Review: Joe Danger
June 30, 2010, Author: James Sheppard
Sometimes a game comes along that surprises you. For me, Joe Danger is one of those games. Essentially spanning a multitude of genres and taking influences from a host of other titles, there is more to Joe than meets the eye. Made by just four people from the indie developer Hello Games, Joe Danger is a deceptively simple-looking game that managed to capture the interest of both my girlfriend and a random kid who happened to be around at the time, yet has a surprising amount of depth and challenge for those wishing to explore it.
You take control of Joe, an Evel Knievel-style motorbike stuntman who speeds through a variety of levels jumping over ramps, performing tricks, collecting items and sometimes racing opponents. So far, Joe Danger has been released on the PSN Store for the price of £9.99, but there are plans to possibly bring the title to both XBLA and PC in the future. This is Hello Games’ first release, so can we really expect a high-octane performance, or will Joe come across a bit amateurish, or even worse, crash and burn?
Introducing… J-J-J-Joe… D-D-D-Danger!
Joe is your typical, crazy daredevil that just loves to find increasingly more ways to look badass and risk his neck, in the hopes of pleasing the crowd; he jumps over shark infested pools, explosives, spikes, and anything else conveniently life-threatening you can imagine.
He has taken a long hiatus from his job due to a serious injury, and so the story of the game tells his return back to fame as the world’s number one stuntman. The narrative is kept brief and non-intrusive, with little in the way of cutscenes or plot lines, and this is because Joe Danger is focused heavily on the gameplay instead. Maybe some more humorous cut scenes to break up the action would have been a nice inclusion, and we never really see about his past life, only hear about it, but it’s not the end of the world.
It’s always funny, until someone gets hurt… and then it’s just hilarious
Joe Danger starts with some relatively pedestrian tutorial style levels, to gently guide you through the controls and track elements. Besides for the mandatory accelerate and brake/reverse (you wouldn’t be going very far without these), you can use the shoulder buttons to make Joe perform tricks, use the analogue to wheelie and spin through the air, press circle to punch a racing opponent, cross to boost, and square to duck and jump.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the select button will retry the last checkpoint after facepalming the concrete/blowing up/impaling yourself every few seconds. Seriously, a word of warning; have those controller warranties at the ready, as this game will wear out your select button faster than the bed springs at a brothel. One of the most recent levels I played took a total of 74 attempts before I got it right (the game kindly displays a counter of the amount of times you’ve failed, just to make you feel better). Oddly, this is not quite as frustrating as you’d imagine, perhaps a testament to the fun factor, although I’d still recommend you play Joe Danger in a padded room if you have a short temper.
The learning curve however must definitely be applauded, for providing a smooth introduction to the game, so that even a non-gamer/newborn baby could get the hang of it. What also must not go unsaid is that the aforementioned scenario occured when I was trying to complete a certain challenge on a level; something that you don’t have to do. A casual gamer can happily play through all of the levels, as in themselves they don’t pose too much difficulty thanks to unlimited retries at checkpoints. It is only the additional challenges, of which you only need to complete some to progress, that may have you tearing your hair out at times.
This I feel is part of Joe’s genius. There are a variety of different requirements that can be met throughout the levels to unlock gold stars, from collecting letters to spell out ‘D-A-N-G-E-R’ (very reminiscent of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater), hunting out hidden stars and retaining your combo for the whole level. As a result, you can re-play the same track several times but in completely different ways to collect all of the stars. As long as you have the bare minimum to progress, you can just move straight on if you’re lazy and impatient.
Now, onto the gameplay itself. The controls are fantastically smooth and well realised, so that you can manoeuvre Joe around with ease. If anything goes wrong, you’ve only got yourself to blame, and even if it does it’s hilarious to watch poor Joe’s body fly for miles after blowing up, or crumpling into a sorry pile on the ground. Maybe I’m just rubbish and bitter, but many a time I’ve crashed in Trials HD I thought it was unfair, which is rarely the case here. Trials is definitely the strongest point of comparison that Joe Danger has to describe how it plays, but whereas Trials opts for more realistic gameplay and physics, Joe whizzes around at high speed, spins like a washing machine, uses more nitrous than the entire trilogy of Fast and the Furious films put together, and has the grip of a gorilla, never falling off his bike unless he properly crashes.
Joe Danger comes equipped with a level editor, for those creative types. Littlebigplanet veterans will feel right at home here, with all of the tools to make their own levels like Hello Games developers, just without getting paid. But you can at least send them to your friends! There is no capability to upload or download stranger’s levels though, and with other restrictions like a limit on the amount of times you can place the same object, and a moderate but not brilliant range of things to build the level out of, Joe does feel inferior to his brown, potato-packaging friend in this respect. It’s still a welcome inclusion however, and much more user-friendly and fun to use than the majority of level editors out there.
Undeniably, there is also a good variety of premade levels and challenges on offer. Amongst the different item collecting tasks, speed runs, and targets to pinpoint, there are even levels which feature kamikaze bowling, where Joe launches off a ramp and divebombs into a pile of oversized bowling pins. There is also the allure of replaying levels to beat your high scores and get a gold rating. A scoreboard after each play compares your score with your PSN friends, perhaps the most enticing challenge of all to beat, for bragging rights.
The scoring system is excellent, and fun to use. Obviously you get points for performing tricks, with more awarded to fresh tricks, and also points for using aspects of the level like switch-gates and targets. These combine to create a combo multiplier. This works very similarly to Tony Hawk games, with constant wheelies inbetween sections necessary to sustain the combo, just like manualling your skateboard. This is not too complicated to do, and you’ll be surprised how easily you can combo an entire level. This is partly due to the forgiving combo timer that doesn’t run out too quickly, giving you some leeway between tricks.
There are different routes to explore through each level thanks to the four-depth track layout – and I can not praise the developers enough for how they have handled navigation. Instead of switching between lanes freely and getting easily confused about where to go, switch-gates throughout the level are your only means of switching route, ensuring that you don’t get lost and know the right time to change. Traversing the levels is very enjoyable, with Mario or Sonic-esque platforming elements required at times to reach certain areas.
I know what you’re thinking, this is sounding like one hell of a bastard child of a game. You’d be right, and Joe Danger is all the better for it. The quaint story goes that the four developers at Hello Games each had a different genre of game they loved, and all of these influences came together in a fantastical fusion to create Joe Danger. Sometimes when this happens, a title can become a poor imitation of its influences, or a jack of all trades yet master of none. Something went right here though and they combine beautifully to make an excellent package, taking pointers from Tony Hawk, Excitebike, Sonic and Trials HD amongst many others.
Dangerously good looking
The visuals are another area in which Joe Danger really shines. Far from being a realistic, believable representation like Trials HD, it showers your eyes with exquisite cartoony detail in a huge array of bright colours. A session on Joe Danger is like a serious LSD trip; the good kind though, with Fisher Price colours, dancing cactuses, and friendly moles amongst the beautiful, charming details within the levels. One criticism is that they are all desert and grass themed, but they at least make sense within the context of Joe, an American daredevil. Overall there is little to fault with the graphics of this game, with clear, vibrant visuals showing ample attention to detail, and getting the right balance by looking happier than a starving man at an all-you-can-eat buffet, yet still not going as far as being vomit-inducingly bright.
J-J-J-Joo…oh, shut up
The sound in general on Joe Danger adds nicely to the feel of the game. A bright, happy soundtrack mixes well with the exuberantly jolly mood, and the sound effects are more than adequate, with authentic-sounding motorcycle noises, explosions, and air horns. A commentator excitedly announces your presence on the track every time you start a level, which highlights the main criticism of the sound in the game; it is far too repetitive. His irritating voice, and the short background theme tune played on loop wear thin and outstay their welcome faster than a clown at a funeral.
Split spleens on split screens
A variety of multiplayer modes are on offer for two players in split-screen mode. The game isn’t playable online, which is a real shame, but again as with the level creator situation, this is only a PSN title at the end of the day. A lot of downloadable games probably don’t have as much content as Joe Danger as it is, so Hello Games can hardly be called stingy with this release. The multiplayer races are similar to the single-player offerings, with several arenas included as standard, and the ability to also use your tracks created in the sandbox.
Whereas the single-player racing opponents are really dull and feature about as much personality as Steve Davis, it’s always a great source of entertainment to taunt and smack your real mate sat right next to you, both in-game and in real life. This mode is hardly sensational but it’s fun all the same, and adds some extra longevity to the reasonably, but not exceptionally, long single player mode.
So in conclusion, it’s utter crap. Nah, only Joe-king
I’m really sorry. That was terrible. Moving on… Joe Danger is essentially a brilliant, complete package that does both Hello Games and the Playstation Store (of which it is probably one of the best offerings on the entire list) proud. The dazzling graphics and refined, addictive gameplay are absolutely superb, rivalling many full retail games, let alone PSN titles. The price is heftier than some at £9.99, but all things considered this is extremely reasonable, with loads of levels that you’ll want to play over and over, the ability to create your own if you wish, and the inclusion of an entertaining split screen mode to play on with friends.
The music and sound effects may get very repetitive, and more integrated online support would have been further icing on the already delicious cake, but there is very little to stop me from recommending you go buy this game right now. Joe Danger may be a daring man amongst hazardous odds, but for you, the consumer looking for a great game, there’s very little risk involved: he’s a safe purchase.