It isn’t often an actor transcends their medium and becomes a video game icon. Has Jackie Chan done that with his PS1 action game Jackie Chan Stuntmaster? No. Definitely not. But has he made a video game that successfully adapts what he accomplishes in films to a side scrolling beat’em up? Yes. Definitely so.
I grew up watching Jackie’s films, thanks in large part to my brother enjoying them and me wanting to seem cool so I watched them too. There were definitely worse things to watch. Drunken Master is an old-school certified kung-fu classic. Rumble in the Bronx was probably the first time I caught wind of Jackie Chan and kinda remember the film, but definitely remember the jumping scene that left him with a broken ankle that still somehow made it into the final cut of the movie. And then there were breakout North American roles like in the Rush Hour films, Shanghai Noon, and the resurgence of his Chinese action films like the Police Story series.
And then there’s Stuntmaster. Coming out right in the middle of all of that in 2000 on the Playstation, the game was pegged as a Jackie Chan film but on the Playstation. Or at least that’s what the gaming magazines made it out to be. GamePro or Electronic Gaming Monthly around that time ran an article talking about the game and what it was shaping up to be. My brother and his friends were excited because it was a Jackie Chan movie in game form. I was excited because it looked quirky and fun, kind of like a lot of Jackie’s movies. It wouldn’t be until very recently I was able to corroborate those expectations with actual experience.
Jackie Chan Stuntmaster is a 3D action platformer and also a beat’em up, and if you squint it’s also a puzzle game. You’ll guide Jackie through a series of stages as he’s trying to rescue his grandfather from a gang of baddies that take him hostage for seemingly unknown reasons. And yes, this is literally Jackie Chan the person in the game, not Jackie Chan playing someone else: he’s just that much of a badass he can do it on his own. Navigating through the streets of I think New York City’s Chinatown district, to precarious loading docks, to cliffside temples, the action never stops as bad guy after bad guy throw themselves in Jackie’s path. Dashed in there are unique action moments that have you running toward the screen Crash Bandicoot style avoiding a semi-truck hit and run, or a devious platforming section jumping between sewer platforms and pipes. Getting the timing down of the admittedly frustrating controls feels satisfying, but could be better.
In general, Stuntmaster is a decent 3D action beat’em up, but where it really shines is with Jackie himself. Not only did he lend his moves to the game in the form of motion capture, he also lent his likeness as well. His character model is a bizarrely blocky and LEGO-like version of the film star, all the way down to his grinning face and even his silly one-liners. In a bonus video unlocked from beating the game (or using a cheat code like I did (hey, remember cheat codes?)) we learn the goal of the game really was to create an interactive version of one of his movies. With that in mind, it makes sense why he’d lend himself so fully to the project. Every move you can perform in the game, every jump and flip you can do, they’re all done by Jackie or pulled as moves inspired by his past films. It’s a love letter to his work and a new way to express his creativity.
Unfortunately, just like some of his films, it doesn’t always land. The action, while varied, can get repetitive early on. There are a multitude of combos you can perform by tapping buttons at different intervals, but after an hour you’ll have seen everything the game has to offer. Bosses show up here and there and offer meatier health bars than normal enemies, but go down fairly simply once you see their two or three attack patterns. The stages, while visually varied, feel samey: you’re moving to a zone, beating up bad guys, and moving to the next. And while yes, this is at its core the very nature of a beat’em up game, in execution it gets a bit boring. There were some glances of creativity in places, with unique weapons you can pick up, or even some zones where you could land well timed jumps and bypass enemy sections altogether, but they were few and far between. I found myself wanting to see more. I wanted more one liners, more enemy variety, better implements weapons and items.
It’s worth noting the game has a decent replay element in the form of the Dragon coin pickups. Hidden throughout each stage are a number of coins to collect, with one more difficult gold coin as well, encouraging you to explore every nook and cranny of each stage. Most of these are hiding in places that require you to pull off some sweet moves. For example, one of them is waiting to be found outside a window that you can only reach if you jump from another ledge and clear the gap, something reminiscent of an actual Jackie Chan movie. I found these to be neat ways to bring in the movie star’s signature stunts, and would love to have seen more thought out locations for these. It’s weird to have one Dragon coin require you to risk your life dodging a speeding truck, and then another one just sitting there on top of a box…
For the most part, Jackie Chan Stuntmaster is a good game. It’s assuredly a product of its time. Had I played this one back on the Playstation in 2000 I can imagine really enjoying what it has to offer. The visuals were decent, the action comedy was solid, and the replayability was there. Looking back at the game no some 22 years later, it’s rough around the edges. The controls feel stiffer than they need to be. Cookie cutter enemy placement feels uninspired. The lack of props and weapon based shenanigans is a missed opportunity. There’s fun to be had here, but only the Jackie Chan diehards need apply.
That being said, do I want to see a sequel to this game?
Oh, 100% yes. Please make it happen.