Vehicular combat games are nothing new today, but they were all the rage in the days of the PlayStation 1 and 2, N64, GameCube, Dreamcast, and Xbox. Cel shading was also starting to take its place in gaming around the turn of the century. When these 2 things formed an alliance together, we were treated with Cel Damage in 2001. This was a game that didn’t get the best critical acclaim (not these guys), but under the right circumstances, could be just what you were looking for. A game I owned on Xbox (at launch) and later down the line on GameCube to play with my cousins, where I’d destroy their young egos with cartoon-y mayhem. Since those days of racing and destruction have been over, I’d unfortunately forgotten just about everything I knew about this game. I guess I’ve played too many games and this was bumped out of my mind. Luckily, the game has been re-released in HD for current consoles and I’ve been given a chance to relive the experience again.
The premise of Cel Damage HD is a simple, but neat one. Cel Damage is a TV show where actors (contestants?) battle it out in their custom-to-them vehicles in races, capture the flag, and demolition matches for fame and glory, as well as the benefit of audiences’ entertainment. In said matches, weapons tied to each vehicle as well as environmental and timed pick-ups are available to dish out punishment to the other players in hopes of earning victory. For casual reference, it’s kind of like Mario Kart, but more violent and cartoon-y. I’m sure “cartoon violence” was used in the ESRB rating somewhere along the way.
Being that this game came out at the turn of the new millennium, we get some of your usual (unusual?) archetypes for our destructive pleasure. I feel like in today’s society, some of these guys would be immediately taken to task by the PC crowd (and no, I’m not talking Lord Gaben‘s minions). I’m all for this kind of thing. These kinds of characters are fun and funny and all the things you want to associate with a good time in gaming. Or, maybe that’s just me. I’ll schedule an appointment with the vet to get myself checked out as soon as I finish this sentence. We start off with 6 unique characters with vehicles and weapons tied to their personalities, with 4 “bosses” available to unlock with continued play. There’s even videos to unlock that gives a little look into who they are in humorous ways. Because if it isn’t readily apparent by now, the game is pretty funny sometimes.
Within the modes themselves we have 4 worlds and 3 levels in each world for a total of 12 arenas to race in, capture flags, and maim your opponents. There’s even a Boss level to unlock. Each world has its specific locale tied to it: Desert, Jungle, Transylvania, and Space. I probably got at least one of those titles wrong, but the idea is correct. They’ve all got specific feels to them with traps, weapons, and sounds tied to the locations.
And speaking of weapons, the game features over 30 weapon power ups to collect and use for ultimate annihilation. Cartoon staples like baseball bats, chainsaws, and extended boxing gloves to odd ball types like freeze rays, sheep with dynamite, and vacuums. You’re even able to modify the matches with specific types for added variation. There’s plenty to chase down here. That said, there are clearly some better than others, so, either get really good using the one you like that may not be great or pray you can track down the one that packs the most punch.
Graphically in 2001 the game was lovely. Now, in HD, that goes double. Cel shading just lends itself to that. If you’re going to a cartoon-y look that will stand the test of time, Mr. Cel Shading’s your guy. Evidenced by Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. You remember that one, right? The one that everyone flipped out in disgust over but when remastered for the Wii U looked just as fantastic and everyone suddenly loved? OK, OK, I got a bit off topic, but, I think it illustrates (ha) a point here: cel shading, when used appropriately, looks beautiful. And this game is no exception. You might not be able to glean just how nice via screenshots, but in motion, the game looks wonderful. The environments pop and the physics work well. I never noticed anything that threw the game off in my many hours of single and multiplayer play (other than once, coming in first when that made no sense…). The load times are really quick throughout, and, I really enjoy the weird, little, I don’t know what you would call it… Gummy-physics (?) the cars have. I don’t know the technical term, but when they move and float around sometimes the vehicles look like jelly or gummy candy. It’s true, I’m not going senile yet.
Musically, Cel Damage HD is actually pretty solid. The tunes range from funky, harder, jazzier, and moody, all with the level appropriate tunes so nothing seemed weird or out of place. I mean, you wouldn’t want jungle tunes in space, would you? Oh, you would? You’re psycho, and you can tell the police I said that. They’re mostly catchy and I found myself toe-tapping or the equivalent pretty often. Same with the sound effects. The game does a good job, even down to the various catch phrases and voices. All well represented here.
OK, so let’s get onto the kinds of modes (called “Events”) we have here and what they offer:
Gate Relay: Your typical racing game mode, but with the added hardship that you need to pass through gates in proper sequence in order to win. Miss one, and you’ll have to get through it as quickly as possible to have any shot at victory. This is your standard combat racing mode, so this should be expected. It plays well, with the speed and dynamic of the players adding tension throughout each lap. I especially liked that if you missed a gate, you could go through it from any angle. You didn’t need to tackle it from the front. Just get through and hope you can zoom to the next one quickly. Nice touch, because on anything other than Easy difficulty, this game can screw you over. You will work for your money, honey.
Smack Attack: This mode is probably the one you’ll spend most of your time in. It’s the basic battle mode in these kinds of games, but this time, you have to “smack” your opponents a certain number of times to attain victory. You can use your standard projectile to destroy others, but those don’t directly give you points unless you completely deplete their health bar. If you’re using a power up, each hit gives points based on the type used. Both are viable options, and using the stunt stick or power slides will double your points, so it would behoove you to practice those methods. Hell, getting good with the stunt stick in general is in your best interest. It’s how you bridge the gap in races as well as how you acquire boosts, too.
Flag Rally: In the third and final mode your goal is to capture flags and return them to the flag pole. The trouble? Aside from the other players trying to do the same while blowing you up? The little flags have feet and run around the arena. As an added point bonus, you can carry up to 3 flags and if multiple are returned, you get bonus points. That won’t be easy, however, because if you get hit with a power up or destroyed, the flags either fly away or transfer to the player doing the damage. And as I mentioned before, on anything other than Easy mode, the game is anything but a cake walk. Luck as well as skill is needed to overcome the hardships this mode tosses at you. This is also my girlfriend’s favorite mode to play in, which is odd, because she sucks at video games and doesn’t even care much for them. So, they must have gotten something right here, because this is arguably the hardest mode to play in.
When it comes to each Event type, all 13 levels adjust to the variation you’re playing, so races have proper checkpoints and flag matches have a specific area dedicated to their return. The game also allows you to tweak how many laps, smacks, or flags you need to gain the W, should you want a bigger/longer challenge.
On the surface, it might seem like there isn’t much to this game based off the 3 modes I just detailed. In some ways, you could be right, but dig a little deeper and it’s not all doom and gloom. Each character tracks which levels you’ve won in for each Event type, so with 3 modes, 13 stages, and 10 characters, if you’re looking for a challenge, you have one. You’ve even got a few Achievements tied to doing some of that anyway. Sure, there’s only 3 modes, but, I spent many hours with the game, single and multiplayer. I had fun and I never got bored. Neither did my super casual girlfriend, who played hours as well, which should be looked at positively in my eyes.
Now comes the part where I list things I didn’t like or choose to nitpick over. The game has no dedicated stats page. I’d love to see a detailed stats list here. These games are suited well for it. I know it’s probably not easy to implement, but I really enjoy seeing how many times I killed with a weapon or how many times I boosted, etc. Also, there’s no online multiplayer. While the devs did explain why that is (I’ll leave links at the bottom that I recommend you check out), it still would have been a major selling point and help the game’s longevity. Currently, up to 4 players can play locally, which isn’t anything to sneeze at, but with this method, you all have to be in the same place, but that isn’t always an easy solution. Finally, as an Achievement whore, I wish there were more Achievements. More, as well as harder Achievements. As the games stands today, you can get 1000/1000 with a little elbow grease and time. It’s fairly easy if you try even a little bit. I know that this can be a selling point for plenty of people, and I don’t mind games that give us easy completions, but there are only 16 here and they can be gotten with little effort. Unless Microsoft has changed their policy/infrastructure, developers can on the fly alter and add Achievements to every game. I wouldn’t be opposed to making them a little tougher to achieve or even just getting more added on. Hell, I’d even be down for some DLC, because it’d be all new content.
My favorite character (then and now) is Fowl Mouth. This bird just don’t give a duck!! He’s like an old time-y gangster Donald Duck. Not really. Kind of. I have a few others I really like, but him? He’s my dude. I just love the cut of his jib. In the end, there are a few shortcomings to this game. Overall, though, I had a blast playing, both single player and multiplayer. If you’re looking for an unconventional racer/combat game, you could do way worse than this, especially for the price it goes for. And, hey, remember… Easy Achievements!! Now if you’ll excuse me, my cat is being wicked cute in order to get my attention. I have to go attend to this. Come to think of it, maybe he’s the one who needed the vet appointment…
Cel Damage HD is available now on PS4, PS3, PS Vita (all cross-buy) for $9.99, and Xbox One currently for $8.99. A code was provided by Finish Line Games for the purpose of this review.
Here are links that I really recommend you look at with regards to Finish Line Games and the way they lovingly treated this project, especially if you played and were a fan of the original.