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SummaryToon in, drop out
The Good+ Unique concept not seen in most games + Great multiplayer + Surprisingly well-done physics engine + Characters have a lot of personality
The Bad- Difficulty is rather ridiculous - Audio and controls are hit and miss - Graphics...are very crummy - Not a lot to do afterwards when finished
The Bottom LineI'll get this out of the way first: I'm an animation enthusiast. Seriously, you can do a whole lot with drawings, and video games were seen as a great medium to get that across. Cartoons are unhinged little creations, and a game that captures such was Toonstruck...and Cel Damage. Cel Damage is a car combat game intended to be the cartoon equivalent of Twisted Metal. Being released as an Xbox launch title here in the states (and a few weeks later for the GameCube), Cel Damage was kinda seen as something that should've been left out due to it's primitive graphics and gameplay. Now, years later, it's reception has loosened and it became a cult hit amongst animation fans. And me, being one...Cel Damage isn't that bad, but it's sadly flawed.
The game's basic premise is simple: in this cartoon universe, a popular TV show has cartoon characters duke it out for fame and fortune in their cars. There's no prize or anything seen, but who gives a crap? Cartoons kicking each other's asses, man! There's a roster of characters to choose, ranging from the mobster duck Fowl Mouth (heh, puns), the cold and cruel Dominique Trix, the insane demon Cinder, the rebellious Violet, dorky Flemming and plenty more to choose from. Most of the characters are all well done, funny and pack a lot of charm, and so do their vehicles, which fit the characters' general personalities. Their intro and outro cutscenes are also good stuff and are pretty darn hilarious on some cases.
Gameplay is very much like Twisted Metal: you have a wide variety of weapons to utilize, ranging from traditional fare from guns and bombs to cartoony weapons like boxing gloves, fire axes and portable nukes. Each character also has their own weapon (e.g. Fowl Mouth has a Tommy gun) to give them an edge. There's three modes, which are typical deathmatches, races and capture-the-flag modes. They don't change at all over the course of the game. The environments range from the wild west, Mayan jungles, outer space and Transylvania, typical cartoon environments. And the game's physics engine is very...animated. Cars will bend and squish when turning, bounce off of walls after colliding with them while having very real time gameplay going on. And there's no need for a health bar - your opponents will keep coming back and forth even if you killed them (cuz they're cartoons, duh), thus making it a completely anarchic Looney Tunes, Tex Avery-like experience. The gameplay is fun, but rather hard because you can be instantly killed when you're trying to get the hang of the gameplay, and it's often frustrating when you just wanna see how the mechanics worked. A tutorial would've worked wonders in this case. The game seems to be geared towards multiplayer in contrast to the single player, it doesn't pack the same punches as the multiplayer mode.
As for the technical side of things, the audio, graphics and controls are...ehhh, hit or miss. The music is rather unmemorable and consists of half-baked remixes instead of upbeat and cartoony music, yet the voices and sound effects are well done (fun fact: Mario's current voice actor, Charles Martinet, is in this game). Controls are confusing and all over the place, so much so that there's a button that activates the control scheme, which I'm pretty sure no other game ever did before. This also doesn't help matters with the frequent instakilling and lack of a tutorial. The graphics, while surprisingly unique for the time, are very clunky and janky today. Cutscenes have some of the worst character animation I ever seen, and even if it tried to be cartoonish, they chug at a horrible framerate and feel very uneven.
Cel Damage isn't a bad game, but it's flawed and dated. While the industry could go for another cartoon game that would take advantage of the capabilities of the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC or anything else, but Cel Damage sure tried it's damnedest to stand out during it's outing on the Xbox and GameCube. I should also point out that there's the HD remake for the PS4, PS3, Vita and One, which is the same game but with a health bar, a revamped unlocking system and a few new weapons and a stage. I do suggest Cel Damage for younger gamers, as it is mindless and cartoony enough, but some of the more adult jokes will fly over their heads.