Atari Jaguar

from AEO Magazine, Volume 3, Issue 1


 |||   Cybermorph by the Book
 |||   By: Chuck Klimushyn
/ | \  GEnie: L.FULGENZI
       ------------------------------------------------------------------

It was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I booted up
Cybermorph for Atari's new 64-bit Jaguar. A friend living on the East
Coast had gone to heroic lengths to find and ship it overnight UPS to
ensure that I received my unit on Thanksgiving weekend. I had read all
about the impressive specs in the major gaming magazines, which were
falling over themselves to cover Atari's new cat. I knew however, that
it would be all for naught, and that Atari would have a hard time
getting their new multimedia system off the ground if Cybermorph was a
dud. I anxiously wondered how it would compare to such polished
efforts as Star Fox for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
and Slipheed for the Genesis/SegaCD. Little did I know that I would
find the game play so enthralling that I would spend every free moment
over the next week mesmerized in a virtual universe, liberating
planets from a tyrannical dark empire. I returned from this pleasant
departure from reality to find that I was apparently the first person
on GEnie to have beaten the game.

In their previous AEO articles on the Jaguar and Cybermorph, Peter
Smith and Albert Dayes have done an excellent job describing the
premise and the mechanics of playing the game. There's no need to
repeat what they thoroughly and decisively covered. I would like to
take a closer look at the Cybermorph universe, the interesting planets
(read dangerous planets), special enemies, effective tactics, and
maybe even a cheat or two that will help others make it to the reward
sequence at the end of the game. Along the way, I'll also point out
how my initial anxieties over Cybermorph were groundless and that the
game in almost all aspects, exceeds what the best of the 16-bit market
has to offer.

//// Beginnings

I was struck quickly by two things when I booted up Cybermorph:
first, the terrain. There are polygon rendered mountains, valleys,
winding canyons, small rises, recessed riverbeds and more in the
fifty planets of the game. All are in a wide variety of colors and
shadings. In contrast, the terrain in StarFox is relatively flat, and
in Slipheed it's all a just pretty full motion video that you can only
interact with to a very limited degree. Second, I found I had total
360 degree control over the movement of my ship, my choice of its
speed, and up to a modest ceiling, its altitude. I was ecstatic when I
buzzed a full circle around the nearest building, an impossibility in
either StarFox or Slipheed. At one point, I found myself having a
blast, playing hide-and-seek with a pesky group of interceptors by
weaving around and through a large group of buildings. This is
something I never expected to be able to do on a mere "gaming"
console.

The next thing I noticed was that Cybermorph, ironically, was very
"mendable" to a gamer's playing style. If you like to play slow and
cautiously, scouting areas before committing yourself to an attack, do
so - the game generally gives you total freedom to be as methodical
as you wish. If your reflexes have been honed into deadly weapons from
playing countless shooters on the SNES and Genesis, Cybermorph will
gladly supply all the action you can handle. Speechless, I watched my
13 year old nephew kick the throttle open to a speed I only dared when
I was trying to run from something and proceed to obliterate
everything in sight. He did as well on the first stage, as I did using
a playing style that was somewhere between these two extremes. My
nephew pronounced judgement on the game, saying simply, "this is
really cool!"


=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
//// Stages, Strategies, and Tactics
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

//// Codes and "the" cheat:

Ok, so you don't want to complete each stage and just want to visit
the few that interest you. Here are the codes for each stage:

  First Stage   = 1008
  Second Stage  = 1328
  Third Stage   = 9325
  Fourth Stage  = 9226
  Fifth Stage   = 3444

The infamous "6009" cheat has made the rounds on most of the
electronic nets. (Later, I'll tell you how to "find" the code hidden
in the game!) Enter this code at any planet select screen and you'll
be transported to a special stage with four identical Saturn-like
planets. Select the one in the lower right hand corner and you'll be
launched on to a planet that is a weapons cache. Not only are there
power-ups for all your weapons, but extra ship tokens too. The
remaining three planets on the stage are hit and run firefights as
you seek the extra portal, but there's no reason to complete them.
Just enter the codes of the level you wish to go to and you'll be
taken there. Interesting, during each gaming session, as long as you
don't reset the game or turn off the power, the program will remember
which planets you've completed on each stage. This allows you to visit
earlier levels if you've started the game from the advanced stages.
You can easily pick up those last few thousand points to gain an extra
ship or more power-ups using this trick (I wish I could take credit
for discovering this cheat, but I read it on the boards too).

//// Stage One

Cybermorph's strength lies in the wide variety of strategy and tactics
a player can employ during the game. This applies not only to how to
complete a mission on a planet, but even how one goes about completing
a stage. Some planets are loaded with power-ups that will be helpful
for tackling more difficult planets in the stage, or the boss at the
end of the stage. Each stage also has a bonus planet which can be
found by locating and flying through a dark blue hexagon (as opposed
to the light blue supply ring). The player will be allowed to enter
the bonus planet after completing the current planet. These bonus
planets are worth locating, often right before completing a stage and
tackling a boss. Except for terrain features, they are devoid of
hazards and not only contain power-ups of plenty, but frequently
valuable extra ship tokens. The only catch is that you must exit
through the portal before the bonus planet's time limit (45-180
seconds) is up, or lose all your gathered goodies.

Stage one is a perfectly balanced introduction to the game. You're
given a variety of moderately tough missions to complete with a great
looking, but none too difficult boss at its end. After becoming
familiar with the controls of the T-Griffon, you may want to think
about completing Kapitol first. Don't let the large number of pods to
be rescued and large number of apparent defenders imitate you. Find
the radar dish on a purple mount and destroy it. Except for fire from
ground installations and a few circling green pod guardians, you'll
have the run of the planet. There's lots of cargo-carriers with power
ups that will help you on other planets of the stage. Lingering on
Olope to find the bonus planet ring is worthwhile as it contains extra
ship tokens (relax Travis, I promise not to tell them were they all
are). Codex with deep winding canyons, and not too many hostiles, is a
good place to build your flying skills. In long and winding canyons
like these, your triple shot is a good weapon to stop packs of angry
interceptors. You can find where the 6009 cheat came from by flying
through a narrow passage tucked between mountains - slip through it to
find a canyon with a big "6009" imprinted on the ground. (Hmmm. A
planet named Codex. A number on the ground there. Must be a code!) Oh,
how could I forget Zuel? Here you'll be introduced to one of the game's
niceties, WORMS!!

Every good game should have a monster or enemy that the mere sight of
which will cause the player's adrenaline glands to kick into high
gear, and Cybermorph does not disappoint. There's no more chilling
sight in the game than to see one of these beasts bearing down on you
like a demon-possessed freight train from hell. Worms are a snake like
string of rounded-triangles of various and changing colors. They're
one of the quickest enemies in the game and have the infuriating
ability to destroy a ship with a single hit by ramming. To make
matters suck eggs even more, worms don't die very easily.

Dealing with worms has been the subject of much on-line debate.
There's no pat answer and the correct response depends on the current
terrain and available weapons. Thunderquakers, one of the T-Griffon's
special weapons, will kill them instantly *IF* you're lucky enough to
have them. Mines are especially effective in canyons and areas with
lots of obstacles, but require ice-water in your veins because you
have to rely on the tactical display of your scanner to judge the
best distance for releasing the mine, while not splattering your ship
against a canyon wall. In open areas you can hit the reverse
thrusters and wail away with incinerators, or lacking them, normal
fire. I have a theory that when the worms change to a dark blue they
are the most vulnerable, but don't go staking your ship on that hunch.
Yes, you can always crank open the throttle and run, hoping they'll go
away... but they don't always. In early stages you can beat a retreat
and often complete the planet, but in later levels you may find two,
three, or more of these creatures drawing a bead on your ship all at
once (at such times I was glad the programmers were kind and included
passwords).

One last thing regarding stage one: its boss. Gaming purists may
scream foul at the first stage's boss, called a headhunter. It has a
striking resemblance to the last boss in StarFox, namely being a huge
disembodied head. Cybermorph's boss just doesn't sit there and lob
laser blasts at you, though like its counterpart in StarFox, it'll
chase your ship all around the planet given half a chance! It has an
especially nasty attack of disappearing into the ground and deep
sixing you from behind with missile fire. Fortunately, this makes the
headhunter a sitting duck for a few well placed mines. What, you
don't have any mines? I thought I hinted at completing Olope last and
finding the bonus planet ring to prevent such an embarrassing
situation....

//// Stage Two:

Ok, you've blown through the first level and wasted the first boss in
a manner that would have made Han Solo proud, and now it's time to get
down to brass tacks. Things quickly get much harder, both with the
fighting and puzzle solving aspects of the game. Here, you're
introduced to the two barriers that form the basis of the game's
puzzles. These are force-fields and spikes. Each is impervious to
almost all direct weapons fire and will destroy your ship on contact.
They must be de-activated by destroying their corresponding control
units. Force fields are controlled by a generator building which is
tall and narrow that's always on the ground. Spikes are controlled by
squat buildings that are always suspended slightly in the air. Taking
out force fields is straightforward, find the generator and kill it.

Spikes have a catch. If you fly too close to a pod that's surrounded
by spikes and trigger them to spring, they'll remain even after you
destroy their control unit. Therefore, you get the difficult task of
locating the control units without getting too close to the pods they
guard. If you fly to a different part of the planet and come back,
the spikes sometimes reset so you can reach the pod. One intrepid
gamer recently posted that you can reach pods in spikes by hovering
over the exact center of the trap and carefully lowering your ship to
the pods. I found it does indeed work! (Thanks, Rick!) In the
pre-launch briefing before entering a planet, you'll generally
informed if there are spikes below, but not always. On new planets you
may want to approach pods with caution as these spikes spring up at
the last second and may impale your ship if you're not quick on the
reverse thrusters.

The worlds in stage two are wonderfully varied. One of the most
difficult is Galitzia. Here you meet jack-in-the-box Joker faces that
lie flat on the ground and "pop up" to spray you with missile fire
when your ship gets too close. Cruise missiles are the weapon of
choice, line up for a torpedo run and release your missile as soon as
the face begins to raise. Hitting the reverse thrust immediately
after this will generally get your ship out of the way of return fire.
Galitzia also has a large number of cargo carriers for power-ups.
Metropol is a test of flying and shooting ability. You have to rescue
all the planet's pods before even one is destroy by vortex towers.
Watch the intro as the T-Griffin is released on the planet to get an
idea of which direction to head first. Taking out the radar tower will
make your task easier.

In fact, Metropol, Fragocia, and Rosam all have radar towers that
should be primary targets. Metropol also hides the bonus planet ring
(oops, sorry about that Travis). On Bross, your scanner is
dysfunctional so you have to locate the pods visually, which isn't too
bad, but finding your escape portal can be trying. Look around the
tall yellow towers. Ulmtri is a test of dog-fighting skills. Keep your
speed up and don't be afraid to use a lot of mines.

Throughout stage two and in later levels you'll meet another rather
stubborn enemy I've nicknamed "pod guardians." These stocky green
ships casually circle pods as their charges. Pod guardians take a lot
of damage and fire missiles at an alarmingly fast rate. Luckily they
are harmless until you decide to fire on them. Those with finely tuned
reflexes may want to try flying in and snatching a pod. I found
cruising over the pod guardians and laying down a mine spread to be
the safest way to take them out. Two or three incinerator hits will
also destroy them if you're the frontal assault type.

That brings us to stage two's boss(s). There are two twinblaster
gunships which were affectionately dubbed "battleships" on Genie.
They guard a number of pods that are in danger of being destroyed by a
vortex tower. Each of these ships has two wing pods that must be taken
out before the boss can be defeated. They're most vulnerable to cruise
missiles and incinerators. They may be attacked from fairly long
range - listen for the auditory feedback of your weapons striking a
target. After destroying both wing-pods, the ship will rush you.
Continue firing at it with incinerators if you have them, and as
rapidly as possible with normal fire if you don't. Remember there are
two of these ships. Attack at an angle that allows you to deal with
them one at a time. If you lose too many ships, retreat and let the
vortex tower destroy enough pods to allow you a retrial.

//// Stage Three:

Stage three includes some of the most innovative planets in the game.
JoJo contains an interesting puzzle of how to remove pods from spikes
without an apparent controller building on the planet. Look in the
hangers for the solution. It pays to spend time on JoJo - if you
rescue all the pods you'll earn a quick 25,000 bonus points.
Greenstone is the "politically incorrect" planet of the game. You have
to rescue pods by destroying the trees they are encased in. (Don't
anyone tell Greenpeace or Al Gore about this.) Greenstone is also
infested with worms, so bring your mines and thunderquakers!

Ladan has a worm or two to boot. You'll have an easier time of it on
Ladan if you follow the blue, then red transporters to take out the
generator of the force field guarding the radar tower. Shooting the
resulting immobile ships is a great way to gain power ups. Spykre
would be an easy planet if it weren't for the worms. Monicalia is one
tough planet too. Look for its radar tower across the river from the
central group of buildings on the planet. If you follow one of the
bridges across the river you'll also find the spike's controller
building. There are a number of cargo carriers on Monicalia for power
ups. The level's bonus planet ring is hidden on Pico (who said
that?!). Lastly, beginning in stage three and on the remaining levels,
don't be afraid to use your valuable thunderquakers if you're
overpowered by a swarm of enemies. You'll often get them back with the
power ups the destroyed ships leave behind.

Ready for the boss planets to get harder? Good, because there isn't a
vortex tower on the planet with stage three's bosses. This means you
only get one chance to beat them. No retakes, bud. You get to deal
with a headhunter and twinblasters. The headhunter is encountered
first. Be careful to destroy it without moving too far from your
launching point, otherwise you may fly smack into a missile spread
sent out from the planet's friendly twinblasters. One more tip on the
twinblasters: attack from a path where you can hit the reverse
thrusters without fear of backing into something. Beat a retreat as
soon as one missile hits the T-Griffon, as two dozen more will be
following quickly.

//// Stage Four:

I found stage four to be the most difficult level in the game (stage
five cuts you some slack, more on that later). Zahav is a tough
dogfight while you search for pods that don't show up on the scanner
screen because they are encased in metallic containers. Follow the
red transporter surrounded by tall yellow towers, to help find a few
hard to locate pods hidden in the planet's mountains. Your launch
point on Squib has you facing a ton of tempting pods. DON'T rush to
them. The pods are guarded by spikes that'll impale your ship.
Instead, take the red portal and locate a flat area with four yellow
towers along its perimeter. The pod carriers will helpfully remove
the pods from the spikes and drop them in this area. Olyotris may be
the toughest planet in the stage. There are a large number of trapped
pods guarded by overwhelming numbers of interceptors. Learn to destroy
the pod's shackles from a long enough range that won't bring a flock
of interceptors down on your head. Then open the throttle, grab the
pod, and back out before you attract too much attention.

I found Olyotris so tough, I took the suggestion in Cybermorph's game
manual and tackled the planet first. If I lost too many ships, I
restarted the level before moving on. The T-Griffon's scanner is
jammed again on Grand Piten. To make matters worse, there's a couple
of worms that attack from behind. You may want to set mines as your
default weapon and make frequent use of your aft viewer. On Grunge
there are no hostile enemies, just pod carriers and vortex towers. The
carriers drop pods into the fields of the vortex towers at a rate that
will test your flying skills. If you rescue all the pods you'll pick
up 15,000 bonus points. (What, I didn't spill the goods on the stage's
bonus planet ring? Well, it's on Olyotris but you may find your hands
full just trying to deal with the interceptors on the planet).

Hee, hee, hee. Just wait till you meet stage four's bosses - mutated
worms!! Like stage three, there isn't a vortex tower, so you get only
one chance at these babies before having to do the whole level again.
Stay in the open. Each segment of the worm must be destroyed, one-at-
a-time. I still like the advice I posted on GEnie after getting by
these suckers:

"Bring plenty of mines, kick the throttle open, and don't look BACK!!"

//// Stage Five:

Ok, I promised you a break on the fifth stage. The layout of the
planets are the most devious of the game, but most of them have
vortex towers with a very high percentage of pods to rescue. So, if
you lose too many ships let the vortex fields take out enough pods and
redo the planet. Just make sure when you sit down to complete this
level you've got a good three to four hours of free time. <grin>

Booshka may be the weirdest planet of the game. You've got one pod to
rescue among what seems like hundreds of hangers. Keep shooting the
hangers and looking for transporters that are hidden inside them until
you come to an area marked by two criss-crossing canyons. You'll find
the pod hidden in this area. Don't attack the hangers from too close.
They often contain nasty surprises. On Eeelaaz, your scanner will be
jammed again. Keep checking the two passages that run through the
central mountain range if you're having trouble locating those last
few pods. I've got two things to say about Janwelch. Blue-yellow-
blue, and if you don't mind dodging worms, you can find the stage's
bonus planet ring (well Travis, it's the last one, I might as well
tell them).

Thetazan is a frenzied race against time. Look for a force field
generator not too far from your launch point and destroy it. There's
a red transporter that will take you to the opening of a mountain
canyon. Take it, but *avoid* collecting pods and fighting with as
many hostiles as possible. You've got to get to the end of the canyon
as quickly as possible. Don't worry - everything will be there on the
way out.

On Gantlet, you'll need a building detonator to complete the planet.
There's two ways to accomplish this task. One: fly down the very long
and dangerous canyon marked by the tall yellow towers to obtain a
detonator power-up, then fly back through the same canyon and down
another long and dangerous canyon to reach the trapped pods (wrong).
Two: before leaving Thetazan, shoot one of the several cargo carriers
which has the detonators as power-ups, then go directly to Gantlet
(right). In addition, stay slightly to the left as you fly down the
canyon. There are a couple of sets of spikes that pop up as you fly
over them.

Hellfire was my favorite planet of the game. Its color scheme is
foreboding shades of red and black that get darker as the vortex
fields spread. You start off dealing with a headhunter and then must
spend the rest of the planet dodging missile fire from the overly
numerous Joker faces. There's no easy way to complete the planet. If
you get off Hellfire with just losing one ship, count yourself lucky.

Everything comes together with the bosses for the last stage. Your
flying and fighting skills must exceed anything that's been required
of you so far to make it past the two headhunters, two twinblasters,
and a few worms while rescuing your pods from the vortex towers.
Saving the pods will have to be your first priority. You can only lose
a few before having to restart the planet. There's not enough time to
destroy all the enemies on the planet and still save your quota of
pods. You'll have to snatch them from the fields of the vortex towers
at close to top speed while running a gauntlet of missiles sent out
by the twinblasters and being pursued by the headhunters. You may be
fortunate enough to take out the headhunters with mines while they
trial the T-Griffon, but don't go out of your way - save the pods
first!

Skylar will let you know when you're close to the required number. If
you've taken too much damage, allow the pods to be destroyed and
restart the planet. Once the pods are safe and your ship is still in
good shape, you can concentrate on the bosses themselves. Use the
tactics from previous levels and all your wits to get by the
twinblasters and worms. To trigger your escape portal you'll have to
kill *all* the enemies on the planet. If you get off the planet you'll
be taken to a short reward sequence.

        Congratulations and welcome to the rank of CYBERJOCK!!


=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=
//// Improvements and Conclusions
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

Cybermorph easily surpasses similar games in the 16-bit market. No
other game available provides its unique combination of freedom of
movement, variation of terrain, and options for tactics and strategy.
Even so, it is lacking a few "finishing touches" that are common in
top-of-the-line cartridges. Most notable is the lack of in-play
music. One has only to listen to the soundtrack of StarFox or Batman
Returns (SNES) to know how much a good musical score can enhance game
play. Extended and compelling introduction and reward sequences are
now considered almost a necessity for a game to be labelled "great" by
current standards. Some may argue that such things are merely wasted
memory, but look at the intro for Super Empire Strikes Back (SNES) or
Flashback (Genesis) to see how they set the proper "mood" for their
games. Cybermorph lacks any type of extended introduction sequence and
the reward sequence is far too short. Lastly, a shooter's bosses need
more variation. Cybermorph's headhunters and twinblasters are fine,
but they're recycled too many times.

That being said, Cybermorph is one heck of an engrossing pack-in and a
great preview of things to come for Atari's new gaming console.
Looking at the game as it runs on my television, I can't help but
sense that the end of the 16-bit era for home video games is near.
Let's wish Atari well in making the "next level" of gaming theirs!

(No scores provided...)


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