Stunt men. They have a cool job, right? That’s what the movie industry would have you think. As far as being an impressionable kid goes, a lot of them have probably wanted to be, or still want to be one when they grow up. But when you realise just how much they have to go through, doing take after take with a variety of broken body parts, it hardly seems like an ideal career. This is the premise behind Stunt Star: The Hollywood Years, an iOS game by Melbourne-based indie studio Three Phase Interactive.
In Stunt Star, you play as an anonymous stunt man on a vehicle being told what to do by a director who looks curiously like Peter Jackson without glasses. Gameplay is physics based, much like Happy Wheels orTrials HD, and sees you carefully controlling your speed and balance to zoom up ramps, sailing over ravines, flip over various hazards and, of course, make it out alive. Unlike these games however, the player has a bit more control over the play environment by being able to draw and modify stunt ramps at varying angles (within the game’s guidelines) and by using various power-ups. Most of the time the goal of each stage is to stop your vehicle between the flags in each level, after clearing various obstacles, rather than pulling off stunts listed on an invisible checklist. Instead, the game rewards you for doing more impressive stunts such as flips in the air, which affects how much money you get paid at the end of every stage and subsequently, the kind of trophy you get for clearing it (bronze, silver or gold). It’s a good approach to take as it means one less area where players won’t be spending hours trying to please a virtual director.
What do I mean by ‘one less’? Alas, there are many things that frustrate about Stunt Star. Firstly, with the accelerate button placed on the rightmost side of the screen and the decelerate button placed to its left, one might assume that holding down accelerate would cause the vehicle to flip clockwise (and the opposite for the decelerate button). This is not the case, so expect to have to constantly remind yourself of this switcheroo instead of having it come naturally to you every time. Secondly, the accelerate and decelerate buttons are the same buttons used to turn your vehicle clockwise and anti-clockwise while in the air. A minimal user interface is obviously important in a mobile game, but what this results in while playing Stunt Star is what will or won’t happen when trying to land. For example, braking upon landing will often result in the vehicle tilting clockwise and your stuntman falling out, which is horrible logic if you consider most players would be trying to slow their vehicle down to land safely in the goal area.
That said, this might not be much of a problem if you could reverse your vehicle into the goal area to begin with. Even if you have ample time left, the game simply resets the stage if you end up too past far the goal. Some stages do let you move back towards the goal, but they are the exception rather than the rule. The power-up menu also proves to be quite troublesome as the game doesn’t actually tell you what any of them do in sufficient detail, representing them with icons instead. Most of them are simple enough, but I was seriously bummed when I kept purchasing Nitro, thinking it would let me go faster or let my speed last for longer, when really all it meant was the number of times I could activate it. With all this in mind, some players may wish dearly for a stage skip button which, considering this is a game for on-the-go play, might be worth adding. After all, you don’t want to frustrate players to the point where they just give up on your game.
This all sounds harsh, but I did find the game to be very charming in its approach. It takes a cheeky look at the life of a stunt man, evident in the occasional appearance of an ambulance in a level or the director complaining that the helmets you are taking a tumble in are not cheap. Although the game is not voice-acted, you can practically hear the director moaning about such things too. Most of all, it’s fun to see what kinds of stunts you are expected to do next, if only because it makes you question the kinds of films the movie crew is making. The animation is quite nice too, with a real hand-drawn feel to them. There’s a fair bit to get through in Stunt Star, with three films to work your way through, broken up into a total of 72 stages to develop your stunt career in, with more on the way. As mentioned before, a big part of the game is pulling off bigger and better stunts to boost your score and trophy type, boosting replayability. Of course, for the braggarts, there is also social media connectivity and leaderboards.
There is no doubt that Stunt Star is a noble effort from Three Phase Interactive, but some major shortcomings do dampen the overall quality of the game. It’s clear that the team plan on adding more in the future, so fingers crossed they go one further and improve the game overall as well. This has lots of potential and it would be great to see a fully-fledged stunt game on the iOS. For now, we’ll have to play the waiting game.
Player freedom | Humour | High replayability
Illogical controls and mechanics | Poorly explained user interface