Cel Damage works far better than expected. When a title is released with average press and very little, if any, marketing despite it being an EA title, things aren’t looking good. And the so-2001 cel shading style isn’t going to raise any eyebrows anymore either despite its striking and effective use in this title. But for those who haven’t found four player Smash Bros. to be all that entertaining (me and a few people at Microsoft, I’d imagine) then this is the perfect alternative.
There’s no story to drag the action a long, more a basic premise. You are one of the ten characters in the show Cel Damage, a show in which people in cars kill each other a lot of times. And that’s about it. There is an intro and ending sequence for six of the characters (strangely enough, the four unlockable ones don’t have any) but otherwise it’s strictly a pick up and play affair.
Cel Damage has three modes to mess around with. The first is smack attack mode, and it’s also the most mindless. The aim is simply to be the first to achieve 500 ‘smacks’, which are points you receive for attacking the other characters. Every character’s car comes equipped with a default weapon to throw (skulls, flame balls, bricks etc) and getting another character with one will get you one smack point. Simply using this method to dispatch of your opponents would be ludicrous, luckily there are plenty of other weapons to pick up that are dotted around each arena. These range from huge fire-axes to cartoon-style bottomless holes, which you can place strategically around the arena. There are about 20 different types of weapons to use, not counting the personal weapons each of the ten characters has which can be unlocked for all to use by beating all 36 events with every character (360 events!). Needless to say, there’s quite a varied choice of killing methods.
The second type of mode is gate relay. This places you and the others in the same deathmatch arenas used in every mode, except this time there are two gates dotted at either end. You must be the first to get through the gates 20 times. This mode is, by far, the most boring and tedious and I wouldn’t have bothered with it at all if I weren’t determined to unlock the extra weapons and ending sequences. Think a straight copy of Mario Kart, but with retarded opponents and no extra elements such as track design or power sliding.
The third and final mode is Flag Rally, an extension of the smack attack games and my favourite of the lot. This sees all of the drivers, seven competing in every event in case you’re interested, competing to be the first to collect four flags which are running around the arena in an attempt to escape and make it to the winner’s circle. There are never more than seven flags on the arena at one time, and killing someone causes them to lose all their flags, so this becomes the most frenzied of the three events. Whereas smack attack had you contented with slashing away at any old car that came in your line of fire, flag rally causes you to single out certain characters and make a beeline for spare flags with the quickest shortcuts. Thus making the experience a little more tactical.
A game like this lives or dies on the quality of it’s controls, and luckily Cel Damage passes the mark. Slick turning and easy access to all of the functions are present and correct, the latter being quite an achievement on the somewhat convoluted right side of the GC pad. The reverse function is peculiarly slow, however, and makes the common practice of bashing into walls quite hard to get out of.
Initially, the one player mode is highly entertaining. It’s obvious from the lack of any kind of story mode that Cel Damage wasn’t intended to be played alone, but doing so will yield satisfaction for the first few goes. Experimenting with different characters is quite fun, and the incredible cartoonish graphics will add some visual grandeur to help disguise the relative shallowness of the gameplay. And once the appeal of playing by yourself is gone, it still provides a worthy distraction while on the phone or listening to music. The obscene simplicity of it all makes Cel Damage easy to play through without having to think too much (or at all). I’m not giving it extra points for being mindless of course, but I’ve found it to be a handy distraction while I’m doing something more important.
The REAL meat of the game is in it’s multiplayer mode, though. With two players, this is great fun; with four it’s fantastic. This is definitely the multiplayer game of choice for me on the Gamecube. Super monkey Ball and Smash Bros. Melee may well be great party games, but neither of them are as accessible to everyone as this is. Anyone who’s played a driving game before, even if it’s just once, can master Cel Damage within a couple of matches, and so everything will be fair. The smooth controls should also ensure that those who aren’t too good at games won’t find themselves slaughtered unfairly time after time. And there’ll be none of that ‘guy who owns the game always wins it’ syndrome. Cel Damage holds one of the most intense, enjoyable and unassuming multiplayer modes I’ve ever experienced.
And there’s none of that Mario Kart ‘Banana peel’ crap here either, the weapons are pleasingly meaty and capable of mass destruction, The arenas even hold some destructible scenery, which is nice to see. There’s something immensely satisfying about lopping three opponents in half with just one swing of your chainsaw and even if the shallow game mechanics begin to show themselves after extended play, this small pleasure never loses it’s appeal. Different people will often find themselves skilled in the art of different weapons as well, I wouldn’t say there’s any ‘killer weapons’ that everyone goes for. Those who are nippy drivers and can manoeuvre in and out of a murder scene in barely a second will find themselves using the close range weapons a lot. While those who have good aim, and like to lie low can dispatch of their opponents with long-range weapons such as the dynamite crossbow or the mortar.
As well as the juicy weapons, the arenas help to make things a lot more fun. They are surprisingly dynamic with all manner of booby traps such as retracting bridges, swinging log rams and venus fly traps. If you have failed to get yourself an instant kill weapon, you can always finish opponents off by knocking them off a ledge or into a track with a couple of well-timed swings of a baseball bat. The arenas are also quite compact so as to make sure you are never wandering around lonely for long (a problem that plagued Mario Kart 64’s battle mode). Shortcuts and hidden areas litter the arenas, hiding more useful weapons and ambush points for the more intrepid contestants.
Graphically, Cel Damage is stunning. As well as sporting some of the most striking and stylish cel shading I’ve ever seen, the game speeds along like a bullet while putting some impressive shadowing techniques to use. The draw distance is a little poorer than expected, but it only obscures details on distant objects, rather than the objects themselves, so nothing too important is lost. However, it can often be quite hard to distinguish one character from another until they are right in your face, so singling someone out for some punishment is often quite difficult. The character and car design is mostly pleasing though. While we have one or two terrible entries into the game, Fat construction worker BT Bruno and arrogant dinosaur T Wrecks, inspired efforts such as Dominique Trix (a dominatrix. Geddit?) and the fantastic Fowl mouth (a totally black and white gangster duck) make up for it, with the rest of the cast falling on the right side of memorable.
Sound is a mixed bag. Sound effects are as brilliantly full-bodied and explosive as the weapons themselves, with a pleasant cartoon style. Music is of the techno variety and while it can be atmospheric and hypnotic in some places like most of the horror-themed arenas, and catchy in most, it is sometimes a bit dodgy and sparse. I think cartoonish, brash music would have suited the game better much like that used in the Crash Bandicoot series. Voice samples are instantly forgettable and mostly irritating. Dominique has a few choice lines (“Now ask me for another!”), but the rest of them seem content with peddling out the same old irritating vague garbage (“*I* kick YOUR butt”).
If you are looking for a decent one player driving game with a twist, you’d be better of buying Crazy Taxi. Cel Damage’s one player mode lasts longer than expected and unlocking weapons and endings is a nice enough incentive, but this isn’t a game that can be recommended on the merits of it’s singe player mode. The multiplayer however, is fantastic. I’ve only had the game for a few weeks, but I can see the appeal of hacking my friends to bits with chainsaws lasting long into the year, and maybe beyond. Cel Damage isn’t the most complex or clever of videogames, but it’s proud of its shallow ideals and all the better for it.