Stunt Star: The Hollywood Years
Developer: Three Phase Interactive
Publisher: Three Phase Interactive
Platforms: iPhone (Reviewed), iPod Touch, iPad
Release Date: October 4, 2012
Price: $4.19 NZD – Available Here
Freshly founded Australian indie developer Three Phase Interactive – comprised of three former Blue Tongue Entertainment employees – have created this nitrous-fueled stunt-driver game in Stunt Star: The Hollywood Years as their début title. With simple trial-and-error gameplay, Stunt Star attempts to hook you into living the life of a Hollywood stunt driver with no frills and ramp jumps of Grand Canyon proportions. Make sure to pack a parachute and find that eject lever…crashes are inevitable.
In the journey to nail each stunt in order to help create an action-packed box office smash hit, you as the player will control the stunt-man in the simplest of ways. Most of the time you will find yourself driving a vehicle on a 2D perspective off of cliffs and ramps, over helicopters and into loop-de-loops using two buttons – an acceleration pedal and a brake pedal. These buttons’ capabilities are two fold as once you are in the air, pressing the acceleration pedal will rotate your vehicle counter-clockwise, while pressing the brake pedal will rotate your vehicle clockwise. Ramps must be placed within a specified zone – highlighted in green – before a stunt can be attempted. Placing one is as easy as swiping end to end, and readjusting it’s placement is as simple as dragging either end of the ramp to its newly desired destination. These are the core mechanics, and they couldn’t be any easier to understand. Your immediate goal is to get to and stop within a set of flags on any given level within a set time period. Once you are stationary within this zone, you will get a text box that tabulates your points for a final score, which will determine whether you achieved a bronze, silver or gold trophy for that level. Points can be garnered from doing flips, endos/wheelies and finishing as quick as you can among other criteria. Many times there will be stipulations made for optimal scoring, such as using a specific vehicle or choosing only one upgrade for a stunt, as well as the collection of a strategically placed star which will grant you an extra 350 points.
Among a plethora of vehicles, which you will unlock as you complete various stunts, there are also many different “upgrades” to pick or purchase using credits earned in each stage. An upgrade, which is inexplicably displayed via text above your vehicle at the start of a stunt as an “addon”, is basically an enhancement. Options include things like a nitrous boost, suspension tweak, grip tires and a parachute. Some upgrades are automatically put into use as you drive, while others require the utilisation of an extra button. There are levels where specific upgrades are mandatory, though it is ultimately up to you how many you use. The parachute in particular adds a unique mechanic to the game, as once you deploy it you must steer your stunt-man left or right by pressing and holding down left and right arrows on the bottom corners of the screen. Wind direction also plays a factor in some of these instances, so there is an added element of strategy and placement when gliding down with your parachute in those conditions. Another element which comes into play very late into the 65+ levels is the land mine. Land mines, once crossed, give you a 4 second window to get out of it’s radius or be destroyed. They are mostly used to destroy wooden platforms blocking your goal, but the fact that these additional gameplay elements are consistently added throughout really increases the variety and fun to be had.
With the game promoting experimentation in your attempts and therefore relying on a trial-and-error system, crashing and failing is a guaranteed re-occurrence. Crashes will almost always result in an explosion, especially if they are at a high velocity or bad angle. Obstacles like hovering helicopters will be put in place, which will also cause an explosion if they are touched even in the slightest fashion. The physics in place are unique for each vehicle, and really lends to the strategy of choosing the right vehicle for the right situation. I did come across an issue in one specific level where I was using a bus to push another along when my front bumper got stuck to the other’s rear bumper. In one attempt, the conjoined buses abruptly jolted into the air and uncontrollably propelled forward at high speeds, exploding upon impact with the ground. This was a one-off situation however and could be avoided, as I subsequently did, by controlling your speed and approach to the other bus. The game can become frustrating, but only because of the increasing challenge that can always be overcome if you find the right angle to place your ramp and/or the right vehicle/upgrade combination to use. Considering the immediacy at which Stunts can easily be retried – without any extra loading time – any frustrations are quickly repressed.
In continuing the movie stunt-man theme, there are three distinct settings for each of the three films being made. The setting of “CornBalls 2” is an outdoors farm environment, while “Tombstone 2000″‘s set is a desert/canyon locale and the “World Tour ’88” is set in a packed arena reminiscent of a Nitro Circus event. Each are vibrant and feature their own color palette helping to further distinguish themselves as separate events. It definitely appeals to the eye and most certainly to a pre-teen audience in particular. The overall visual style of Stunt Star: The Hollywood Years is a complementary mix of hand-drawn objects and more polished backdrops and settings. The fact that certain objects look rougher or more basic than others isn’t necessarily an issue of quality, but is more of a stylistic choice. The GUI (graphical user interface) in particular portrays this difference. The acceleration and brake pedals are crudely drawn and colored, as are the other buttons on screen. It retains a sort of charm and simplicity, but also reinforces the emphasis on gameplay, not visuals. The “director” pops up from time to time to make short quips or drop hints for the upcoming stunt. There were some spelling/grammar issues in a few instances of his text, which is a minute annoyance at worst.
While certain details were paid great attention, such as the fact that each of the vehicles appropriately have their own unique engine sounds, Stunt Star: The Hollywood Years’s sound, while effective, never felt like it enhanced the experience to any great extent. Of note, in the World Tour ’88 stages, crowd noise and reactions sound very small in comparison to how many fans are visualised in the background – what would seem to be upwards of 100,000 of them. The crash noises also don’t exactly represent the intensity of massive wrecks at high speeds with the same volume explosion and clanking metal sounds playing each time you destroy any vehicle. Sound designer and director of ‘the Sound Library’ Stephan Schutze created new audio for the game, however I couldn’t help but perceive the sfx mentioned, in particular, as sounding like stock cues. Having used ‘the Sound Library’ in the past myself, I recognise the quality of such cues, which is good but also recognisably basic and not as customized as I would expect. However, despite this, Stunt Star’s audio does serve it’s purpose on a whole.
Stunt Star: The Hollywood Years exhibits all the archetypal qualities of the successful casual title. It’s simple, charming, addictive and most importantly fun. This is what made the casual market such a success to begin with. Minor gripes with the grammar/spelling of what little text is even shown and it’s lucidity of the use of stock sound effects are pretty much inconsequential. Three Phase Interactive is a three-man team representing what the Australian video game industry does best at the moment and that’s creating enjoyable casual titles that focus on pure, raw gameplay. Do not hesitate to jump at this title.