004 - Cybermorph
Published:1993 by Atari Corporation
Developed by Attention To Detail (ATD)
"Good luck." These are the first words that the player hears when their morphing T-Griffon unfolds on a remote planet. And Atari needed all the luck it could get when the Jaguar launched to limited markets in the winter of 1993. The odds were stacked against the once-giant of the industry. Atari released the Jaguar to a crowded market where the SNES and Genesis dominated and other consoles from SNK, 3DO, Phillips and others competed for shelf space. Further, next generation consoles from Sega and Sony were looming on the horizon. More than luck, Atari needed something special to show the prowess of its new 64-bit machine. What they had was Cybermorph - the Jaguar's oft-derided pack-in. It is perhaps most famous for Skylar, the game's green-faced guide well known for the apparently meme-worthy phrase "Where did you learn to fly?"
When I first got my Jaguar I was quite pleased with Cybermorph. I thought the morphing ship, full 3D exploration and Skylar were all great. In '94, it was one of the more interesting and advanced games that I had ever played. So, how does it stack up today?
Graphics: The graphics in Cybermorph are quite bland. The planets have dull, oddly colored landscapes and dark skies. The landscapes are sparsely populated with pods, trees, mountains, roads and enemies. Everything in the game is made up of Gouraud shaded polygons. At the time of its release, the in-hardware use of Gouraud shading was a technological advance over the flat shaded polygons found in many computer and console games. It can be a really cool effect when implemented well. Unfortunately, the art-style in Cybermorph leaves a lot to be desired. Aside from Skylar and your ship, the aforementioned T-Griffon, it does not appear that much care or imagination went into Cybermorph's polygonal models. Enemies are not very exciting and the trees and buildings that dot the landscape look like they were designed by a first grader. Draw distances are quite limited and pop-up can be a real problem. If you're moving too quickly, it is very easy to run into a mountain or other obstacle. On the bright side, I've always liked Skylar and the shape-shifting T-Griffon is cool.
Sound/Music: Cybermorph lacks in the audio department. There is music at start-up that begins with a punch and devolves into a weird "smooth jazz" type thing. There is no in-game music at all. The fully voiced Skylar is impressive. Most impressive. The only people that will be annoyed by her haven't bothered to learn how to play the game. If you're hearing "Where did you learn to fly?" over and over again, you're doing it wrong! The ship sounds, weapons fire and crash noises are sufficiently "spacey" but aren't very imaginative. You've heard better whooshes and blasts in a hundred different games. Overall, the audio and sound effects feel underwhelming.
Gameplay: The most interesting aspect of Cybermorph's gameplay is that it offers the player full 3D exploration. This was novel in 1993. Unfortunately, the world design and missions don't leverage this very well. As mentioned above, the game's worlds are sparsely populated. While there is plenty to blow up, there are also slow periods of inactivity and exploration. This would be interesting if the landscape offered more than tiny trees, the occasional building and oddly colored mountains and canyons. As it is, it is a bit of a snooze fest. Game worlds are also pretty small; it is easy to traverse a level at speed within a few minutes. Game missions lack variety and mostly involve collecting yellow pods. If this doesn't sound exciting, that's because it isn't. The gameplay just doesn't have a lot of depth.
Control takes some getting used to, but I've always found it tight and responsive. In my view, Cybermorph is best played with a light touch and at slower speeds. Doing so helps to avoid Skylar's warnings and prevents overshooting targets and pods. Cybermorph also makes use of the overlay. Weapons selection is easily toggled using the top row (1-3) and multiple views are available using the rest of the pad.
Overall: Did I enjoy playing Cybermorph? Yes. Despite its many shortcomings, the game does offer some fun and a romp down memory lane. That said, the game just feels undercooked. The lack of music, rudimentary level design and boring landscapes leave a lot to be desired. It's hardly good enough to be a flagship title. Fortunately, the Jaguar CD sequel Battlemorph is superior in every way.
Final verdict: As the Jaguar's pack-in title, Cybermorph has earned a place in video game and Atari history. It is inextricably linked to the legacy of Atari's last console. As such, it's a must have for the Atari Jaguar collector. That said, the repetitive missions, lack of in-game music and bland graphics make the game hard to recommend from the player's perspective. There is fun here but the Jaguar has a host of tank-style 3D games and Cybermorph ranks pretty low on that list.
Thanks for reading and please share your opinions and memories of Cybermorph in the comments!
The next game is: Robinson's Requiem