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Jackie Chan: Stuntmaster
Platform:  Playstation
# of Players:  1
Developer:  Radical Entertainment
Publisher:  Midway
Features:  Dual Shock Compatible
Ratings:  Teen
Memory Req.:  
Info:  http://www.midway.com
I'm probably the biggest advocate of gameplay over graphics that I know of. After all, one of the games that occupied way too much of my time last year was the old NES rpg, The Bard's Tale, which is about as plain-looking as you can get, but addictive as hell, thanks to a simple but engrossing story and solid, fun gameplay. That said and done, when I first saw screenshots of Jackie Chan: Stuntmaster, I was shocked at how primitive it looked for a Playstation game. Thing is, I saw those screenshots well over a year ago, and now that the finished game is finally out, its visual style has aged (none too gracefully) in dog years. Unfortunately for the game, most consumers will probably avoid it based on the somewhat unorthodox graphics alone. This is too bad, because JCS is mostly fun to play, and worth checking out at least once.

Where the original story had Jackie platforming through levels collecting stolen film reels, the final game on the shelves goes with a super-generic, unoriginal plot: After receiving a mysterious package at the courier service he works at, Jackie sees his grandfather kidnapped before he can deliver the box to it's owner. There's more to it, but despite the nicely done cinematic presentation of the cutscenes in the game, the suspension of disbelief is constantly put on hold, thanks to the odd-looking characters in the game. Everyone looks as if they're descended from those old Playmobil toysets and crossbred with Mr. Bill. The super-deformed look doesn't work well in 3D, mostly because the characters are much too blocky and bland looking. If the game had no voices, instructions, or title screen, you'd think you were playing Dustin Hoffman: Stuntmaster. Jackie is very well animated, though- in fact, Mr. Chan apparently did some motion captured moves specifically for the game, and this gives the title some much needed kinetic energy. He's a pleasure to control, and there's plenty of room early on to practice and pull of some of his really nice signature moves.

But add enemies and obstacles to the mix, and things take a turn for the worse. Up against one or two thugs, you have a chance to do some nice multi-hit combos, and if you keep your enemies apart, you'll have no trouble. Around the second level, you run into groups of punks whose sole purpose in their artificial life is to make you see the Game Over screen faster than you should. Compounding this, is the fact that the cool moves you pulled off earlier become useless when those same punks can slam you around because once you start a motion it can't be stopped until the animation is complete! Or you get slammed around by some punk, in mid punch. So you figure- "I'll just let them come to me!" Nope- most of the time, multiple enemies will stand three across and wait for you to make your move, then it's smackdown time- for poor Jackie.

Worse are the assorted environmental hazards, like moving trucks, swinging crates, huge metal presses, and water, among other things. Contact with any of these will bring instant death, and unless you've mastered a lot of NES action/platform games, you'll be inventing new curses by the middle of the game. The jumping is much too unreliable at times, thanks to the unstability of many of the platforms you land on, and the occasional lag from button press to actual jump. But even if you take this into account, the developers have added one more thing that, while a bit amusing the first few times it happens, soon becomes your own private hell. Each area in the game seems to have some sort of Wile E. Coyote deathtrap- you'll accidentaly kick out a pillar holding up a section of roof, and it comes crashing down on poor Jackie, wiping out a nice chunk of his lifebar. Not good at all, if you're heading for that health power-up, and there's an enemy to fight in between you and your snack. There are a few othes here, and they all get some really amusing animations from Jackie when he gets bopped about, but constantly starting areas over is not my favorite thing to do in a game like this.

For a lot of JC fans, the big payoff in seeing his films comes not only from the incredible stunt work and action scenes, but also from the sometimes hysterical, sometimes painful to watch outtakes. Stuntmaster has it's own "outtakes" featuring the CG Jackie, but they fall flat (pun intended) since you can access them at anytime during the game (even before you actually play it!). They're also not very funny at all, thanks again to the fact that it's not the real Jackie Chan tripping over tables and crashing into other actors, and the canned laughter and applause that tries to capture the feeling of sitting in a crowded theater. I guess that's good for Jackie, as I really don't like to see him get hurt. Hopefully, he didn't motion capture the outtakes...

In the end, Jackie Chan: Stuntmaster is strictly for those hardcore Chan-fans who just can't wait for his next film, and want to get a chance to feel a tiny bit of what it is to be the man himself, without risking their own necks. Me, I'll be playing Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu, on the Turbo Grafx 16, until a better JC game comes along.

Greg Wilcox


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