Party games often shine for their simplicity. Delivering an approachable splitscreen experience while still offering excellent gameplay and perennial replayability takes masterful design. Cel Damage HD plays like a feeble attempt at this mastercraft and looks the part. I certainly had fun massacring my friends with the game’s seemingly endless palette of cartoonish weapons, but the game’s grossly crude humour and flawed controls were enough to turn me off even before exhausting its underwhelming amount of content.
Cel Damage is a car-battler based on the tropes and humor of late twentieth century cartoons. Cars move with the elasticity of a Looney Toons character, anvils crash down on unsuspecting players, and characters spit corny one-liners at each other as they battle. Seven players are dropped into an arena and must pick up randomly selected weapons at select spawn areas. While each car is equipped with a simple front-facing gun at the start, players may upgrade to various cartoonish weapons like rockets, giant hatchets, vacuums and extending boxing gloves. These weapons are unlocked progressively as you play matches, giving the game’s insanity a satisfying curve. It starts off simple with hatchets, hammers and baseball bats. But after a couple hours of matches, cars are launching harpoons and unloading chain gun rounds while flying around like a helicopter.
The cars themselves are easy and simple to drive, but a lack of any camera controls all but ruins two of the three game modes. In Smack Attack, Cel Damage’s closest free-for-all death match equivalent, players gain points by inflicting damage on other cars while avoiding damage themselves. The inability to adjust the camera’s perspective makes targeting other players frustratingly onerous, and maintaining awareness of other oncoming attackers is impossible. This issue is even more noticeable in the mode Flag Rally, wherein players must collect and deliver flags to the goal. The mode is generally fun and exciting, especially when a player gets targeted for attempting a multi-flag run. Unfortunately, this mode suffers from the lack of camera controls just as much as Smack Attack, if not more so; unable to adjust your view from 12 o’clock, locating and chasing down flags becomes a chore once the game’s shocking absurdity wears off.
Racing is thankfully unhindered by Cel Damage’s right-stick fumble (again, lack of camera controls), as it plays very much like any nameable cartoony kart racer; attempt to supersede other players by using random items picked up along the track. Unlike other kart racers, however, the vehicles in Cel Damage accelerate at absolute parity and don’t seem to be designed with racing in mind. The only way I ever overtook my friends was by destroying their car or by taking advantage of their many random crashes, tumbles or wrong turns. Even if you manage to take the lead, it’s only a matter of time before you’re taken out from behind. With no defensive weapons at your disposal (all weapons are either melee or projectile based), first-place racers have no choice but to concede their lead or risk being killed and sent to the back. And if you’re killed while in the mid-to-late positions, consider yourself out.