Like many, my first introduction to Jet Car Stunts from True Axis and Grip Games was through their announcement trailer. If you haven’t seen it, it features someone playing the game (very poorly) while the voice over is cursing about how hard the game is. It stands out to me as one of the more unusual ways to promote a game. They actually want to highlight that you will get frustrated with the game. But the truth is, they nailed it. The game is insanely difficult, but it’s also an incredible rush. I can’t remember the last time I smiled and laughed so much while failing so miserably.
(If you haven’t seen it, check out the trailer. But be warned, there are some vulgar words used throughout)
Jet Car Stunts is a crazy racing/platformer which takes place on insane courses suspended miles up in the sky. You control a jet powered racecar with the goal of making it through this floating obstacle course without crashing too many times. If you have ever played The Impossible Game, another classic from Grip Games, then you might know what to expect. The basic mechanics are easy to understand, but successfully executing them is an extreme challenge.
The jet car has only a few basic abilities. You can drive forward or backward, just like in most racing games. However, you also have a jet strapped to the back of the car to give you a little more boost when you need it. Maneuvering through the air requires you to use a combination of jets and air-brakes to get the proper distance in your jumps. Go to far and you fall to your death. Don’t go far enough, and fall to your death. Get the angle wrong and clip an obstacle and you fall… well, you get the idea. There’s a lot of crashing and falling here. You also have a limited amount of jet fuel, so you need to conserve it when you can. You do get refills when you go through a checkpoint.
The game offers up three different ways to play. You can choose between Platforming, Time Trial, and Collector. There is no online component or local multiplayer. The best you get here is the ability to race ghosts of other players who have completed the track you’re on. As a nice little bonus, if you are replaying a track you have already completed, you get to race against your own ghost as well.
Platforming is the bread and butter mode of the game. This is evident in many ways, but mostly because it is the one mode with the most tracks. You get 25 different tracks that range in difficulty from Very Easy to Very Hard. This is somewhat misleading though since even on Easy, the game is pretty challenging.
The platforming levels have you driving and flying from one platform to the next while avoiding floating obstacles and trying to make it through each of the checkpoints until your reach the end. You get ten chances to make it all the way through, and by the time you start playing Medium or Hard, those lives start to go quickly. The great part is that when you successfully complete a difficult jump or navigate a particularly challenging obstacle because the sense of accomplishment is that much greater. My favorite moment came when I accidentally clipped a floating block and my jet car started tumbling, spinning out of control. Then by some miracle, I hit my jet at just the right moment and smoothly landed on the next platform right in front of the next checkpoint. It’s moments like that when I wish the Vita had a way to save and export clips.
If you successfully complete the course you are rated on your time and given a medal ranging from Bronze to Gold. Then your times are uploaded to the online leaderboards so you can see where you rank among other players. I had constant problems trying to upload my score though, as the game would always say it couldn’t connect. At first I thought it was a problem with PSN, but since it worked fine on my PS3, I’m guessing there was a problem with the Vita version.
The next mode, and my personal favorite, is Time Trials. Here you race on a track that goes in a loop and you have to complete five laps in a certain time to earn a good medal. Fortunately there is a timer letting you know if you’re on track for a Gold or Silver so you’re always aware of how fast you need to go. And that is the beauty of this mode. It is all about speed. Yes, it still has some minor platforming challenges, but for the most part you are blasting your jets constantly to get some added speed. The car handles exceptionally well and darting from checkpoint to checkpoint is a rush.
That last, and perhaps most baffling mode is Collector. This mode features a track that has five stars scattered throughout that you need to fly into the air and collect. The race ends once you get all five. This mode is different in that you aren’t limited with how many times you can die, and in fact to successfully complete most of the tracks, you are required to end your run with a suicidal leap. My biggest complaint with this mode is that there are certain points where you can get stuck and have to restart the level all over again. This happens to me when I accidentally make it through the last checkpoint of a track and there is no way to fly back to the rest of the course. Leaping to my death only resets me to my last checkpoint which is utterly useless.
The game controls really well, though things can get finicky while you’re flying through the air. The jet car is very sensitive to any mid-air adjustments you make, so it is important to do things in small steps. Once you have the rubber hitting the road however, things are great. The car controls like an arcade racer which allows you to take corners at high speeds without too much trouble.
The basic controls have you using the face buttons for forward and reverse. Triangle will automatically reset you back to your last checkpoint. The shoulder buttons are dedicated to your jet boost and air-brake. However the game allows you to remap the controls to any of the buttons you like. And one of the greatest features of the game (even if it is minor) is that hitting any of the buttons during the pre-race countdown will automatically start the race. You don’t need to sit and wait for the counter to hit zero before you can begin. Again, it’s minor but it makes a huge difference.
Visually the game is beautiful with bright, vivid colors. The backdrops of clouds are photo-realistic, and if you get a track with the setting sun, the lighting is gorgeous. The sound is also spot on, with the roar of the jet car spot on to give that sense you’re in a proper racing game. It’s nothing ground breaking, but it does not disappoint either.
My only real complaint with the game comes with the amount of content available. While the Platforming section gives you 25 tracks, those tracks get shorter as the difficulty ramps up. And the Time Trials mode only gives you 11 different courses. They’re all fun and challenging for a play through, but after finishing one up, the replay value is somewhat limited. The game feels as though it should have a level creator built into it to allow you to make your tracks, but it doesn’t.
Jet Car Stunts is a fun, challenging, and addictive racer. Or is it a platformer? Whatever it is, it’s a blast. At times it can be so frustrating you want to throw your Vita across the room (but please don’t), but when you successfully accomplish a difficult jump, it feels amazing.
The game is Cross-buy between the PS3 and PS Vita with the PS4 version coming later as a separate purchase. It is also PlayStation TV compatible. (Correction: The PS4 version will also be included in the Cross-buy offer)