Did you know that Cel Damage was originally a PlayStation 2 title that released in 2001? If you answered ‘yes’, then you may have seen this obscure, cartoon racer sitting in bargain bins, as this title received middling reviews during its first lap on the track. As such, it’s a bit odd to see the game resurrected for Sony’s latest suite of systems – but are there any decent modifications under this old banger’s hood, or is it still a tank of gas short of a good score?
Right from the green light, Cel Damage HD is intentionally light on narrative. All of the characters are part of a television show which focuses on vehicular carnage – a silly yet fitting premise for a game that makes you feel like you’re part of a Looney Tunes episode. If you play as each of the six main characters and win three races with each one, you’ll also unlock cut-scenes that detail their back stories. However, despite the crisp cel shading, the animation shows its age, and the cinematics aren’t even that humorous to boot.
This is a particular problem for a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, with its cast presumably designed to amuse. There’s an overweight contractor seemingly from the south, an obnoxious devil-like creature, a Mafia duck that spouts some colourful language (appropriately named Fowl Mouth), and more. There are even four unlockable characters, including a pretentious dinosaur celebrity called T. Wrecks and a cowboy-like bull named Whack Angus.
Despite the variety, though, they all fall into turgid stereotypes, and failed to make us even grin once. We were desperately waiting for something to make us giggle, but we just felt embarrassed for the cast instead. There are some solid sound effects and music tracks here, but the speech samples are simply drab.
Fortunately, the graphics fare a bit better. All of the vehicles and environmental animations run smoothly, and, as already alluded, the entire experience is bolstered by solid cel shading and vibrant colours, both of which help the game to overcome its age, much like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. There are some neat cartoon-inspired attributes on display here, too, such as the way that the cars bend when you turn a corner, and the enormous weapons – ranging from baseball bats to Gatling guns – that protrude from various bits of each banger.
The gameplay itself is similarly agreeable, and sparks with a few redeeming qualities. Inspired by the likes of Mario Kart and Twisted Metal, the chaotic kart racing here is all about local multiplayer, crazy race tracks, and letting your road rage loose. You can do this in three modes: Gate Relay, Smack Attack, and Flag Rally. The first involves typical races with laps where you must pass through several gates to progress, while the second is more of a battle mode where you must destroy as many cars as possible. Finally, the third is all about capturing flags that actually run around, which must be taken back to a central base.
Given the rather obvious car combat influences, it’s Smack Attack that appeals the most. The other two options offer a nice novelty, but even when you’re playing alone, it’s relatively fun smashing up your foes with the many power-ups on offer. The arenas aren’t always amazing, but the jungle, desert, horror, and space-themed locations are worth investigating, and the tight and responsive steering enables you to do so – at least, when the occasionally awful environmental hazards aren’t getting in your way.
Still, it’s the weapons that are the highlight, with up to 32 options to unlock. Common firearms like laser guns and freeze rays are to be expected, but more creative choices comprise a vacuum cleaner that scoops up other drivers, helicopter blades that let you fly, and deployable holes that send your unsuspecting enemies straight to Hades. The experimentation and sense of discovery on display here is one of the game’s assets.
It’s just a shame that there’s no online multiplayer experience on offer, as with people is where the game really shines. There’s just enough fun for an evening’s worth of laughter in local multiplayer, but you’ll blitz through everything in little more than three hours on your own. And once you’re done, there’s no real reason to return, unless you have some buddies nearby. We suppose that the price is cheap enough to make up for that shortcoming, but you should be aware of the limited longevity before parting with your cash.
Finish Line Games has attempted to inject some colour into the car combat genre with Cel Damage HD, and there is some reasonably entertaining action on display here. Sadly, while the cartoony visuals and creative power-ups are a highlight, the lack of replay value will soon put an end to your enjoyment. This is fun for an evening if you’ve got some buddies nearby, but without an online option and with a pretty tiring cast, you’ll quickly tire of this comic book clash.