Most regular gamers will agree that one major characteristic of almost every videogame is that it allows you to do things that would be otherwise impossible in reality. By that virtue, Jackie Chan is one of the few people on this earth who qualify as being a human videogame. Through out the course of his lengthy film career, no lead actor has accomplished as many death-defying feats and physically endured as much as he has. Without the benefit of "bonus lives" or "continues" that are usually allotted to characters found in videogames, Jackie has broken nearly every bone in his body and suffered several near fatal injuries in the process of performing theatrical stunts that range from hanging from helicopters, fighting on top of moving trains, leaping from boats and diving off of buildings.
Further correlation between Jackie Chan and videogames can been made by looking at some of his more recent films like Rumble In The Bronx. In the movie's most enthralling fight sequence in a gang hideout, Jackie incorporates nearly every single object in his surroundings as he dodges and decimates one challenger after another. Capcom's two-player fighting game, Power Stone, which uses a similar grab-everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach is down right tame in comparison. The same could be said of a fight scene in the movie Operation Condor (a.k.a. Armour Of God II). In the climax that takes place in an underground military base, Jackie exchanges blows with multiple opponents across moving platforms that evokes images of Super Mario 64—at least that would be the case if Mario were jacked up on steroids.
So the question that begs to be asked is that if Jackie is already an impressive videogame in of himself, does the world really need a videogame in his likeness? Probably not, but that didn't stop the developers of Radical Entertainment from trying. The most surprising thing about the release of Jackie Chan Stuntmaster is that despite the use of newer motion capture technology to digitize the actual punches, kicks and physical mannerisms of the living legend himself, the final results are nostalgically archaic in execution. Rather then playing more like recent 3D over-the-shoulder games like Soul Reaver, Stuntmaster clearly draws much of its inspiration from old-school side-scrolling fighting games like Double Dragon, Streets Of Rage and Final Fight (even the opening title screen looks like a relic from the 16-bit Genesis).
This is not necessary a bad thing mind you. Classic fighting games of the sort were often mindlessly repetitive, yet still intriguing because of the wonderfully diverse martial arts attack moves. Stuntmaster is no different in that while players are forced to contend with a never ending horde of bad guys, there are a wide variety of punch-kick combos, counterattacks, throws and weapons (a flower being the most oddly appropriate one given Jackie's often happy go-lucky attitude) to play around with.
To the developer's credit, Stuntmaster is not a complete rip-off of older beat'em up games and there are attempts at adding more to the fold. For starters, all the graphics, including enemies and environments, are all rendered in real-time, 3-D polygons and animate with a smooth fluidity. Secondly, aside from all the martial arts mayhem, there is a rather unusual attempt at adding obstacle-like environments and "collecting" elements similar to that of Super Mario 64. Only instead of finding stars, Jackie—whose cherubic cartoonish replicant even looks a bit like Mario and even says "Here we go!" at the beginning of some stages—must seek out Dragon symbols. Procuring a set number of Dragon symbols promises to unlock a secret bonus later.
What's not so surprising is that Stuntmaster is at is best when it is able to evoke the likeness of Jackie Chan. This is hilariously true in the sound bites (voiced by Jackie himself) that are sprinkled through out the game. In the midst of combat, Jackie will let out trademark one-liners like "You think you can beat me?" "This isn't easy" or "I don't want to hurt any of you." My personal favorite is after a fatal fall, he'll often say "Cut! Hospital!" That's just pure Jackie.
There are also moments in the gameplay that really capture the essence of Jackie's trademark anything-goes fight choreography. When outnumbered by multiple enemies, players must react with very Jackie-like maneuvers in order to survive. This includes wily dodges, evasive tumbles, using the environment to one's advantage and often using ordinary objects as weapons (i.e. umbrellas, pool cues, raw fish, plungers, etc.). Paying more tribute to the riskier side of Jackie's infamous stunt work are a couple of well-designed stages that involve fighting and jumping on top of moving trains and roof tops. Sadly, on the whole, these genuine moments are not consistent through out. The game is hampered by less original stages that becoming frustratingly tired, boarishly repeative and seemingly have more to do with platform games then Jackie Chan flicks.
What is also not so good about Stuntmaster is the near embarrassing cheap production values that seem to radiate through every aspect of game (with the exception of the snappy background music). Menu screens and movie cut-scenes are far from lavished. Texture maps in environments are either non-existent, bland or uninteresting. Load times are unnecessarily long and especially annoying in-between frequent deaths. The game brandishes a Dolby Surround Sound moniker, but aside from the Radical Entertainment logo sequence that appears on startup, traces of any surround sound effects are notably absent during gameplay. Just about everything in the game feels rushed and under developed in some way or another. While most of Jackie's films themselves (outside of the elaborately staged action scenes) look more like B-movies when compared to big Hollywood productions, I don't think the developers were intentionally trying to pay homage to the severely limited and low-budgeted Hong Kong style of filmmaking.
Stuntmaster may not be most fitting tribute to the international action star whose exploits are world-renowned. Yet at the same time, it isn't the worst, either. I played through Stuntmaster in its entirety, and I must say that, in spite of its obvious inadequacies, I appreciated some of the game's finer qualities and thought the game to be a pleasant surprise and suitable entertainment.
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