Cybermorph. The game that launched the Jaguar is perhaps the most associated game when Atari’s final console comes to mind. It embodied the hopes of a once powerful video game company that was desperately trying to claw its way back to the top of the industry. Unfortunately, Cybermorph fell somewhat short, and so did Jaguar when you do the math.
For a game that gets a lot of things wrong, it does some things right. In 1993, 3D flight shooters were relatively uncommon in the video game market, which was primarily dominated by Sega and Nintendo’s 16-bit machines. At first glance, Cybermorph’s polygonal graphics looked futuristic, as if it was a new evolution in gaming.
However, it was not. The initially impressive 3D world was soon overshadowed by poor draw distances, the claustrophobia of small levels, and the pain of enemies that popped into existence seemingly out of thin air.
For many flight shooters and sims, a poor and cumbersome control scheme can spell doom for a game immediately. Fortunately, this is one aspect that Cybermorph got right. The little ship handles well, and the game is perfectly suited for the Jaguar’s three button controller. However, the list of ‘good’ things about this game stops there.
Though the flight controls are laid out thoughtfully and are well executed, Cybermorph may as well not be a flight game, as the game forces the ship to fly so low to the ground that it may as well not be airborne. Want to fly over those hills up ahead? Don’t even think about it! Just don’t crash into them.
The most obvious ailment that the game suffers is plot design that had its origins a decade earlier, when Atari was still in touch with gamers. There are a limited numbers of small levels from which the player selects from at the onset, a small numbers of lives, no unifying story and no way to save progress. Not that it feels like completing a level is progress, as levels are merely picked as opposed to earned.
The objective of the game is to collect pods. Not to complete a series of objectives in each world, not to fight advanced alien races or defeat wicked bosses, but to only collect a small number of tokens. Not exactly thrilling game play, and hasn’t been since Pac Man and K.C. Munchkin battled it out in the early 80’s.
There is a green talking head that is your companion throughout each mission. In a feminine computer voice she congratulates the player on a good job each time an enemy is killed or a “pod” is picked up. She also offers sarcastic quips “where did you learn how to fly” on occasion. However, this featured felt like the developers were trying too hard in when the game was released. It is all too reminiscent of the Odyssey2’s “The Voice” that was released in 1980, an unnecessary voice synthesizer.
Ultimately, Cybermorph is an adequate tech demo for a console that itself is hardly a console. Misleading advertizing campaigns about the power of the system, a lack of third party support, worse hardware design than a Sony console, and corporate incompetence that would make Kenneth Lay blush, and a slew of games worse the caliber of Cybermorph would not only bury the Jaguar, but force Atari into bankruptcy and out of business.
Cybermorph serves as constant reminder of the uncertainty of the gaming market in the 1980’s after the market crash, and of the boom of console upstarts that the world bore witness to in the early 90’s. Like the 3DO, LaserActive, CD-i, VIS, and all other non-Sega/Nintendo consoles of the era, Jaguar was forgotten almost as soon as it came, and with it Cybermorph, the tech demo that was nearly an excellent game.