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Atari Jaguar CD
My local EB didn't get Battle Morph in until today, but I was at another EB just 15 min away yesterday and they had it, so I bought it there, and saved a bit since the tax there is lower. :) Now that I've played it for about 5 hours, here's my review.
Overview: Battle Morph is the sequel to Cybermorph, the first game released for the Jaguar way back in December of 1993. Cybermorph provided total freedom of movement, no rails like most other polygon 3D games of the time (namely StarFox). Battle Morph adds the ability to travel under water, and underground along with a new map function, as well as being on CD for an increased number of levels, and Cinepacked movies.
General: Upon loading, the word Battle comes and crashes against the screen shattering the glass, then the word Morph morphs out of the word Battle to form the title Battle Morph. Then the War Griffon flies over the title and soon after you are watching a beautifully rendered movie presenting the setting of the game. As several people have already pointed out, the narrator sounds like Sean Connery, and that adds a lot to the feel of the game. From there, you go to the Select Game screen where you are given a choice of 6 save game slots, and statistics are displayed for the selected game. Once you pick your game, you are taken to the planet select screen. Then once you pick a planet, you are presented with a briefing and an image of your objective. From there you go to the weapon select screen in which you select special weapons to be placed in the four weapons bays on the War Griffon. Finally from there you are set down on the planet to obtain your objective. The load time is very short, maybe 1 1/2 to 2 seconds.
Control: The control is much like the original Cybermorph controls. The defaults are A: Move Forward, B: Fire, and C: Move Backwards. An overlay is provided with the game providing access to weapons, different views, and toggle crosshair off and on. There is an option on the option select screen to switch between the standard controller, and the Pro Controller. When the Pro Controller is selected, the overlay basically becomes useless as various functions are moved to the new buttons (the button assignments are listed in the manual). The Pro Controller setting makes it much easier to select functions using the XYZLR buttons, than trying to use the extra buttons on the standard setting. Pressing Pause (during gameplay) pauses the game, then you can press option to bring up a setting select screen. You can choose to modify the controls, adjust volumes of different types of sound (6 in all! What other systems give you this many volume controls if any?), turn the movies on and off, and change the language. On the Control setting screen, you can either customize the controls to your liking, select between two preset settings, and change the climb setting between up or down (on the D pad). On the volume control screen you are given 6 volume adjustments (like BL), the settings are for player, cinemas, music, effects, instructions, and Skylar. The language option allows you to switch the text between English, French, and Dutch. Pressing option during the game brings up a map. Various objects are indicated on the map including your ship, tunnels, power stations, the exit portal, and objectives. There is a pointer on the map that you can move around and position it over a place you wish to get to, a pointer on the radar will show you which direction it is in.
Graphics: The terrain in general looks much the way it did in Cybermorph only now it is brighter, more complex (ex. narrow passages in mountains, patches of color other than the terrain to create roads and similar things), and you can go under water. The frame rate is very high, I haven't encountered any slowdown (tm Nintendo) yet. The horizon is a little bit farther than it used to be, and what get's clipped is replaced by a hand drawn background instead of a gradually darkening single color sky. Transition from air, to water, to tunnels is instantaneous, there is almost no perceivable delay from air to water (or vice versa). The under water effect is perfect, the wavyness of the graphics underwater gives you the feeling that you are actually under water. If you position you ship to where it is just touching the water, you create splashes while you move, it's kinda neat to skim along the surface at high speeds like a motor boat. Once, I came upon a submarine while underwater, that thing was HUGE, and it had textures all over it, very nice looking! There's nothing incredible about the tunnels, they're just round passages that sometimes lead to underground rooms. The entrances to the tunnels are shutter like doors set inside a tube that is set in the ground, tunnels can be both above and below water. They occasionally have enemies and doors in them, some doors open and shut to try and chomp on your ship. Blowing up enemies or buildings is similar to Iron Soldier, they fly apart in a shower of polygons, real interesting to watch (especially the bridges). 8) There are several views you can select. They are cockpit, close behind, far behind, close overhead, and far overhead (which helps while in tight areas). I'm sure I missed something, there's a whole lot to this game.
Sound FX: Remember those scratchy, LoFi sound effects in the original Cybermorph? Well, for get em. The sound effects in Battle Morph are crystal clear, and not only that, the explosions have BASS! I'm not kidding, played over a decent stereo system you can almost feel the low rumble of explosions (the interactor vest should work good with this game). I remember reading a magazine article where the writer was complaining about the bassless sound FX in video games these days, he should play this game. :) The sound effects mostly range from gunfire of the enemy, engine sound, your fire, explosions, and hitting objects. Picking up powerups produces a sound much like the original in Cybermorph. When underwater, you get a bubbly sound when bubbles are released from your ship or the fish. Sound effects in this game are an extreme leap beyond the ones in Cybermorph.
Music: Yes, Battle Morph has music :), and it's not cheezy, low effort music either. The music fits right into the game and enhances the adventure feeling of the game. What's more, when you go between water and air travel (or tunnel), the music changes instantly! No kidding, the exact moment you get completely under water the music switches to a different mood. The music is probably right off the CD as it is very clean, and clear. On the T2K scale, I'd give it a 1800 ;) (10 out of 10 on an overall judgement). If they made a CD out of it I might buy it.
Gameplay: One of the other things Cybermorph had over StarFox was it's game play, it was both a puzzle game (in the later levels), a 3D space battle game, and an adventure game. Battle Morph has all of those, and more. Most missions consist of finding pods containing various information or materials. In some levels, you must either put a battery in or take it out of a power station to accomplish a task. Force fields are powered by power stations, you can follow the transmission lines to find the power stations. When power stations are active, you can see that the transmission lines are active, they appear as moving green polygons in the air, when the power is off you see a dark pair of polygons arranged in an X just hanging in the air. Sometimes, power stations are under security domes, you must find the security key (shaped like a key) of the same color as the dome to unlock it. Weapon power up blocks are cube shaped, and have an image of the weapon that they contain on two faces, while they have the amount of weapons they give on the other two faces (for some reason the 10s appear to be backwards). Energy power ups are white diamond shaped objects, and increase your energy by 10%. A new twist in Battle Morph, you can find Hint Blocks that give you an important hint (only one hint per mission though there are several blocks) to completing your objective. Hint blocks have question "?" marks on them. There are also octagon shaped power ups that have either an Eye, or several fire balls on them. The eye enhances your scanner so you can see power ups (even ones in buildings), and whether enemies are passive or aggressive, it only lasts for the rest of the current level. The fireball object is the rapid fire power up, it lets you shoot twice as fast for the rest of the level. Then there is the power ring, shaped like the ones in Cybermorph it recharges your energy to max power. There is also a new Speed Ring, it makes you go super fast for a short duration, during which you can't take damage. Speed ring look like power rings, except they flash in multiple colors. There are four different types of water, Normal (Blue), Healing (Light Blue), Speed ( Yellow), and Acid (Red). Normal is just plain water. Healing actually recovers your energy, so you can recharge if you are badly damaged. Speed just lets you move as fast as you can in air. Acid slowly damages your ship, and can destroy your ship if you stay too long. Some pools have a small entrance but spread out under the ground. Also, remember how when you blew a chunk out of a bridge in Cybermorph the rest of the bridge remained in the air? Well, now destroying any part of the bridge causes the entire bridge in between supports to collapse. You can also take out the supports to destroy a bridge, and you can hit them from under water too. You can take out trains (or anything that moves along the (ground) by destroying bridges, the trains just run off and blow up on the ground below leaving their cargo. Cybermorph had a mechanical feel to the way the enemy ships moved and fought, the enemy ships in Battle Morph have a more natural feel in the way they move and attack. The worlds are populated with may more enemies than in Cybermorph, so don't expect to clear a world out completely, and have an easy time of it.
Overall: Battle Morph is an excellent game, and should provide weeks of entertainment. It not only improves on Cybermorph, but adds much more to the concept. Though not everything is texture mapped, the fact that isn't keeps the game moving at a rapid pace, which makes up for the texture-mapping. So far, the game has been well laid out, and the CD is put to good use with very short load times and almost instantaneous changes between tracks of music. If you have a JagCD, you must buy this game.
Whew, long review, but Battle Morph is a whole lotta game.
NOTE: Thus review was posted to the Jaguar mailing list. I sent a request for permission to Stephen, but either he no longer has an account, or has changed it, or there is a problem with the mail system, because my post was bounced back to me. I never got a response from him. I am assuming I have permission since he posted it to the mailing list, as long as I give him credit where credit is due. Stephen, if you're out there, contact me. I would love to get more reviews if you have any....
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