In the grand list of HD remakes I’ve wished for, Cel Damage HD lies somewhere between Blood Wake and Mad Dash Racing. Frankly, it’s incredibly odd to see a forgettable Xbox launch title getting the high definition treatment as a cross-buy release on PS3, PS4, and Vita. Why did it happen? Who is the rabid fanbase for this? Those aren't questions to be answered in a review, but I’d sure like to know.
At the time of its release, Cel Damage got some mileage out of its cel-shaded presentation, a graphics style that was all the rage at the time. Unfortunately it was never really the best example of the style, and these days you’d still be much better served playing Jet Set Radio HD if you want a good example. Even in HD, at 60 frames per second on PS4, Cel Damage's grimey, simplistic visuals don’t gain much from the high-res treatment.
The novelty of the gameplay came from its blend of both car combat and kart racing concepts. Each “track’ is designed for all gametypes, with checkpoint racing, car combat, and a capture-the-flag mode on tap. Weapons are scattered around the arena, and eight opponents all go at it in a hyperactive, zany race to the finish.
I say eight “opponents” because beyond 4-player split-screen, Cel Damage HD is a strictly single-player affair against bots. On Vita the game doesn’t offer multiplayer at all, despite an option to deactivate bots and “play with human players only.” For my money, a game like this needs an option for online multiplayer. Especially with eight cars on the track, it’s a shame Cel Damage HD isn’t a proper modernization, because it would be a lot easier to recommend.
As it stands, Cel Damage suffers from all the issues you’d expect from an original Xbox launch title. Presentation is extremely bare-bones — you pick your mode, choose a track, and you play. Winning across the various modes opens up access to more weapons and tracks, as well as short cutscenes for each character. It lacks a robust single-player mode to justify what a solitary experience it is.
That shallow presentation carries over to the gameplay as well. Cel Damage is immediately playable — cars turn on a dime, the weapons can be fun to use, and the trick system provides a light risk/reward element — but in combining two genres, it oddly has less depth than both Mario Kart and Twisted Metal. That lack of depth translates to some haphazard gameplay, where the reasons that an opponent pulls ahead come more from random chance than poor decision-making.
It doesn’t help that the tracks are built for multiple purposes. Imagine a Mario Kart track where going off the beaten path doesn’t lead to a shortcut, but a dead-end meant to be used in the game’s combat mode. Just as the game combines genres and comes up short, by using multi-purpose tracks the quality of each individual mode suffers as a result.
The core gameplay of Cel Damage HD gets the job done. It’s fast and loose, lacks depth, but can ultimately be fun in the right circumstances. Unfortunately, without online play or a robust single-player mode, the game doesn’t really offer these circumstances. As it is, being so barebones, it’s an impossible game to recommend when I can think of several dozen racing and car combat games I’d rather be playing. If you really need a game that offers both, may I recommend the highly underrated Blur?
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