By 2000, everyone had their own game, so why not you too, Jackie Chan? Jackie Chan Stuntmaster reviewed.
By 2000, the gaming world was abuzz for the PS2, meaning that the console’s daddy, the PS1, was getting forgotten about all too quickly. This was a rather sad turn of events, as the PlayStation had entirely changed the game of games in its run: instead of its predecessors like the SNES and Genesis which seemed tailored to a youth market, the PlayStation facilitated more mature audiences, and presented titles in (primordial) 3D – the PS1 leapt forward immeasurably, and yet it just seemed to be cast aside in its last days. This is not to say it’s not appreciated; the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Spyro The Dragon, and Final Fantasy are beloved and part of gaming’s canon – yet once the PS2 came, the PS1’s titles, even though still coming thick and fast, just were ignored. Jackie Chan’s Stuntmaster from Radical is one of those titles, and for the purposes of review, one must ask: did it get forgotten by circumstance or on purpose?
The premise of the title is so cartoonish, you’d think it came directly from Mr Chan’s movies and not a 2000 PS1 title. Playing as Jackie in a 3D beat-‘em-up setting, you must fight your way through 15 levels spread across 5 different environments, with each “zone” capped off by a ridiculous and hilarious boss encounter, as you smash your way through what feels like a million mooks, using Jackie’s sweet movies (and weapons such as a frying pan) to eliminate the horde of eviltons that come your way. Admittedly, there is a certainly campy, cornball aspect to the whole thing in its presentation that is nothing but endearing: frying pans aside, the game is filled with endearing Chan quips that play when he picks up items and defeats enemies, as well as in the bosses: forget anything serious that you might see today, one of your main enemies is a fat chef. With their tongue planted firmly in their cheek, it’s as if Radical were paying tribute to Chan and the sillier side of his work, and it’s certainly a solid foundation for an entertaining game, one they put true care into: they had Chan do impressive mo-cap work in order to really bring the “Stuntmaster”’s moves to life, even if the title is a bit of a misnomer; it’s purely mad beat-‘em-up action, nothing to do with recreating movie stunts.
Control is tight but not overly complicated which compliments the game engine, which is fun, efficient, but somewhat shallow. Square once will let you punch, triangle lets you kick. Hit it three times and you’ll perform a combo. Hit any combination of the two buttons and it’ll yield a different combo. Jump and block a few times in there and it is truly party time. Stuntmaster doesn’t reinvent punching a dude in the face, but for what it is, it still provides enough of a thrill and sense of fun to be enjoyed, even if, considered as a piece of gaming progress, it’s more a step to the left than one forward.
Even for the time, in the terrible beauty of jagged polygons that the year 2000 still gave us, Jackie Chan Stuntmaster still looks quite decent. Here, Jackie takes on a cute cartoonified look and this extends to the game a large which opts for a goofy look rather than sharp hyper-realism, which only serves to augment the fun, turn-your-brain-off nature of the game that the controls and light-hearted approach to storytelling provide: instead of being a serious and heartrending tale, it’s firmly tongue-in-cheek, and that’s so much more attractive, as it’s a lot harder to get sincere drama right. The game takes place at night, which means the title isn’t as bright as it could be, but the game achieves impressive lighting effects to make the scenery moody rather than drab – it perfectly evokes the feeling that Jackie’s walked into a hornet’s nest and we need to be ready for a fight. A fight with frying pans, but a fight nonetheless. This isn’t to say that the game is dark and miserable, however: colour does appear and works well in conjunction with the mood lighting, but is slightly muted. It all works, even if it makes for a slightly unusual package – the setting is dangerous, but it’s undercut by Jackie’s happy-go-lucky nature, yet it feels perfectly natural since this is how movie Jackie might actually react. As such, the graphical design helps to tribute the Kung-Fu movie legend and makes the experience more edifying. Sound design is fine too, but aside from a few very pleasing sound effects and Jackie’s silly quips (“lucky day, lucky day!”), it’s fairly standard and not worth mentioning.
Yet despite being a consummately enjoyable title in its own right, Stuntmaster is a crushingly short game, and the supposed plus-side is that it never outstays its welcome, but you will definitely feel a sense of desiring more. As previously mentioned, there’s only 15 levels, but Stuntmaster is a one-and-done affair, the levels don’t offer up any more secrets on a second run. Sure, there’s a handful of “golden dragon” collectables to find as well as “red dragons” that offer certain bonuses, but you won’t really care about either; the real pursuit in this game is to see the narrative through to the end: five evil henchmen have kidnapped Jackie’s grandfather, you must get the wrinkled human McGuffin back. As such, this game has a real longevity problem, but the hours it does provide are enjoyable nonetheless.
What might stretch out the game a bit more is the difficulty, although one might get the sense of it being needlessly hard at times, due to the cheap nature of some of the game’s rooms: for instance, the game might throw tree or four mooks simultaneously for you to deal with while also having to negotiate falling traps, platforming, or, the most beloved of all old gaming tropes, the conveyor belt. In these harder moments, Stuntmaster becomes a juggling act that more often than not results in all your balls falling to the ground and your controller going smack dab through the middle of your television. There’s no problem with difficulty in gaming; most players adore a challenge, but this kind of difficulty relies on luck over skill, making it a sort of artificial hardness that diminishes the fun and the cute aesthetic that the game profits in.
Jackie Chan’s Stuntmaster is not a perfect game, nor is it a true hidden gem of the fifth-gen era. It’s more like an uncut diamond, as there’s a lot of fun to be had, and the design, both in sound and visuals, are memorable and engaging. It’s not a game that you absolutely must play, but if you gave it a chance, you’ll have a few happy hours. When it comes to games, who can really ask for more?
Verdict: Not the perfect game, but a solid one in which it’s clear Radical tried very, very hard. Worth your time if you found a copy, certainly.