Cel Damage Overdrive review
Overdrive To The Max? Watch For Damage.
When it comes to racing games you typically have two generalised styles to pick from – those that aim for a more realistic approach (with varying degrees of handling) or those that throw normality out the window and will happily let you blast the competition up as you zoom past them in a blaze of glory. So what happens when you take the latter and put much more focus on the weaponized destruction? You get Cel Damage, a game that revels in its options for blasting other drivers into pieces and isn’t afraid to have fun with it. Does it work better than more traditional kart based racing games? As fun as it is, I don’t think it does.
As the name suggests the game is done in cel shading style that proved quite popular during the PS2’s prime, painting the action as a kind of 3D cartoon somewhat reminiscent of the actual Saturday morning cartoons you’d watch as a kid (or still do), which is reinforced by the madcap presentation delivered. Players respawn by getting dropped inside a crate and weapon effects are comically over-exaggerated all tie into this. Character designs are similarly done with humour in mind, like the nerd flying around in a hovercraft or the goth girl ready to smash enemies into the ground.
You’ll be able to tear up everything in sight on a variety of locations, giving you visual sights to admire like dusty mountain trails, spooky forests and jungle pathways. Each area usually has a fair amount of scenery to take in like the aforementioned forest also having wooden walkways, crumbling buildings and rivers running through.
The audio builds on the presentation, like having a mad as anything announcer narrating at certain points in the game. Most notable at the start of any given event, which is nice but quickly grows repetitive. Thankfully you can skip it with a button press. The individual characters also tend to be very vocal, shouting out boasts and curses depending on what is happening. Having them all intermingle during the action is really cool to listen to. Music is generally pretty good too to compliment the insanity but nothing in there is going to jump out and remain in your mind after you’ve turned the game off.
Cel Damage gives you three game modes that you can play with up to 4 players and can, of course, bring in the AI if you want for extra targets. Gate Relay is the closest you get to an actual racing mode but is the weakest of the available options. The goal is to race through the gates in order and be first at the end of the final lap. Just like kart games you can pick up weapons from crates on the track and use them to blast the enemy to slow them down, with enough damage destroying the car and requiring a respawn. Likewise some track features seem to exist purely to knock you about so careful driving is also required. Performing stunt flips is encouraged in order to gain turbo boosts you can use, although these flips have the risk of hindering you, especially if someone hits you during it, so it gives a solid reward-risk concept.
There are a few things that diminish the fun of this mode. The physics involved in the game are very loose for a start. In the other modes this doesn’t matter so much, but here it means you clip an outstretched tree root and can somehow flip over and end up facing the wrong direction. This can be especially frustrating when on the final lap having held first all the way only for a minor mishap to ruin the entire race. What hurts more though is that the track layouts just tend to be a bit boring. I never really felt truly excited getting around the corners, as it’s basically battleground arenas with gates stuck in but unable to shake the arena feeling.
The other modes thankfully indulge more in the battle style and are far more interesting. Smack Attack is a contest to see who can reach a set amount of hits on the other players, giving you plenty of weapon crates and health pickups to abuse. The arenas feel a lot more suited to this style of play and it can be fun having everyone driving around blasting away. The floaty physics are still here but matter less since you’re not aiming for specific gates and can therefore afford to steer your car around to face the chaos. If you do get destroyed then no worries as you’ll just lose some time respawning.
Flag Capture is the final mode, where players compete to pick up flags and take them to a designated goal point. Competition arises as players can potentially steal flags from others in order to snatch points for themselves, although the game is a little inconsistent on flag stealing at times. Onscreen indicators point out the direction of flags and the goal at all times making it easy to zip around to their locations (of course, getting them safely is another matter). It’s really just an alternate twist on the normal battle formula but it’s a nice change.
Aside from the weird physics the controls are otherwise solid. Back shoulder buttons control braking and accelerating while front should buttons perform the flip stunts. Boosting and weapon fire is also a button push away and respond quickly. I was disappointed that there was no option to customizing the layout though, so anyone not used to a shoulder button setup for the gas are required to adjust.
Weapon selection is pretty good, giving you a wide selection such as boxing gloves, spears, side mounted cannons, miniguns, missiles and swords, to name just a few. At first weapons are locked to their own specific tracks but as you win at these you unlock them for use at other locations. Thankfully we don’t have any that are stupidly overpowered so no Blue Shell Syndrome here to worry about. Some of the options don’t seem all that useful though, like I found actually hitting with the side mounted cannons didn’t seem to work all that well. In addition every character has their own specific weapon used as a last resort option when they don’t have a specific pickup item, which is really just a low power forward thrown projectile but it’s useful to tag on the damage and is a useful boon for the more offensively minded game modes. They’ve done well with this aspect and that makes the destruction all the more fun.
The computer AI seems pretty good for the most part. You can select the difficulty of them that affects their aggressiveness and you will see the change in behaviour as you go between them.
So in all Cel Damage doesn’t really handle the racing element quite so well but in terms of pure battle excitement it takes the prize. High intensity combat action combined with a madcap presentation gives you a good chance to indulge in destruction. Unfortunately the game suffers from a lack of content, as two good game modes doesn't really feel like quite enough to retain interest over a long period of time. However, look past that and you'll find a pretty good experience.