Game Review: Joe Danger
Release: June 8, 2010
Genre: Arcade / Racing
Developer: Hello Games
Available Platforms: PSN
ESRB Rating: E
It’s hard to sum up Joe Danger in a sentence. Is it a racing game? A stunt game? A platformer? The inaugural title of Hello Games (a studio made up of just four friends and industry veterans), it draws from a variety of different genres to make up a fast-paced and unique arcade experience.
Like any arcade game, the plot is pretty bare-boned: you play as the titular Joe Danger, an Evil Knievel-esque daredevil who has fallen on some hard times (and some hard things), and has fallen from the spotlight after a particularly nasty injury. As “the world’s most determined stuntman,” however, Joe isn’t willing to give up on his dreams for glory so easily, and it’s your job to take him to the top of his reckless profession. To do so, you participate in events and tours showcasing the fact that, yes, you are the illest dude to ever ride a motorcycle.
Joe Danger wears its influences on its sleeve. The basic mechanics take a page from ExciteBike: tilting the joystick to the left or right controls the tilt of the bike and lets you perform wheelies or spins in the air. Tricks earn you points for that elusive high score, and can be chained together and multiplied much like in Tony Hawk. Though levels progress left to right like a 2D game, there are 2 to 3 different tracks laid out that you can switch between, reminiscent of Little Big Planet.* Finally, with its use of springs, tricky jumps, hazards, and collectibles, the game sometimes feels like a platformer.
Each level has a number of different goals to achieve, such as collecting all the stars in the course or completing the track under a certain time. Some of these goals are mutually exclusive, and others require you to fulfill multiple objectives in a single run. Repetition isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though, as these different goals lead to a pretty wide variety in gameplay. One run-through might have you meticulously searching the stage for pickups, wondering how you get up to a particularly hard-to-reach star, while another might have you frantically racing against the clock while trying to keep a trick combo going through the whole level.
Events themselves are equally mixed, ranging from races against your nemeses, Team Nasty, to more free-form stages with stars to collect, targets to land on, and times to beat. There are even Puzzle stages that introduce you to the clever in-game track editor by making you reposition obstacles and create ramps in order to get to all the stars. This editor is also available from the main menu, allowing you to make your own courses and challenges to share with your friends once you’re through with the career mode.
The career mode is quite lengthy, however, and incredibly challenging. It took me about 6 to 8 hours to complete (and that’s without getting every last medal), so have no fears about getting your money’s worth here. The first few tours start off slow, giving you time to work out the controls, which, though nice and tight, take some getting used to. (For example, holding square makes Joe duck and releasing it makes him jump. This was counter-intuitive enough that I found myself crashing into all manner of obstacles before my thumbs finally got into the game.)
After this, though, the game stops messing around, and certain medals become brutally difficult. Time trials and 100% stunt runs in particular require nearly perfect performances throughout levels, one slip up often spelling failure. I’m up for a challenge, but these goals became so frustratingly difficult that I, usually a completionist to the bitter end, had to start skipping them. By the end, even some of the simpler objectives became a test of patience. I feel the difficulty bar is set a bit too high here, though I’m sure there are some masochists out there who will love this fact. As a side note, for a game so clearly bent towards repetition, it’s nice that there’s one button that restarts the level. But there isn’t much in the way of musical variety, and the announcer only has one or two phrases, so the audio becomes a bit grating over time.
Thankfully, the game has a winning personality and aesthetic all its own, which goes a long way to ease the bitter pain of defeat. The bright, cartoony characters and landscape match the tone quite well, and are genuinely pleasing to watch. Joe himself is a likable character with his pot belly, stubble, and ridiculous costume – a bit of a shame given how much punishment he endures. The animations to his crashes and falls into shark tanks can also be pretty humorous if you take the time to watch them.
There is a multiplayer mode, but it’s unfortunately limited to 2-person local play. The split screen can make it hard to see your surroundings, and it seems there’s only one mode to play: a straightforward race. Online play would have been nice, especially with the track editor – it would have been cool to see what sort of diabolical maps the PSN community would come up with. Ultimately, though, these are all extraneous frills, and the meat of the game lies in its solid single player experience.
Bottom Line: Though the gameplay takes elements from a myriad of other games, it’s all presented in a unique way. It’s less a seamless blend of genres than a schizophrenic mashup, but somehow that’s why it’s so fun – juggling all the disparate things it asks you to do at once is challenging and exciting. The steep difficulty curve and tricky controls make it hard to recommend to everyone, but it’s a solid game with a lot of charm, and if you’re interested in arcade racing or 2D platforming, I’d say to give a try. Just don’t get hung up on unlocking every medal, or you may end up crazier than Joe.
*It’s implemented much better here, though. Where in LBP you would often find yourself jumping between different depths inadvertently, here there are specific “switch gates” you must drive through to change lanes.