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The brains at Microsoft could have fixed it so that you had to purchase an Xbox game console to play “Cel Damage,” but they didn’t.

The team creating the game showed it to Microsoft first; but the Xbox team was not entirely impressed and sloughed it on Electronic Arts.

Microsoft’s loss becomes Japan’s good fortune.

In its constant effort to remain unmarried to any one platform, Electronic Arts publishes most of its games across many consoles.

Xbox will not hit store shelves in Japan until 2002, and it may not achieve wide success when it does go on sale.

In the meantime, Japanese gamers can play “Cel Damage” on Nintendo’s GameCube. The game would only appear on Xbox had Microsoft published it, but EA wants to attract as many players as possible.

“Cel Damage” is a great new car combat game, or should I say a “car toon combat game.” The latest rage in games seems to be cel shading, a process that gives games comic booklike graphics with especially smooth animation.

“Jet Grind Radio,” published by Sega for Dreamcast, seems to have touched off the cel shading revolution, and Nintendo is using this technique for its next Zelda project. But I digress.

Thanks to cel shading, “Cel Damage” has a simple cartoon look about it. The vehicles look like cardboard models of comic book cars and the arenas look like landscapes in a child’s popup book; but everything has a 3-D feel to it.

There are four variations of arenas in “Cel Damage.”

Three of the arenas have a Road Runner theme. They are set in the desert and have buttes and cliffs, and you constantly expect Wiley Coyote to jump out from behind the train tracks.

It also has three swampy jungle-themed arenas, three vampire-themed tracks, and outer space-themed arenas.

Through subtle shifts, the creators of “Cel Damage” were able to give each of these arenas its own personality.

But before you can discuss these subtleties, you need to know about the combat itself.

“Cel Damage” is about comic carnage.

The combatants in this game pick up hood ornament weapons such as giant axes, chain saws, freezing rays that turn enemy cars into brittle blocks of ice, and my personal favorite, a harpoon gun that spears enemy cars and tacks them to the nearest flat surface.

Harpoons work especially well on the kinds of flat plains found in the swamp and desert arenas. One of the space arenas is set on wavy rings surrounding a Saturn-like planet. Harpoon and bullet attacks are nearly useless in that arena.

You generally need fender-to-fender weapons in an unlevel playing field.

The best weapon for such situations may be the ax with its enormous blade that slices enemies in half.

This weapon is slightly nullified on flat surfaces as enemies shoot you as you approach them.

On rolling lands, however, bullets and harpoons mostly hit the ground. Mortars, however, are another story.

Every car and character in this game has one proprietary weapon.

Violet, a pink-haired girl driving a tank with a real case of teen angst, has a mortar that she can lob over hills and canyons.

It’s a great weapon at distances; but in a fast-paced game like “Cel Damage,” distant enemies crowd you quickly.

Hence, I generally play as Sinder, a whiny red-skinned demon whose special weapon turns his car into a lawn mower.

Lawn mowing may not work well against harpoons at a distance, but it sure works well in mountainous arenas.

There are other colorful characters to choose from.

Dominique Trix, for instance, drives a pink convertible Cadillac-like car.

When she attacks you, Dominique says lines like, “Now say, ‘Thank You, Ma’am’ ” and “Say ‘please’ and I’ll give you another.” Fowl Mouth, a dastardly duck, sounds like classic gangster film star Edward G. Robinson.

His special weapon is a hood-mounted Thompson submachinegun.

You may have noticed that “Cel Damage” has a cartoon look, but its gameplay is sheer violence.

The American review boards gave this game a “T rating,” stating that it was suitable for players age 12 and up.

The humor is good in this game, and the shooting is bloodless; but a nonstop thread of violence permeates every moment of the game, and it’s really not made for younger audiences.