Review: Jet Car Stunts WP (Xbox Live)
A long time ago, Pete Cooke converted Stunt Car Racer for the ZX Spectrum (Geoff Crammond, of Grand Prix fame, did the original). That saw me take a souped up, jet boosted stunt car and drive it around a rollercoaster-like track to set the fastest time possible, balancing the car on the track, using the limited jet fuel, and positioning the car for the jumps, drawbridges, and perilous corners. Jet Car Stunts WP is exactly like that on Windows Phone - it just moves a little bit faster, with more colours, and better graphics.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
This isn't a unique concept game, I've seen variations on a number of desktop and mobile platforms, but this is the one that feels closest to the spirit of the 8-bit version I loved - for the record, the Sony Ericsson P910 had a version that was pretty close as well, but lacked a 1GHz+ processor with a GPU to help with the visuals.
Let's get this out the way - this is a tough game. Your stunt car is very twitchy, and the analogue steering, coupled with a huge amount of over-steer (that means the car is 'loose', for our Nascar readers), means you are going to need to be smooth with the car, you'll need to make precise and delicate inputs, at the same time as keeping your foot flat on the metaphorical floor and balancing the extra thrust from the rocket engine.
You have dual controls, so you have some flexibility when off the ground, with an air-brake to slow you while flying through the air, and twisting the phone allows the car to slowly rotate around the same axis. You'll need that sometimes to make sure the rocket engine is pushing you where you want to go. It's comfortable, and the transition between driving on the ground and flying in the air is very nice.
Which is good, because the tracks are not going to be nice to you. No safety barriers or useful markings, you'll be high in the sky, so one slip and you're over the edge. There are some kerbs, but they'll only protect you from glancing blows - go into the side at full power, and over you go. While it's not that catastrophic (you'll magically appear back on the track in short order) you will suffer a time penalty and be awarded a "retry". Collect too many of these and you won't be awarded a medal when you complete a level.
While there are scores to rack up and beat, and lap times to measure yourself against, this medal system will be the primary way you judge yourself. A perfect run around one of the many levels (under a certain time, no retries) will give you a gold medal, a tour with tiny flaws gets you silver, and completion in an average performance hands you a bronze.
The game itself has two types of level - Time Trials and Platforming. Time Trials are simple dashes around a number of laps (three or five laps) and you simply have to finish these laps under a certain time to get your medal. I like that as you drive, you're given how much spare time you have to get a medal, so you'll start with a few seconds in hand over the average lap to get gold, and depending on your progress this goes up, or drop to a time for silver. This instant feedback puts the pressure on you in a good way.
The time trial circuits are loops, and are much less complex than the platform levels - but there are still gaps in the road that require you to jump over and get the speed just right on the ramps - too little and you don't make the gap, too much and you might sail over the track as it curves away.
The platform levels are far more interesting, and while they aren't looped circuits (they're more like rally tracks where you have a separate start and finish line), they are much more complicated. Your ramps are far steeper, there are hoops to jump through, long jumps to make that will require careful use of the rocket engine while in the air, tunnels to land in and drive through... it really is the best bits of F1 and the Dukes of Hazzard mixed in with Robot Wars.
You also have a freestyle area, which reminds me very much of a skateboard park that you can drive around, flip your car off ramps, reach hoops in the air, and do a stunt demonstration to a mythical crowd. This is actually pretty nice, but feels under-developed. As a tech demo of what you can do with Windows Phone, it's great. But it's not been sculpted into an actual fun area to play. You'll be here to grab the achievements, and likely never return.
What I do miss is someone to drive against. Even a computer AI provides a visible target and something to aim for. Medals and times are all well and good, but they are not, ultimately, that exciting to shoot for unless you have OCD. And that's a shame, because the handling of the car, twitchy as it is, allows you to really think about your racing - placing the car on the track to make not just the following corner, but three or four corners (and jumps) further down the track. The physics behind this racing engine is superb.
The other area used to promote longevity in the game is the Xbox Live achievements, but these don't really add up - the majority of your achievements are earned when you complete the levels of the game to a certain medal standard (such as finishing all the time trial levels with at least a silver medal in each). There are some cute ones, like 'complete a double barrel roll in the air', but they feel added into the game late in the design process, rather than being an integral part of the game.
Jet Car Stunts WP is going to have limited appeal. It really is one for the driving nuts, and even then the precision needed to make some of the jumps and pass the obstacles is going to scare away the casual gamer. But there's nothing wrong with having a game that is tightly focussed on a group of players, and the free trial always helps to give people confidence to buy. It's staying on my phone, partly as a graphics demo, but also because of my OCD. There are still a few gold medals for me to get.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at