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Cybermorph (Jaguar) artwork

Cybermorph (Jaguar) review

""So this is what 64 bits looks like. Who let loose with the Crayolas?" "

"So this is what 64 bits looks like. Who let loose with the Crayolas?"

When Atari were creating their new 64-bit game system in the early 1990s, they contracted a developer named Attention to Detail to create a program for demonstration of the new console's abilities. However, ATD didn't just develop a demo: they decided to build a complete, fully-functional game - and considering it was the first game released for the new Jaguar system, Cybermorph is damned impressive.

The other initial releases for the Jaguar, Raiden, Trevor McFur, and Dino Dudes, were all apparently developed for the Panther, a 32-bit system Atari created but never released. When Atari realized the Jaguar would be a more powerful machine, they had the developers rapidly port these 32-bit 2D games over to the new system. None of these quick conversion games took full advantage of the Jaguar's abilities, but the new Cybermorph game put the others to shame.

Atari saw that Cybermorph was the easily the most technically impressive of the new games, and wisely made the decision to include a 'free' copy of Cybermorph with every Jaguar sold. Since Cybermorph was a pack-in, it’s by far the most common cartridge available for the Jaguar; nowadays the going price for a Cybermorph cart on eBay is perhaps a dollar or two plus shipping!

What kind of a game is Cybermorph? Although the resemblance is superficial, perhaps the game it most resembles is the Super Nintendo’s Starfox. You play as a fighter pilot, flying a small jet craft over the surface of various planets. Your airplane is armed with only simple guns, but as you play you can find weapons pods that give your ‘Cybermorph’ jet more powerful weapons or more energy.

Cybermorph opens with an interesting title page. If the first title page is static and only shows the game's title, the cartridge is an original pack-in game, and is one megabyte in ROM size. On the other hand, if the title page shows a fighter craft 'morphing', it's a two-megabyte later release that includes some extra digitized speech.

As the pilot of the fighter, you fly missions on various worlds. The missions vary, but generally you collect large yellow 'pods' while avoiding or destroying enemy craft and/or buildings on each planet's surface. The terrain varies: there are lakes, narrow valleys, mountains, etc. Sometimes certain targets must be destroyed to 'unlock' force fields that are trapping some of the yellow pods.

By today's standards, Cybermorph's graphics look as though they were built up from Lego blocks, but "back in the day" they were impressive. Cybermorph makes liberal use of 3D polygons to build the landscape and the wide variety of both aircraft and buildings. Although the game has no textured polygons, the Jaguar supports Gouraud shading at the hardware level, so the game's polygons are drawn with 'moody' multicolor hues. Sprites are used to create your weapons fire, explosions, and some of the power-ups you discover, but this game was designed to show off the Jaguar's then new polygon-drawing abilities.

Of course, not everything is perfect with the graphics. The draw-in distance for the polygons is abysmally close (perhaps the closest I've seen in any videogame) leading to severe "pop-up". As you fly towards what looks like a clear patch of sky, within a matter of a couple of seconds a mountain range will suddenly appear in front of you out of nowhere.

I think whomever selected the palette for the various levels may have been color-blind: some levels have a reasonably pleasant and realistic selection of colors, but other worlds have bizarre clashing colors, pink and yellow mountains, orange terrain, green lakes - and that's all in just one world! As one person noted to me, it looks as though the colors were selected by whomever painted the alien sets on the original Star Trek TV series!

Overall, Cybermorph's audio is a slight letdown. The sound effects, for the most part, are the usual crashes and weapon zap noises one expects. The title page theme is acceptable, but there's no in-game music. And of course, there's Skylar - the digitized female voice that's supposed to represent helpful advice from your fighter's computer. The only problem with this idea is that the advice isn't very helpful. On one level, I noticed almost immediately that the onscreen radar display had disappeared. As I flew around looking for enemy aircraft, I wondered what the hell was going on. Finally, after a good 15 or 20 seconds, Skylar blurted out "Your - scanner - is - jammed." Oh really? Gee, thanks: I never would have figured that out!

Most critics of the Jaguar don't believe this but when the Jaguar first came out some magazines actually praised it. In particular, Gamefan magazine gave Cybermorph its "Game of the Month" award, and published a lavish five-page review. Of course, some people claim that the reviewers dropped acid while writing that review... but again, for its time, Cybermorph was a revolutionary game.

Overall, I really enjoy Cybermorph. While it looks dated, I find that the game play is great. If you prefer a relaxed, laid-back pace in your games, Cybermorph allows you to take your time to fly around and explore dozens of playfields. The controls are smooth and responsive, and it's satisfying to grab the final yellow pod on each world, hear Skylar report "Exit portal now open," and fly home. Do I recommend Cybermorph? Absolutely - and the price is certainly right! Score: 7.5/10


LS650's avatar
Community review by LS650 (May 24, 2007)

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