Meat cleavers, a harpoon, shrink ray, a bottomless hole generator, and a massive shredding lawn mower; what do these things have in common? They’re just a few weapons of the incredibly strange arsenal featured in GameCube and Xbox hit, Cel Damage. Drive around big open arenas, pick up weapons, unleash all insanity and manner of projectile and melee destruction on your opponents and hope you come out on top; these are things Cel Damage loves to do and does well. This demolition derby is one to take lightly, as it’s even more hectic than some of the most random of kart racers, especially when all four players are tearing up the couch together.
Cel Damage is all about destruction, demolition and chaos. Players compete across a few different modes including a flag capturing mode where a certain amount of flags must be delivered to a point to score, a gate-based race mode, and the infinitely replayable “smack attack” mode where players beat the chassis out of each other to score points. Each character has their own vehicle with its own statistics and feel to it as well as a special weapon.
What should change:
Balancing issues – Each of the four areas in Cel Damage has an area boss with whom players must contend for victory. Ala most older racing-themed games (though the importance of “racing” changes from mode to mode) the bosses are nearly always winning and tend to do better overall. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s nice to have some difficulty, as each boss has a special weapon there are two in particular who prove to be frustratingly difficult in Smack Attack. The Count gets a homing one-hit missile which gives way too many smacks for an insta-kill, and Brian the Brain gets a massive area-of-effect explosion on typically smaller levels, which is frustrating across all game modes. While these are all situational and can be beat, there are other weapons as well which could do for some tinkering.
Online capability and metagame – This is a pretty solid sale already, but to fit in with the current day and age as well as take full advantage of its well-deserved awesome, Cel Damage will need to take the demolition online. Already implemented in the game are a rather healthy amount of custom game options, something which vastly helps replayability especially amongst friends, and that facet of the game will need to be present. On top of that, holding a multiplayer community together nowadays, especially with arcade games, will likely require some kind of metagame which players can submit themselves to for that constant reward. This can be done via cosmetic unlocks or player tags, as long as actual in-game mechanics aren’t affected as that would lead to disaster. Disaster outside the massive destruction and chaos that is actually intended for the game, more disaster like everyone never playing the game again.
What should stay the same:
The core mechanics – The various game modes are playable over twelve maps. There are three maps per location including a rust colored wild-west desert, a dastardly swamp, the dark and mysterious Transylvania, and the crater-laden moon. While for the most part the maps are designed with plenty of space for maneuvering and open combat, each map has its own player-triggered features such as a meteor shower (literally rocks pouring out of a shower head) and traps. Most map features are triggered, but there’s also a fire-bolt firing crossbow which players must mount on the Transylvania maps. Cel Damage is about chaos, spontaneity and insanity, it’s not going to give you perfect control over your fate very often and when it does it’s sure to take it away via some horrific car-destroying death.
The instruments of damage – A big part of Cel Damage is its impressively diverse and inventive arsenal. Some weapons are basic, such as a bat or a minigun, but a good many of them are absolutely ridiculous such as a “hole thrower” which will suck players to a gruesome death or the freeze way which could result in a shattering smash if timed correctly. The weapons are divided into utilities, melee, ranged and a sort-of “other” section. Utilities often involve some sort of movement change like the rocket or the gunship while the “other” section has the strange weapons like the aforementioned hole thrower and the freeze ray. Each weapon has limited uses, but the ability to score “smacks” (essentially successful hits) varies between them.
Arcade styled handling – The purely arcade, ridiculous style of vehicle control steals the show here in Cel Damage. The weapons are silly and satisfying, the maps are zany and twisted, the modes are… well they’re more straightforward, but they facilitate this incredible level of chaotic gameplay brought on by Cel Damage’s handling and control mechanics. Some vehicles can turn at absurd angles, in fact most of them can, which really helps pull off the demolition derby feel. Unlike games like Twisted Metal which usually have large, expansive maps, Cel Damage’s maps are more contained, in fact usually most players can be seen on screen at a time (a “compass” shows where each enemy is along the side of the player’s screen and highlights the match leader). To compensate for this the controls are tight, which keeps the action focused around battle zones rather than being spread out and involving longer range weapons or a lock-on mechanic. Most vehicles, when turning really hard, literally bend in the direction they’re turning, which is, well, how much more cartoon awesome do you really need?
Why it would succeed:
Cel Damage is right up XBLA’s alley bringing with it some of the best party-styled gameplay ever to grace the racing or kart genre. Rather than being the slightly more tame experience such as Mario Kart, Cel Damage is balls-to-the-wall chaos and won’t let you forget it, almost to a fault. Balance issues and some harsh AI difficulty towards the end can be hurt the single player experience, but Cel Damage is a game that’s easy to jump into and bring your friends along for the ride. The sense of humor, the cell-shaded style, the zany physics and nearly every other aspect of this game screams couch play, and chants XBLA.