it offers plenty of slapstick fun and Xbox owners should definitely give it serious consideration.