Cybermorph was the launch title for the Atari Jaguar and came bundled with the console, making it the first "64-bit" experience most people had. Many thought it was an odd choice in 1994, an era that was still dominated by 2D mascot games and one-on-one fighters. Pack-in games have always been crucial to the early success of a system. Was Cybermorph the right choice? In the most decisive answer I can give, yes and no.
The story is simple. The galaxy is under attack from the evil Pernitian Empire. Their self replicating robot technology is conquering star systems one planet at a time. As a pilot of the T-Griffon morphing attack craft your mission is to eliminate the Pernitian threat and save the galaxy.
Cybermorph's presentation has not aged well. Everything in game is represented as low polygon-count objects with no texture mapping. The T-Griffon ship itself is ok and morphs smoothly into different shapes depending on your speed. However, many of the enemy ships look very bland. The landscapes feature some shading effects but are pretty lifeless. There is also serious pop-up as you fly around with buildings and hills suddenly appearing in front of you.
In 1994 3D was still a something of a novelty on consoles, but in the 21st century this looks very simplistic. The design of the some bosses is just plain weird with giant floating heads spitting missiles, Zardoz anyone? On the positive side the frame rate is smooth throughout. There can be a huge number of enemy ships and projectiles on screen with no slow down.
The sound fares a little better. The theme song is a clear and punchy mod tune although there is no other music in the game. The sampled effects are solid with some nice low frequencies when played through a hi-fi amp. Everything is presented in true stereo so you can hear lasers and explosions all around you. The ships computer, Skylar, speaks every now and again to give sometimes useful, often irritating advice. Although you can turn her off you run the risk of missing critical information. For its time, Cybermorph offers arcade quality sound above any of the 16-bit systems.
The game is split into sectors, each with eight planets and a boss. You are free to play each world within a sector in any order. Once all missions are complete you face the boss and unlock the next sector. Each sector has a code so you can return if necessary to collect power-ups etc. The whole game revolves around collecting yellow pods scattered around the worlds. Although each mission has a different brief the gameplay ends up becoming very repetitive. Fly around collecting pods and taking down as many enemies as you can. Some pods are hidden making things a bit more tricky and later levels are difficult with some very tough enemies. There are plenty of weapons power ups to collect, accessible through the controllers many buttons. You can also swap camera angles which is nice in demo mode but not much practical use. With 50 plus missions there's longevity there but it does get a bit boring.
In context Cybermorph was a bold step by Atari to push console gaming well and truly into the third dimension. It was technically superior to just about everything offered by the 16-bit systems of the day but compared with later PlayStation titles it looks obsolete. It doesn't push the Jaguar hardware either. It's not a bad game. It just hasn't aged well and is a little too repetitive. At least it paved the way for the awesome sequel Battlemorph and for that, ATD, I salute you!