It’s no secret that the App Store is full of copycats. It seems you can’t shake a stick without hitting a game inspired by Super Hexagon these days, and games like Canabalt and Doodle Jump arguably created whole genres. Yes, if you release something new and exciting that does well, chances are you’ll be cloned. It always struck me as a little strange, then, that the original Jet Car Stunts never had a “me too”. The game is certainly popular enough, with a pretty dedicated following (which includes yours truly) stretching back to its release in 2009. It was unique, critically acclaimed, and insanely fun. Where were all the copycats?
Not that I would have wanted a clone of True Axis’s aerial classic, exactly. They deserve all of the cash and renown for their hard work without someone else stealing their ideas for a quick buck. At the same time, though, JCS was a finite game released over 4 years ago. How many times can even a die-hard fan like me be expected to play the same old levels over and over for nearly half a decade? Of course, over most of that time True Axis themselves were working on a sequel. And finally, finally, in 2014 we now have more acrobatic racing action in the form of Jet Car Stunts 2 (out now, FREE). Was it worth the wait? Strap in.
At first blush you might be forgiven for thinking things look exactly the same this time around. Indeed, other than the improved look of the menus, this could very well seem like a slightly prettier expansion pack. You might be forgiven, but you’d still be wrong. The visuals do look pretty much the same, but that’s just the way Jet Car Stunts looks. Simple and clean, with just enough color. (In fact, I would argue that the game’s already steep difficulty would be unfairly raised if things were any busier.)
Push past that surface level, though, and you’ll see what True Axis was going for this time around: the game is absolutely massive. It’s JCS, but more, and better in nearly every way. I was dumbfounded the first time I scrolled through the list of levels and it just kept going, and going, and going. In fact there are well over a hundred levels right off the bat, each with three separate difficulties to score medals in (which effectively triples the amount of content since the actual courses change slightly based on difficulty).
The levels themselves are a noticeable improvement, too. Your goal is still taking a car from platform to platform to reach the end of a track as fast as possible, but now there are indoor sections, tunnels, bumpy terrain, and even clouds, mountain landscapes, and trees (all made out of the familiar colored square blocks, of course). There were even times when I didn’t realize I was on an upside down part of a track until I watched the replay later. Once you think you’ve seen everything, something new comes along to challenge you in a different way.
If you ever find yourself somehow growing bored of the insane amount of courses on offer, though, you can always dip into the editor. That’s right, they’ve included track creation tools this time around, and it couldn’t be simpler. You just drive where you want the track to go, tilting up and down for elevation. It actually reminds me of a way, way scaled down version of the editor in ModNation Racers on the PS3. You can’t make anything nearly as grand or complex as the built in levels, but it’s fun to screw around with anyway. Plus, you can easily try out other people’s courses, and there are already thousands.
In order to play other users’ creations, though, you’ve got to pony up some dough for the Level Editor pack, which also unlocks the ability to save and upload your own tracks (though the editor itself is free to just play around in). There are actually 10 different packs you can buy depending on what sort of content you want, but in order to simplify things a bit just follow my advice: Buy the Mega Pack. It includes everything in the game, and it’s just $4.99. There are no consumables or in-game currency or any of that nonsense. Just play through the free stuff, and if you like it, drop the five bucks to unlock the rest of the game.
Tons of content, improved menus, level creation, and a fair (if slightly confusing) pricing model aren’t the only changes, or even the biggest. The biggest difference this time around is the literally game-changing addition of six new vehicles. This is because each one feels completely different; in fact, every track in the game is designed specifically for one of the seven vehicles. There’s the Truck that bounces over rough terrain but has almost no jet fuel, the Jet car that is actually more jet than car, and the Compact which is basically a car with a rocket crudely attached to the top. That last one in particular is so hilariously difficult to control that its inclusion would seem like a cruel joke if it weren’t so fun to fly.
Two of the cars even have their own brand new modes. The Sports car is only found in Freestyle mode (previously a Windows Phone exclusive), which basically turns Jet Car Stunts into a skateboarding game. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds. You have two minute to pull off as many tricks as you can in giant “parks”, including flips, spins, and even grinds. The Stock car, on the other hand, is used in Racing mode, which is basically a more forgiving Time Trial with a bunch of AI cars. It must also be said that for all the differences in handling among the seven cars, the tilt controls are as smooth and responsive as they were in JCS1, and possibly even a little better.
However, as much as I may seem unrelentingly positive about this game, the cynic buried deep within me will always find something to complain about. For one thing, Time Trial mode is as infuriatingly difficult to achieve gold medals in as ever, even on “Easy”. (Later on in the game, it’s even hard to find times on the leaderboards that approach the requirement for gold.) Another disappointment is that the replays don’t allow you to watch from other angles, which pains me because one of my favorite things to do in the original was proudly watch my best runs with the epic spinning-around-the-car camera. And the level editor, which is smartly designed to be as simple as possible, is far too limited to make anything very interesting. Finally, there’s no online multiplayer, even though the new Racing mode is just begging for it. Sad face.
After playing through the first Jet Car Stunts multiple times throughout the years and completing at least 60 levels so far of its sequel, it’s becoming more and more obvious why the original was never copied. It would be nearly impossible, plain and simple. Jet Car Stunts has always been a perfect fusion of rock solid controls, ingenious level design, and the thrill of flying from platform to platform high over the Earth with careful precision. In other words, this ain’t no Doodle Jump.
iFanzine Verdict: True Axis’s original Jet Car Stunts has always been my personal favorite iOS game ever, so I may be a bit biased when I praise the sequel to the high heavens. That shouldn’t stop you from checking it out, though, especially for free. Jet Car Stunts 2 is huge, challenging, fun, and absolutely exhilarating. If you were a fan of the original, you probably already have this (and bought the Mega Pack IAP). For everyone else, this may be your new favorite iOS game, too.