Atari Jaguar CD

from AEO magazine, Volume 4, Issue 9

 |||   Jaguar Review: Battlemorph
 |||   By: Charles Wells
/ | \  GEnie: C.WELLS10

Battlemorph takes place thirty years after the original Cybermorph.
It seems that with the T-Griffon fighter, Earth was able to push back
the Pernitian invasion. After that, the Earth Defense Council built a
fleet of battle cruisers to patrol the colonies as a deterrent against
future invasions. For some time, things were peaceful, but it was not
to last. The trouble began in the Perseus Star Cluster. Several battle
cruisers disappeared in that area, and Pernitian activity was reported
in eight different clusters of worlds - then all contact was lost with
those worlds. The last remaining cruiser has been by the defense
council on a search and destroy mission, starting with the Perseus

This battlecruiser, the Sutherland, has a very special cargo - the
newest version of the T-Griffon, known as the War Griffon. This ship
comes with morphing technology, customizable weapons bays, underwater
capability, and built-in satellite mapping hookups. By the time you
reach the Perseus cluster, the Sutherland has almost totally exhausted
her energy reserves, so you must defeat the Pernitian general in each
of the eight star clusters. This will give you enough energy to reach
the Pernish cluster, homeworld of the alien menace. It's up to you to
stop the threat at its source, once and for all!

//// Starting Out

Battlemorph, like Highlander, is playable in several different
languages: English, French or German, selectable from the options
screen. Once you are ready to start your first game, you'll be able to
enter your name in a screen very similar in layout (and sound effects)
to the one in Blue Lightning. There are five Save Game slots available
if you are using the Memory Track cart, which is highly recommended!!
There are also three difficulty settings (Easy, Medium and Hard), so
those who may not be familiar with the original game can tinker around
on Easy, while Cybermorph vets can plow right in on the higher
settings. There is a box on the right side of the screen which gives
you information about the Save Game slot you currently have
highlighted, such as the weapons you have accumulated, ships in
reserve, etc.

When you start the game, you will move on to the planet select screen.
As in the original game, you can pick any planet in any order you wish
- each planet has its own mission to complete. You must finish off all
the planets before moving on to the next cluster of planets. Each
cluster has its own general, or "boss", to defeat for valuable plasma
energy which the Sutherland needs. When you select a planet you want
to play, you will be given a briefing on the mission objective for
that planet. If this doesn't sound to your liking, you can come back
to this one later - just select Reject and choose another planet. Once
you've decided on the planet you want, it's on to select your weapons.

Your War-Griffon has a built-in twin shot cannon. In addition, you
have four weapons bays to customize as you wish, with the exception
that you can't choose a weapon more than once. Also, you have to find
weapons in this game, so when you start out, you won't have a weapon
for every bay. You start with cruise bombs (great for knocking out
tanks and buildings) and decoys. Decoys are really neat - duplicates
of your ship, they fly around for a brief time and are great for
dodging homing missiles and nasty kamikazes. Although they can't shoot
enemies, decoys can fly through forcefields for you to get at
power-ups you'd normally have a hard time getting to (if you can get
them at all). There are many weapons to be found later on in the game
(in the form of fragments which must be collected) including mines,
mortars and flame-throwers.

Control is similar to the original, with the keypad heavily
utilized. (The game comes with an overlay to help out.)

A moves the ship forward
B fires your selected weapon
C moves the ship backward

Option selects the Map mode. This is a satellite's view of the
landscape of the world, highlighting important structures, items and
objectives. When you move the pointer around on the map screen, your
radar's white arrow will point to it.

Different buttons on the keypad select between your four weapons bays,
turn your targeting crosshair on/off, cycle through several different
cockpit views from your ship (plus a few overhead views). As is usual,
the buttons are customizable to fit different tastes. I'm happy to say
that the new ProController is supported and works quite well. The
Options screen also lets you customize several other things, such as
the volume levels for the music, sound effects and Skylar, or turning
the Cinemas on or off. (I leave them on, since you can bypass them
with a button press if you wish.)

//// The Game Screen

The majority of the screen is taken up by your view of the world. A HUD
at the top of the screen displays your score, your ships in reserve,
and your radar. Skylar (your talking computer, who still looks kinda
like Sinead O'Conner) also pops up from time-to-time here with helpful
comments. (Or the occasional trash talking.) The radar will be
familiar to Cybermorph veterans - skulls are enemies (red ones are
hostile, green are passive, a skull with yellow eyes is an enemy
carrying a powerup), red dots for enemy shots, diamonds are power-ups,
and rectangles are special buildings. Powerups and buildings only show
up if you've collected an enhanced scanning powerup. A closed yellow
arrow points to your mission objective (or to the exit, if the
objectives have been found).

The instrument panel at the bottom of the screen has been changed
a little from the first game. It looks cleaner, less cluttered. There
are readouts for speed (forward or reverse), altitude and energy. When
all your energy is gone, your ship is destroyed. You lose energy from
enemy fire and from crashes. There are "monitors" which display your
different weapons bays (including ammo levels for each weapon), or
other special objects you've collected (such as data pods, batteries,
weapon fragments and keys).

The middle of the screen is where your ship resides. As it flies along
in the virtual worlds, it morphs as it changes velocity, climbs, dives
underwater, etc. As before, the game is not on rails like other games
of similar nature (i.e., Starfox on the Super NES) - you can fly where
you want, when you want. The only real restriction to this is your
ship can't fly above a certain altitude, so certain mountain ranges
will block or hamper access to some areas. If you fly past the
boundaries of the world, you will "wrap" around to the other side. Not
being on rails opens up many possibilities on how you choose to play
the game. You can fly along rather leisurely, exploring every nook and
cranny. Or you can be very quick and aggressive, blasting non-stop as
you fly by enemy tanks, only to turn around to pick off the ones you
missed on your first fly-by.

//// Powerups

Powerups are floating cubes texturemapped with differing icons on
them. Some are floating around on the planets when you arrive, others
are dropped when you destroy enemies or buildings. Simply fly through
them to pick them up. Ammo pods supply whatever is pictured on the
pod. Occasionally, these pods will cycle through different kinds of
ammo or energy for your shields. Hint pods, which are textured with a
big question mark, will display a hint for the planet you are on. Keys
open the locked security domes on the surface (or doors in the
underground tunnels), and look like... well... big keys of different
colors. Magazines increase the maximum amount of ammo you can carry
for your weapons.  Rapid fire is just that, and works for the entire
level once you pick it up. The powerup with the big eyeball on it is
an enhanced scan, which increases the effectiveness of your radar.

Batteries are used in the power stations. Place one in a power station
to activate the station (or remove it to cut off power to certain
things like forcefields). Weapon fragments are very valuable, find
four and when you get back to the Sutherland, you'll have a new weapon
to use in your fight against the Pernitians. Also keep an eye out for
gold-colored War Griffons; picking one of those up will net you an
extra ship! The rings from the first game are back, too; blue (power)
rings increase your energy back to full and flashing (speed) rings
boost you to incredible speeds, during which you are invincible!

//// Buildings and Special Objects

You will encounter many different buildings in your travels, including
power stations and power lines (which may need to be shut down in
order to drop a forcefield somewhere on the level), teleporters,
security domes (needs a key of matching color to open it), bridges
(blow 'em up and watch the enemies stupidly drive off to a watery
death, hee hee), underground tunnel entrances and a variety of
different bases and silos which launch tanks and fighter craft. There
is also a special building known as a planet cloaker. Take this sucker
out and a bonus planet will be revealed on the planet selection
screen! (The "Tree Planet" is funny...death to all trees! =)

As mentioned earlier, your War-Griffon can now go underwater - this is
really cool and has a nice underwater blur effect (like in Missile
Command 3D), plus bubbles, fish swimming around, and aquatic plants
gently swaying in the current. There are different types of water,
too. Some is acidic and drains your energy, while others heal you or
have a viscosity that allows you to fly through it as if it were air.
Tunnels are another new way of commuting. They are often blocked by
several different types of doors, and are texture mapped and probably
the coolest looking areas in the game. Movement through them is
extremely smooth and fluid - my favorite ones are the dark corridors
with the lights on the sides of the walls.

//// Enemies

There is a wide range of enemies out to do you in, some slightly
familiar. In addition to the standard tanks, destroyers, subs and
fighter craft there are some interesting foes such as fans (which blow
your ship around), worms (remember them? heh heh), leeches (drain your
energy), springs (pop up out of the ground and skewer things, like
your ship), bandits (steal your weapons!) and more. As before, some
enemies are pretty passive, while some seek you out with a vengeance.

//// Graphics and Sound

Graphics are pretty faithful to the original game, with the Gourad
shading on the terrain being very impressive. There seems to be a much
better use of color this time around, too. The water is now animated,
and there is quite a bit of texturemapping on the enemies and
structures. The cinemas, tunnel and underwater sequences are all also
very impressive. Rather than just a black sky on the horizon, there
are now assorted mountain ranges, planets and more, which really adds
a lot to the look of the game. The framerate and terrain pop-up have
even been cleaned up since the original game. There are also a lot of
nice touches in the game. I like flying just above the surface of the
water so that you are barely skimming it, leaving a wake behind you.

In-game music has been added to the game, which was one of the major
things missing from Cybermorph. The music in Battlemorph is excellent,
and there appears to be a wide variety of different tunes. One nice
touch is the music changes when you fly either underwater or through
tunnels. Sound effects are also very good, with nice use made of
stereo and depth cueing. I love to listen to this game on a pair of
headphones through the Catbox.

//// The Good, the Bad and the Overall

Well, I honestly don't have anything really bad to say about this
game. The main complaint many people had about Cybermorph was that it
looked like they rushed it out the door, which meant things like
in-game music, polished transitional screens and other minor details
didn't make it into the game in time. That is not the case here, and
there is an obvious... well... attention to detail <g> in this one.
The gameplay is very solid and will offer many repeat playings. This
game also proves you don't have to texturemap everything into oblivion
to make an excellent game. If I was Atari, I would make sure this is
one of the Jag titles that gets ported to the other platforms.
Battlemorph is easily the best game for the Jag CD yet. Fans of the
original will flip over this one.

//// Final Ratings

        Title: Battlemorph                      Jaglink: No
    Developer: Attention to Detail              Players: 1
 Published by: Atari                              Media: JagCD
       Retail: $59.95                       Availability: Now

 A Summary of Ratings:
              "*" is a whole
              "+" is a half
              5 stars Maximum

 Graphics - ****     Nothing mind-blowing, but very good nonetheless.
    Audio - *****    Excellent tunes and voices, very good sound
  Control - *****    Easy to learn, very precise, flexible, supports
                     the ProController.
 Gameplay - *****    Even better than the first! Not on rails, set
                     your own pace, tons to explore and do, selectable
                     difficulty levels.
  Overall - *****    The best Jag CD game yet and one of the best Jag
                     games, period.

Pts Stars  AEO Ratings
""" """""  """""""""""
 10 *****  GAMING NIRVANA!!! - You have left reality behind... for good.
  9 ****+  Unbelieveable GAME!! - Your family notices you're often absent.
  8 ****   Fantastic Game!! - You can't get enough playtime in on this.
  7 ***+   Great Game! - Something to show off to friends or 3DOers.
  6 ***    Good game - You find yourself playing this from time to time.
  5 **+    Ho-hum - If there's nothing else to do, you play this.
  4 **     Waste of time - Better to play this than play in traffic.
  3 *+     Sucks - Playing in traffic sounds like more fun.
  2 *      Sucks Badly - You'd rather face an IRS audit than play this.
  1 +      Forget it - ... but you can't; it's so badly done, it haunts you.
  0 -      Burn it - Disallow programmer from ever writing games again.

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