Game Reviews

Chalkboard Stunts

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| Chalkboard Stunts
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Chalkboard Stunts
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| Chalkboard Stunts

Among the many annoying character types out there in the world, one of the most irritating is the successful person who never goes first.

The one who observes the failures of those braver (and stupider) than himself, and uses what he’s learned to formulate a winning plan.

It’s the kid at school who sneaks to the back of the queue in gym class, watches you land on your neck after picking the wrong vaulting angle, then executes a perfect forward flip to rapturous applause.

It’s the CEO of a huge mega-corporation who observes his rival launching an innovative product, pinches the core ideas, and comes up with a superior, mega-selling alternative.

Cunning stuntmen

The makers of Jelly Car (and its sequel) must feel the same way about Manta Research, because Chalkboard Stunts effectively apes their formula while simultaneously rectifying many of its problems.

The aim of the game here is identical: steer your little car along a series of complex obstacle courses, reacting to the exaggerated physics at work in order to keep yourself upright and on course for a quick time. Where Chalkboard Stunts betters its more innovative rival is in the fine detail.

Our primary criticism of Jelly Car 2 was the inflexible and often awkward control system, which assigned lateral movement to virtual buttons and rotation (necessary for aligning your car for successful landings) on the accelerometer. It proved to be a rather counter-intuitive approach.

Manta Research clearly noticed this and abandoned the accelerometer altogether. By default this places ‘Left’ and ‘Rotate clockwise’ under your left thumb, with ‘Right’ and ‘Rotate anti-clockwise’ under your right thumb. It works beautifully, but if you’re not happy you can switch to one of several alternatives.

The direct approach

Another of Jelly Car 2’s faults was the lack of signposting, with many of the sprawling, abstract levels leaving you to fend for yourself amidst a labyrinth of squishy wheels and wiggly platforms.

Not so here - even the twistiest levels subtly shepherd you onwards with the odd telltale speed-up arrow. There’s still the scope to skip whole sections if you’re sly (or lucky), but you’re rarely at a loss as to the location of the finish line.

One reason for that is Chalkboard Stunts grants you a zoomed out view of the level prior to starting it, which lets you view every nook and cranny by swiping the screen. I would have liked the option to pause and have a scan around mid-level, but I suppose that memorising the optimal path is all part of the skill factor.

Construction derby

Perhaps the main differentiating factor between Chalkboard Stunts and its obvious inspiration is the inclusion of a level editor that lets you share your creations online. It really does bring a whole new level of depth and value to the game, and drags it critically close to must-have status.

The level creator itself is a joy to use. I’ve rarely had the time or patience for the ‘user generated content’ side of modern video games, but Chalkboard Stunts makes it quick and easy to get a fully featured course up and running and into the hands of your fellow gamers.

It has to be said that part of this accessibility is due to the extreme simplicity of each of the level elements – ramps, platforms, loop-de-loops, speed arrows and blocks are all you have to play with.

Chalk this one up as a success

This relative simplicity, along with a less appealing visual style, results in a game with less personality and instant appeal than its inspiration. Along with the faint whiff that accompanies any blatant copy, it results in a game that’s harder to warm up to than the Jelly Car series.

Once you’re into the rhythm of the game, though, you're sure to find it a refinement of the stunt racing formula. Simpler and less attractive, certainly, but each of its additions has been made with care and attention.

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but Manta Research’s thoughtful revamp means that most of the plaudits should now be headed the way of Chalkboard Stunts.

Chalkboard Stunts

While Chalkboard Stunts borrows heavily from Jelly Car, its careful refinements – including the ability to create and share your own tracks – ensure that it sits on top of the casual stunt racer pile
Score
Jon Mundy
Jon Mundy
Jon is a consummate expert in adventure, action, and sports games. Which is just as well, as in real life he's timid, lazy, and unfit. It's amazing how these things even themselves out.