Super Stuntman Review (ZX Spectrum/Amstrad CPC/Commodore 64) by@stefanopavone

Super Stuntman Review (ZX Spectrum/Amstrad CPC/Commodore 64)

This is the 1988 budget game ***Super Stuntman for the main trinity of 8-bit home computers in the West: the ZX Spectrum, the Amstrad CPC and the Commodore 64. The player must traverse through seven (7) scenes which need to be completed within a strict time limit, and you are given three (3) lives or **“takes”** for each scene. The main menu of each version offers a jaunty little theme tune by David Whittaker using each computer’s respective sound chips.
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Stefano Pavone

Retrogamer and Champion of the Obscure and Defenceless

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This will be my first multiplatform review, where I will cover a single game released for multiple computer platforms and compare each version accordingly - in this case, I will be taking a look at the 1988 Codemasters budget game Super Stuntman for the main trinity of 8-bit home computers in the West: the ZX Spectrum (which is the lead platform), the Amstrad CPC and the Commodore 64. This game is a childhood favourite of mine, as I remember playing it on my ZX Spectrum and trying to get a high enough score to enter my name.

Premise

The premise of this game, according to the cassette/disk inlay, is that the player assumes the role of a stuntman in a major motion picture, requiring their talents in order to accomplish a series of increasingly elaborate and dangerous vehicular acrobatics. However, as with many games of this era, the plot is merely a means to an end. On all versions of the game, the player must traverse through seven (7) scenes which need to be completed within a VERY strict time limit, and you are given three (3) lives or “takes” for each scene. The scenes in question are:


  • Desert
  • Speedboat Chase/Boat Race
  • Forest
  • Jump Over the Grand Canyon (Press the fire button to activate a turbo booster at the right time)
  • City Car Chase
  • White Water/Rapids Boat Chase
  • The Grand Finale

Main Menu Comparison

Wow, I didn't know the original Stig starred in his own videogame!

Wow, I didn't know the original Stig starred in his own videogame!

All three versions showcase the eponymous daredevil standing outside his car, which appears to be a Ferrari/Porsche hybrid. The main menu of each version offers a jaunty little theme tune by David Whittaker using each computer’s respective sound chip (the “beeper” speaker for the Spectrum since this is a 48K only game with no 128K version, the AY chip on the CPC and the SID chip on the C64).


The Spectrum version also offers a choice of keyboard controls, the option to redefine them, or a joystick interface of the player’s choice (if you read my Zythum review, then you will get a brief description of the Spectrum’s various joystick interfaces and how they work). For this review, I will be playing with the Kempston joystick interface, which is arguably the most popular interface for the Spectrum, using my custom-made 2-button arcade stick.


The Spectrum and C64 only recognize a single fire button due to them using the antiquated Atari 2600 standard, while the CPC can support two (2) separate fire buttons using an MSX joystick, although not all games were coded with this ability in mind.

The Game

ZX Spectrum version showcasing all 7 scenes of this budget game.

ZX Spectrum version showcasing all 7 scenes of this budget game.

Amstrad CPC version - more colourful but a smaller gameplay window (common for CPC games, to speed up gameplay).

Amstrad CPC version - more colourful but a smaller gameplay window (common for CPC games, to speed up gameplay).

Commodore 64 version - those sprites look ripped out of "Miami Vice", and that's not a good sign.

Commodore 64 version - those sprites look ripped out of "Miami Vice", and that's not a good sign.

This is what we get when the game starts up - a time limit, score, and a visual damage indicator, which is mainly for show and has no actual bearing on the player vehicle’s functionality (except for the C64 version, which excludes the vehicular mugshot). The goal of each scene is to get to the finishing line at the end before the countdown timer reaches zero (0).


On all scenes except for Scene 4 (The Grand Canyon), the player’s vehicle (a car in all but Scenes 2 and 6, where the player controls a speedboat) is equipped with what appears to be a front-facing cannon, since pressing the fire button on the joystick fires a cannonball, which can be used to destroy computer-controlled enemy vehicles (which are controlled with a very simplistic AI - they just seem to charge forwards indiscriminately and occasionally block the player’s path while shooting at anything in their way). The player will also have to avoid rocks (which block your path) and fireballs (which will cost you a life - on the water-based scenes, the player must avoid crashing into the land, which will yield the same result).


The sole exception to this rudimentary gunplay mechanic is, as mentioned, on Scene 4, where the player’s cannon is replaced with a turbo booster, which MUST be activated at the correct time in order to successfully jump across the Grand Canyon and reach the finish line at the other end. Engage it too early or late and the player will fall to their death.


Oddly enough and possibly unique to this game, the player is awarded points for losing lives or “takes”, gaining 1,000 points in the form of what the game calls “Amazing Action”, presumably as a sort of reward for showcasing their inner daredevil. You can do this up to twice per scene (your takes are reset at the beginning of a new scene) - if you crash a third time, then the game ends.

Cheat Mode

All 3 versions of this game have a built-in cheat mode, which gives the player infinite time and lives, and given the rather clumsy controls and haphazard level design (we’ll get to that later on, when I’m comparing the 3 versions against each other), it would be wise to enable it as soon as possible.


To do this, the player must first get a high enough score to enter their name on the high score table, entering a specific word as their name and confirming it (see the table below):

Game Version

Name to Enter

ZX Spectrum

BIG SCORE

Amstrad CPC

LIVEWIRE

Commodore 64

CHEAT (Press Tab key to skip to the next scene during gameplay)

Super Stuntman Review and Comparison

Presentation

The ZX Spectrum version is the original version of this game, and as such, has a decent amount of content and presentation, along with a cool-looking image on the main menu. This look and feel is carried over to the Amstrad CPC port, which improves the visual and auditory aspect, as is to be expected for a multipurpose computer like the CPC. The C64 version is sadly lacking in these elements, and has a much more basic menu. The game’s content is barebones but sufficient to keep the player interested, if only for a limited time, given it is a budget game, and the C64 version actually uses its custom hardware to try to make the in-game world look more lively.

Overall Winner: Tie between ZX Spectrum & Amstrad CPC

Graphics (Detail & Colour)

Graphically, the game looks adequate on all 3 platforms, although each version has some features unique to that particular release. For example, the original Spectrum version has a higher resolution than the CPC and C64, so it wins out in the detail department - you can see what each in-game sprite is supposed to be, although the red fireballs on the Spectrum and C64 are recoloured to blue on the CPC, presumably to prevent them from blending in with the environment (thanks to its low-resolution, 16-colour mode, this is no Spectrum port, something which plagued many CPC games back in the day). My personal favourite colour palette is on the Amstrad CPC, with its vibrant Sega-esque colours and sprite design, although the muted colours on the C64 also work, giving the game a bit more atmosphere. I also like how the water in Scenes 2 and 6 is animated on the C64, while the Spectrum and CPC simply have white spots on a blue background.

Overall Winner: ZX Spectrum (Detail), Tie between Amstrad CPC & Commodore 64 (Colour)

Sound (SFX & Music)

The Spectrum version has what sounds like digitised flatulence due to its single-channel “beeper” speaker, and the vehicular engine noises do not sound at all like a car or a speedboat’s motor bursting into action, although the player does get to hear a tick-tock noise when the countdown timer goes below 10 seconds, warning them to hurry up (they lose a take if they run out of time). CPC version probably has the best balance of sound effects and music (the main title theme would later reappear in the CPC-exclusive Turbo Chopper Simulator, which I also reviewed on this site - recycling music from their previous games seemed to be a Codemasters trademark). C64 version has dire sound effects, worse than the Spectrum version, although the engine sound can be increased in pitch depending on how fast the player goes, which can provide some amusement, and less-than-perfect music.

Overall Winner: Tie between ZX Spectrum & Amstrad CPC (SFX), Amstrad CPC (Music)

Controls

The controls of any videogame can make or break the experience, and in this game, it is certainly a very polarising affair. The game’s controls are very strange in the sense that the player’s vehicle is limited to 45-degree turns in either direction, as if the car or speedboat is standing in the middle of a 180-degree protractor (a device used for measuring angles) and can only rotate within its range. The C64 version also suffers from a case of sudden loss of momentum, meaning if the player’s vehicle hits any kind of obstacle, then they will stop moving immediately, requiring the player to back up (which costs time) and reaccelerate all over again (costing more time), while the Spectrum and CPC versions keep the vehicle at full speed even when hitting a rock or some other obstacle. Firing the cannon is also a bit of a pain, since only a single cannonball can be fired at any time. The C64 version also suffers from slippery controls, while the Spectrum and CPC version’s controls are too stiff.

Overall Winner: Draw

Super Stuntman Gameplay Review

The most important element of this game is also the weakest, sadly - all 3 versions have the exact same game mechanics and there is no exclusive feature for any of them, meaning that if you’ve played one version, then you’ve essentially played them all. I will find, however, that the Spectrum and CPC versions are the most forgiving in terms of difficulty and have a greater margin for error than the C64 port, which appears to be a rushed conversion evidenced by the fact that it has no ending sequence upon completing the last scene of the game (Scene 7), and the game repositions the player just behind the final finishing line, to repeat the process until they run out of time or lives (the Spectrum and CPC versions at least have the courtesy to congratulate the player). The Spectrum and CPC versions have the exact same level layouts and stage designs, while the C64 port tries to redesign the scenes and make them more linear but only ends up cluttering the already chaotic scenery, and the time limit ticks down faster in that version compared to the Spectrum and CPC.

Overall Winner: Tie between ZX Spectrum & Amstrad CPC

Overall

Super Stuntman is far from a super game. Codemasters were synonymous with quality games back in this era, although this release from 1988 seems to be a chink in the armour, released during a time when the 8-bit computer era was coming to an end and the 16-bit computers in the form of the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and Japan-exclusive Sharp X68000 were beginning to hit their stride. A sequel of sorts, entitled Sky High Stuntman, would hit stores 3 years later in 1991 for both 8-bit and 16-bit machines and improve upon this rather problematic first attempt. If I must recommend which version to play, then I suggest either the original ZX Spectrum version or the surprisingly decent Amstrad CPC conversion, which uses that computer’s expanded capabilities with a lower resolution but with the added benefit of additional colours and faster (but less smooth) controls and gameplay. Avoid the C64 port. A somewhat disappointing game, but for a budget title, it could have been worse.


Final Score: 2 out of 5 (ZX Spectrum), 2 1/2 out of 5 (Amstrad CPC), 1 out of 5 (Commodore 64).


react to story with heart
react to story with light
react to story with boat
react to story with money

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