Sunday, 28 August 2011

Jackie Chan Stuntmaster (2000/PS1)

Remember all those cheesy Jackie Chan movies that were as much martial arts as they were slapstick? He’s usually either a government official of sorts or an everyman who gets in a tangle with some sort of crime syndicate which is easily unravelled because their kung fu is weak, and they’re not ruthless enough to take Jackie’s character down when he’s having a silly moment.

Jackie Chan Stuntmaster has our man playing himself, but as a delivery boy for his grumpy grandfather’s company. An advanced crime syndicate kidnaps the grandfather and a package that Jackie was supposed to be responsible for. Jackie is understandably distressed for the state of his grandfather, who is bizarrely more interested in the wellbeing of the package than himself. A cutscene leads Jackie to a central point where he must unlock levels by, astonishingly, kung fu fighting his way through a line of henchmen, and area bosses whose role is to make your progress more difficult, and to confuse the already whimsical plot, in which the crime lord (a Chinaman called Dante with a British accent) proclaims that he committed these crimes because he just could. After all, what place is there for a boxer dressed as a clown and a disco-dancing throwback in a modern criminal organisation?

The main hub is where you start the
game, can practice your moves, and
access all areas from
You start your search in Chinatown,
where you immediately bounce around
collecting dragons and health boosts
Zat eez goeeng to 'eurt in ze morneeng.
Zees keed eez tougheur zan 'e looks!
The waterfront is the second section,
dominated by Frenchmen and Indians
The voice acting, aside from featuring our star, incorporates all of our favourite gripes that the critics loathe so. The accents, most prominent of which are French, British (common and posh London), and the Bronx sound, are outrageously overdone, and of course, the main antagonist has a British accent. The one-liners during the fighting are predictably cheesy puns and dated humour, with Jackie’s notoriously tenuous grip on English vowel emphasis somewhat exaggerated. The narrow script gets more evident as you progress through the game, as all the bad guys have the same lines regardless of accent, such as “what did I ever do to you?”, “I give up”, and “I want to be on your side” whilst trying to beat you up. Of course, the line “my bruises got bruises” is one of many lines comically distorted by Inspector Clouseau French dockworkers into “mah broo-zezz got broo-zezz”. The background music is inconsistent, sometimes lively, game-enhancing funk and percussion, other times drab atmospherics for a whole level, but overall they’ve done a good job.

Does this look like Jackie Chan to
you? With that shading, he bears a
closer resemblance to Adolf Hitler
While the plot, script and voice acting are below par to deliberately generate the feel of a cheesy Jackie Chan film, the graphics don’t really have that excuse. Despite having supposedly scanned Jackie’s face in, the main character’s face is devoid of resemblance, almost featureless, and all the characters are very blocky. Maybe the facial thing was because they were trying to make the protagonist look younger (who was in his mid 40s at the time), and the lower polygon count would have helped to reduce what is a noticeably long loading time from a point of unbearable tardiness. Luckily, this is mostly forgotten in the gameplay. In true Jackie Chan style, you can have him pulling unsuspecting weapons out of the scenery (which fares better graphically) from the plausible to the preposterous. Anything goes from pool cues, exhaust pipes, and frying pans, to the likes of giant fish, potted plants, and (in the bonus level) candlesticks. Even the victory credits knock off his films, with staged outtakes throughout. Not being real, the FMV scenes (where the graphic deficiencies of the character suffer the most throughout the game) see our hero go through a couple of trademark outtakes, but also walk away from what would have been some quite debilitating injuries, and the canned laughter at these moments is marginally disturbing.

Jackie has a swinging time, and he
needs to swing, wall jump, roll around,
and time well to get himself through
increasingly treacherous levels
Jackie's transfer arrives on time in the
sewer, the third section being one of
the majority that includes dodging bad
guys and obstacles whilst on a ride
A trio of ninjas attempt to get the
jump on you in the rooftop section,
the fourth of these unrelated areas
Jackie boogies on down like your
uncle, with a result of the mercurial
Random Nemesis Generator
The controls are pretty reasonable, and you can get some nifty combo moves out of the punch and kick buttons, and this also applies to objects that Jackie picks up. However, as the game goes on, you’ll find yourself relying on specific moves. Dive-rolling into a punch or kick is only countered by some of the area bosses and the white-clad ninjas on occasion, enabling you to roll in, knock your opponent down, get lots of fighting points, roll away before he gets up, and keep doing it. Grabbing an opponent is typically followed by throwing them, and as the levels get more dangerous and more ledges are present, the value of this becomes priceless, as you save a lot of health from not having to engage them for very long. It does get to the stage where the improvised weapons aren’t really that useful except for racking up the style points. Your points are worth amassing (although it isn’t that hard to do, because you tend to fight everyone by necessity, many doors won't open until you've conquered the room), because at the end of each level you’re assessed and awarded extra “takes” with good grades. The takes instead of lives is consistent with the film knockoff effect, but also the blood-free comedy element of the game, which pretty much implies that nearly everyone’s knocked out rather than killed. It’s a lot like watching The A-Team television series with George Peppard and company, only Jackie Chan doesn’t have a gun, and could probably shoot more accurately and drive more convincingly than that supposed crack commando unit if given the chance.

Jackie dances with danger on
the wrong side of the tracks
The gameplay is good fun. There’s a decent range of fighting moves available from the limited button arrangement that allows the game scope to give you some action puzzles and the means to ferret around for goodies. The means to dodge giant fans and swinging pianos, and to discover objects such as red dragons, extra takes, and health healing items (which are rice, milk and noodles, because this game is ridiculous) are a nice condiment rather than an overpowering stench for the most part that mixes up the constant fighting nicely. The only real exceptions are the factory levels where you’re about fifty times more likely to die from a hazard than being beaten up. Jackie’s a slick fighter, being able to knock opponents up into the air and hit them about five times as they mysteriously float gently to the ground. He can run up walls and backflip kick people, sweep kick, jump kick (this move is almost always likely to lead into Jackie being struck mid-move, but he can pull it off occasionally), stun punch, flip over people and throw them in the opposite direction, do wall jumps, strafing, and more. He’s not so clever when he’s running, though. With the running motion they’ve given him, it looks like he should be moving much faster than he actually does, but at least he isn’t the protagonist from Hitman: Contracts who spends most of his time skating across concrete. The difficulty level is a little on the easy side for a while but does build up at a good pace, which is just as well because it’s not adjustable.

Something's a bit fishy about Jackie's
choice of weapons sometimes, but
using them brings extra points
Take a leaf out of the expert's book
and send your opponent reeling,
just like in his films

Jackie Chan is no stranger to
carelessness-related injury, especially
in the factory, the fifth and final area
The game save is a little bit frustrating. One block on a PS1 memory card is fine, but you can only have one save per memory card. Because the gameplay isn’t strictly linear (you can revisit any completed level), you could say that it’s not all that important. However, there comes a point when the difficulty of the game dictates that you lose more takes than you gain, and you start weighing up whether you have enough takes in the bank to be okay with losing several takes a level, or whether you feel you need to reload and redo that level until you’ve lost a sufficiently low amount of takes because it’s only going to get harder. Allowing for a second block to be created can’t’ve been that much trouble. Given that the saves can only be done in the main hub and you’re always reset to the same standing position, I dare say that there should be room for more than one save in a block. The only data that’s really saved is the number of takes and the levels completed, along with the grades and dragons collected, and the save time is unusually fast for a Playstation game.

You're bound to fall for the charms
of this lovably cheesy game
The likeness to a Jackie Chan
film is stunning
The gameplay is nothing
short of electrifying
Jackie Chan Stuntmaster is a
game that I'm a massive fan of
Everyone loves Jackie Chan. Even if you aren’t taken with his stunts and martial arts, you still won’t be able to resist cracking a smile at his so-amateurishly-bad-that-it’s-better-than-Hollywood slapstick. The folks at Radical Entertainment worked hard to give Jackie Chan Stuntmaster that authentic aroma of pure cheese, and by and large they got it right. It’s easy to pick at flaws, the most notable of which are the character design, inconsistent atmospherics, and the save feature limitations. However, the overall job they’ve done is fantastic. Doubtlessly aided by the actor providing motion capture for his moves, the action is smooth, lively, and addictive, with a mostly excellent balance of action puzzle thrown in to keep your brain switching gears. The humour and plotline makes you cringe but laugh in the same way that the films do. The authenticity, humour and gameplay all hit the mark, and make the game a surprisingly good addition to the scrolling beat ‘em up world, which usually thrives on outright violence and is often best remembered for much older titles, going back to 1991’s Streets Of Rage, 1989’s Final Fight, and 1986’s Renegade as some of the best examples of a genre that remains best defined by rather old seminal titles. Bridging modern appeal with traditional craft, just as Jackie Chan himself did so well, Jackie Chan Stuntmaster was worth every penny, and is still joyously playable to this day.

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