What do you get when you combine the overworld models from Final Fantasy VII with Double Dragon style action, an international kung fu star, and the guys that made Mario is Missing?
Well, for starters, you get a seriously chonky case of whiplash.
Jackie Chan Stuntmaster is a single player beat-em-up that was released in 2000 for the Playstation 1 exclusively in America and Europe. Developed by Radical Entertainment and distributed by Midway, the game follows action-star Jackie Chan on a mission to save his Grandfather from what I’m assuming are gangsters of some kind after he’s been kidnapped in New York City. The game features the voice and likeness of Jackie Chan, who was involved in its development and performed his in-game character actions through the use of motion capture. And what results from this is an fun and charming game, albeit one that is also fairly generic and flawed, titular star aside
Even at the time of its release, Jackie Chan Stuntmaster received some fairly middling reviews; nobody really went as far as to suggest that it was a bad game or anything, but you generally got the sense that it was looked at as a fairly adequate late era PlayStation game and not much else, especially when put up against next gen titles getting released alongside it. You gotta remember, we’re talking about the year 2000 over here, the year that the Playstation 2 came out and basically laid waste to any and all competition to it on the market. In fact, this game came out a few weeks after the PS2 launched in the US, as well as 6 months after the Sega Dreamcast, so players and journalists alike were probably pretty underwhelmed by this decidedly last gen release.
Even though I’m a lifelong Jackie Chan fan and own a ton of his movies on everything from VHS to VCD, DVD and Blu Ray, I actually only played this game for the first time a couple of years ago after picking up a loose copy of it for relatively cheap. And while I really enjoyed the game and how delightfully dated it is, I also found it to be more fascinating and unique than it is objectively good. There’s just something really cool about the idea of Jackie Chan having his own video game, even though he’s actual had a ton of them over the years. Like, a lot more than you’d expect him to have.
In fact, he was even a spokesman for a Chinese Famiclone console called the Subor, whose company only just filed for bankruptcy in late 2020. But I’m getting off on a tangent over here…
Anyway, instead of asking whether or not Jackie Chan Stuntmaster holds up, I’m gonna use today’s review to ask: Is Jackie Chan Stuntmaster worth playing? Because, to be blunt, while Jackie Chan Stuntmaster is a mostly fine game, it’s also a title that seems to be a bit hard to get working on an emulator and has steadily been rising in price over the years.
Jackie Chan Stuntmaster takes place across 15 levels, which are divided into 5 sets of 3 stages. Each of these sets of stages follow a particular theme that range from stuff like chinatown or a waterfront to things like rooftops or a sewer. At the end of the last level for that particular location, you’re then tasked with fighting a boss that is a significantly tougher opponent than the stock goons that you’ve been put up against to that point.
All in all, it’s a relatively standard gameplay loop that has you fighting hordes of enemies, performing simple platforming challenges, and solving the lightest of puzzles. And I really do mean the lightest of puzzles, when I say that, as the puzzles in question tend to be as simple as pushing a box from one location to another so that you can use it to access a previously inaccessible area. The combat itself is pretty alright though. You can make Jackie throw a punch by hitting the square button, make him kick by pressing triangle or grapple an enemy by hitting circle. You can also jump, roll, and dodge to avoid getting hit by your opponents. That dodge is pretty awful though and looks more like a calculated lean or dance move, than it does something that would stop you from getting kicked in the face.
For the most part, things feel relatively responsive and the combat is pretty fun, despite being relatively simple. You can mix things up by trying out different combinations of punches and kicks, by holding either square or triangle for stronger or stunning special moves, or by picking up nearby items to use in combat though. I especially like the fact that this is an option to begin because, while it’s a relatively standard feature in beat em ups, it’s also totally compatible with how Jackie Chan fights in many of his movies. Although, it’s far from being fully realized, as you’re restricted to kicking trashcans, picking up sticks, or using stuff like brooms to fight your opponents. But I guess it’s just hard not to wish for more as a Jackie Chan fan; I would’ve loved to improvise using a bicycle like in Project A, or kick around stuff like a refrigerator and pinball machine like in Rumble in the Bronx. Like, yeah, we definitely wouldn’t have been able to get that dynamic with things if they were in the game, but it would’ve been cool to see more fan service in the form of some quicktime events or something nonetheless.
And those platforming challenges I mentioned? Well, they’re… they’re not great. In fact, I’d say they border on being completely broken and ruining the game for me. Given the fact that this is a beat em up, I wasn’t really expecting much from these segments to begin with, but I still can’t help but consider them to have been executed pretty terribly. Jumping feels relatively stiff, as does grabbing onto ledges. There are even moments where Jackie can get stuck against objects that you can barely see. I’d say that these issues wouldn’t be that bad in a more traditional beat em up, but because this game really starts to emphasize platforming as early as the second set of levels, it becomes a pretty big problem. It doesn’t help that the camera placement can lead to some serious depth perception issues too, which will often lead to embarrassing deaths. And this is all somewhat compounded by the lack of analog control here, which prevents you from feelings completely in control of your movements.
And that knockback. Oh God, that knockback. There are several moments in the game where you’re expected to roll under obstacles and messing this up will often lead to you getting flung off the map and to your death. While it’s pretty funny the first few times that it happens to you, due to it looking like a classic Jackie Chan blooper, it gets old pretty fast and just feels a bit unfair.
There are also several instances of the game switching perspectives on you and or forcing you to avoid obstacles that are headed your way. Those platforming issues I mentioned earlier are especially bad in these segments though, particularly in the third sewer level, where you’re expected to balance dodging obstacles with fighting enemies and hopping between subway cars without falling to your death. If I’m being honest, they kinda remind me of Crash Bandicoot a bit and make me wonder why this game wasn’t a straight up Crash clone as opposed to a platformer/beat em up hybrid. Because, as is, this game really feels like a project that the devs wanted to make a platformer with a simple combat system, that was heavily constrained and dampened by using a game engine that’s more suited to beat em ups.
An yet, I still kinda just consider Jackie Chan Stuntmaster a fairly standard game that, outside of it’s platforming, is mostly inoffesnive. That’s not to say that it still isn’t a lot of fun though; just that it derives a lot of it’s entertainment value from the fact that it’s a game starring Jackie Chan. For example, the game features a number of one liners spoken by Chan that get played throughout the game. They’re usually really cheesy and borderline cringy jokes, but are also a ton of fun to listen to because of the context of the game itself.
That charm also comes up in the form of the health pickups available to you in the game, which are split between bowls of rice and a carton of milk. The bowl of rice is nothing to write home about and is just the typical representation of Asian culture that I’d expect from a game like this, but that carton of milk just strikes me as being a little funny. Again, it’s mostly amusing to me because of how novel it is to imagine Jackie Chan rummaging through a trash can, finding, and then drinking a carton of milk. It’s equal parts absurd and weirdly in character for a guy who has made a career out of being “Mr. Nice Guy.”
The game more or less plays fine enough, clunky platforming aside. The combat feels alright, and the level designs are mostly tolerable, despite some recycled segments. I just wish that some more work was put into the camera placement and the way that the platforming feels, as in its current state, it feels really half baked.
So,how does this game look? Well… It ain’t pretty, but it’s beautiful… As such a late era PS1 game, you’d probably think that this game pushes the Playstation to its limits and that it features visuals that would rank amongst the best that the console has ever seen.
And you’d be wrong.
Make no mistake, I think Jackie Chan Stuntmaster looks great, just not graphically. The game’s character models look flat out goofy and remind me of the thumb-thumbs from the Spy Kids movies, or the character models used outside of battle in Final Fantasy VII. And the faces, I gotta talk about the faces. They look flat out disturbing. It kinda looks like someone took a PNG of Jackie Chan’s face off of google and just poorly composited it onto the character model of a mannequin.
And yet… I love it.
It certainly doesn’t look good, like at all, but there’s a lot to love about this game’s visuals. I’ve already touched on the character models and how hilariously chonky they are, but their charm also has a lot to do with their animations. Somewhat fascinatingly, Jackie Chan actually performed at least some of his video game counterparts animations in this game via motion capture. And while saying motion capture probably makes you imagine the sort of advanced high quality animation we got in stuff like The Lord of the Rings or, heck, even something like Jar Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace, the results in this game feel almost hilariously under utilized, likely due to the lack of weight in the animations as well as the improper scaling of the character models when compared to the performer.
Level designs and environments are also similarly chonky, though they do look a lot better than the character models. I’m actually a huge fan of the dithered shadows and the game’s color palette. I also like how several cutscenes actually offer a few easter eggs for Jackie Chan fans in the form of movie references. Overall, what’s on display here is far from revolutionary or notable but is charming and looks pretty great, even if the environments being rendered lean pretty heavily on being generic.
Which is, coincidentally, how I’d describe this game’s music too. It’s all around solid typical 90’s action music and it gets the job done. Musically, the soundtrack incorporates elements of late 90’s drum and bass, which isn’t really a genre I’m all too familiar with, but do enjoy. It fits the action fairly well and is kinda similar to the sort of music you’d hear in the trailers to some of Jackie Chan’s classic Hong Kong movies after they received an English dub and got re-released by Miramax. Much like everything else in the game, the music is generic but enjoyable.
Stuntmaster also features voice acting, which I had mentioned earlier. It’s a solid touch for the most part, but can overstay its welcome due to Jackie not having enough dialogue to work with. Still, it’s a nice touch and reminds me of a bit of a simpler time in gaming, when celebrities could get a proper licensed console game off their name alone. Also, listening to Jackie Chan spout off one liners is just pretty adorable.
So does Jackie Chan’s Stuntmaster Hold Up? Well… No. Not really.
The game is pretty by the numbers ride that doesn’t have anything going for it outside of it’s Jackie Chan license. While I ultimately had a good time with the game and did enjoy playing through it, I also have to be honest when I say that it simply isn’t worth seeking out. I may have ended up recommending this game if it had better and more responsive platforming, but the lack of analog control here, coupled with the pretty spotty platform detection and the amount of platforming this game expects from you is just too frustrating to overlook.
And, once you add in the fact that this game is currently going for $35 loose and for $75 with a jewel case, I just can’t justify trying to get a copy of it. As for emulation, if you can get a ISO of this game working, more power to you. I actually ended up buying my loose copy of this game several years ago because I couldn’t get this game working on several playstation emulators, and I only just purchased a reproduction case for it because, well, I wanted one.
At the end of the day though, Jackie Chan Stuntmaster is fine. It’s inoffensive and fun, but you more or less can get the full experience by watching a lets play or some gameplay online. If you find yourself hankering for some Jackie Chan action, you’re probably better off playing one of his other games, or just booting up any other beat em up while you watch Rumble in the Bronx or Police Story.