Atari needs a winner. With the Falcon dead, the Lynx an endangered species and the ST coughing up blood after a severe bruising from the Amiga, Atari’s hopes of success – and even survival – are pinned on the matt black casing of the Jaguar. And, likewise, the Jaguar needs a winner. The Super NES has Super Mario, Starwing and Street Fighter II Turbo. The Mega Drive has Sonic, John Madden and Street Fighter II Special Champion Edition.
Like 3DO, the Jaguar needs to make an impact. Thankfully, it has Cybermorph on its side, which comes bundled with the machine. Cybermorph – coded in the UK by Attention To Detail – is as good a showpiece for the Jaguar as Atari could have hoped for. Set on a distant planet… well, 52 distant planets to be exact, Cybermorph is a cross between Starwing, Virus and a 3D Defender. At its most basic, the game is a collect and shoot ‘em up: kill the baddies, get the power-ups and collect all the pods so you can exit to the next planet. Simple.
Of course, there’s much more to it than that. Each planet has its own brand of devious enemies who shoot at you, ram you, stick to your craft and generally get in the way. Pods are hidden, imprisoned, caged up or guarded by forcefields. And large sections of the planet are blocked by walls or hidden pathways through ravines and valleys. Simple, yes. Easy, no.
Okay, you get six weapon systems to collect and three different superweapons with which to lay waste to your enemies. But you also get a paltry three lives, which, on your first attempt, should last about a minute. As you find your way around the multi-button joypad (which isn’t quite as dismal as we first feared) and gradually learn to control your ship, the game opens up to reveal hidden depths.
You also have a guide through this bewildering world in the shape of Skylar, your onboard holograph. This bald female pops up to proffer the odd word of advice, encouragement and to tell you when you have only one pod left to pick up. The speech is 16bit sample perfect – real F-15 cockpit stuff – and is a welcome sound amongst the laserfire and explosions. Skylar has a repertoire of 11 phrases from ‘Ouch’ when you take a hit, to ‘Portal now open’ when the last pod is in your possession.
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