Jackie Chan's brand of silly movie chop-socky -- highly-technical, acrobatic and almost operatic kung fu stuntwork made to play out as bumbling fighting -- is extremely difficult to translate to the realm of videogames. Slapstick comedy takes set-up, timing, and pay-off, but with videogames, you're at the whim of the player. With something like the Game Boy Advance, it's even trickier -- you only have so many sprite frames to work with in creating the comic action, and you don't have the power of 3D to zoom in for expressions and special movements, or to create a complete physical world where even the unscripted can happen. Jackie Chan is a master of many arts, but the digital art is one he hasn't yet become a master in.
If you're assuming that I'm going to next say with a big "but..." that Around the World In 80 Days is different and finally gets it right, you're wrong. This is the game that proves the point more than anything. When it comes to Jackie Chan games, they should just stop. Now.
* Play as Jackie Chan in stages directly from the movie
* Digitized characters and graphics
* Password save
A budget game in every sense of the word, Around the World In 80 Days is a quickie movie tie-in that looks to have been hacked out in just a few days in order to meet the movie release deadline. The makers should have instead waited for the DVD release instead -- not that they had a great game to polish up here in the first place, but just a tiny bit more work to get rid of the more awkward parts of the control would have made this whiff of a game blow over a little easier.
As Passepartout, the French valet of curious genius Phieas Fogg, you'll find yourself having to beat the tar out of thugs from all parts of the word in this side-scrolling beat-em-up that strains to recall Prince of Persia. The game's story makes only the faintest of sense, with inanimate digital stills (even when things go south, there's Jackie, smiling away...) trying to give life to the text. With a little bit more expression from the sprites and digital stills, I might have been able to figure out what the heck is supposed to be going on, but it didn't really matter -- all you need to know is that there are baddies to punch in the face and little blue tokens to pick up.
As far as visuals go, developer Saffire trots out the digitized sprite rendering technique it used on Van Helsing, and again, it's almost enough for you to give up your love for sprites and call 2D a dead artform. These character sprites are jagged representations of the human form, with almost zero detail to distinguish each from another. And, for some strange reason, the sprites are again drawn almost pure black -- here, it's as if the artists creating the animation frames forgot to turn on a light while snapping the digital shots. The final motion isn't too bad -- they even captured sprites to detail some unique actions out of Jackie's repertoire, such as the wobbling tightrope walk while going across a short ledge -- but there's still not much of it here to praise.
The platform hopping gives a little depth to the game -- the most pleasant surprise in the whole thing was when I was able to drop down underneath a moving train and explore underneath it while hanging just above the speeding track -- but that's about it. The fighting system are pretty much a choice of four button-mashing maneuvers that can't be combo'ed, and the jumping control is sometimes unreliable. Boss battles are just slugfests, some of which may prove too difficult to brawl through for young gamers even though the rest of the game is a cakewalk. And, particularly annoying, the game doesn't give ducking a button of its own, which makes dodging bullets and sword stabs a pain in the neck on small ledges since Jackie will simply drop down a level to hang onto the edge while the guard below stabs him in the belly.
I've played games that have gone worse this year than Around the World In 80 Days, but the fact is that this game only stays right enough because it's got so little in it to get wrong. It's one of those games that cuts so many corners, you almost don't even notice that the same musical track plays through the whole thing because you've lowered your expectations so much. Even as a budget-priced game, you can get games like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time out of the used bins for about the same price and have a much better time. As far as Around The World goes, just stay home.