A genetic mutation.
Scanning recent toon video games, you'll exclusively find a bunch of wackos and goodie goodies. Wacky Races is mostly comprised of sticky sweet retro toons, Looney Tunes Space Race has all the characters you'll find surrounded by 4-year olds at a Six Flags theme park, and even the stars of Jet Grind Radio are a gang of "freedom fighting" kids.
Well, the crew at Pseudo Interactive has taken this idea and gone completely nuts. They've created their own gang of gleefully psychotic toons and tossed them into a contest of vehicular combat that would make Calypso proud. Er, maybe not proud, exactly, since Cel Damage works much better as a concept than a game.
Ten crazy toons have been assembled to put on a show of catastrophic proportions. The character design is irreverent and appropriately weird. You've got Sinder, the beast with a bathroom problem, Flemming, the High Dork of Destruction, and B.T. Bruno, the construction worker with an Elvis fetish, just to name a few. Each toon is fitted inside a specific vehicle ala Twisted Metal.
Cel Damage features the best toon textured cel shading ever to grace a console. The art team really deserves some kind of award for the smooth work they've done here. These sweet graphics help make Cel Damage look and feel like an interactive cartoon, due in part to the cool 'warping' effect that happens to the front of vehicles when you turn. It's incredibly fluid and the end result looks a lot like a real cartoon.
Three kinds of events with twelve levels each make up the core of Cel Damage. The first you'll encounter is simply called Smack Attack, where you'll compete against six other toons in a no-holds-barred battle to the death, ER, smack.. Be the first to rack up 500 "smacks" and you'll be on the right road to ultimate victory. There's a nice variety of weapons from the get-go, including a Chaingun, Boxing Gloves, a brutal Axe, and of course your character's own specialty weapon. Winning these events unlocks more goodies to add to the mix like harpoon guns, black holes, and the ever-popular gunship powerup.
Smack Attack plays a lot like a deathmatch in Quake or Unreal Tournament - grab your items and frag as many guys as you can before you're toast, then spawn back in and do it all over again. While it's fun for a spell, this can get pretty tiring pretty quickly. 500 smacks can take you a long time to rack up and there is no option to adjust it in the single player. Run, shoot, explode, repeat. You'll explode a lot, too. It's like playing a game of Quake with the frags set to a million and everyone's health set to 5. Needless to say, it gets old faster than that pizza you left out in the backyard.
Also, the "Smack" part sucks. Different weapons lead to different smack amounts - killing a guy with a chain gun yields a different number of smacks than a harpoon. But nowhere does it explain how many smacks a weapon does, nor how many smacks you receive when you decimate an opponent. A simple frag total would have made much more sense.
There's also Gate Relay, where you'll dash from point to point running through gates. The fastest of the three modes, Gate Relay is just a simple race with no real track; just find the gates set up throughout each level and get through them as fast as inhumanly possibly (with the help of the little pointer arrow, of course).
Then there's Flag Rally, a demented toon version of Capture the Flag. All you have to do is capture four flags and bring them back to winner's circle. Sounds easy, but throw some legs on those flags and you've got problems. Plus, there are only six flags running around, making it extremely hard to grab four before someone whacks you. It would have been okay if you were able to grab one flag at a time and bring it back to the circle, but since you can't, it's extremely difficult to grab a few before you're eliminated. A cool idea, but it ends up being quite the frustrating experience.
Not making things any easier is the tough learning curve. Learning curve? In a vehicular combat game?!? Basically all you should need to know is how to go, stop, and shoot. So why is there a learning curve? Well, much of it has to do with the game's speed. While moving at an awesome framerate with no slowdown whatsoever, the gameplay in Cel Damage just moves way too fast. The controls may be tight, but the speed makes it all feel very jerky.
You'll also need to figure out how to handle each weapon since some of them are obviously better than others. Melee weapons like the Chainsaw and Axe can kill with ease, while others like the Chaingun will do about as much damage as a spitwad.
Continuing this downward spiral is the level design. While they contain interactive bits like falling anvils and trap doors, some of them seem far too small and the layouts are generally an oval or just one big open area. It doesn't look like a whole lot of thought went into the design.
The multiplayer adds little to the experience. The game modes are still unexciting and move too fast, though the framerate holds up well.
The game is hard. After playing for three days or so, I finally passed the game with one of the characters. By beating 36 levels of repetitive madness, I had high hopes for an awesome finale. Cel Damage's bad boy attitude is one of the few good things going on and I really wanted to see more of it. Alas, all I got was a commercial short that probably should have come up a quarter of the way into the game. What a let down.
Which, coincidentally, describes Cel Damage pretty accurately overall. We were excited over this game since seeing it at E3, but the end result doesn't measure up. While it does a great job displaying the fine art of toon graphics, it falls flat with almost everything else. From poor level design to brutally repetitive play, this game has been crushed by one anvil too many.