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If you read our recent feature on up-and-coming devs, you'll already know the name Hello Games. A new four-man indie dev team with a CV taking in the likes of Burnout and Geometry Wars, they've long professed a penchant for combining old-school fun and charm with canny, new-school invention. And now that we've spent a morning playing Joe Danger, their debut game, we rather think that they might just have cracked it. And cracked it hard.
Due for release on "most likely, one of XBLA/PSN/PC just as soon as it feels right" (though probably Spring 2010), it takes cues from stellar titles throughout the whole history of games and adds brand new twists all of its own. JD follows the comeback story of a stubbly, aging daredevil named Joe, as he attempts to reignite his career via a fresh and original blend of platformer, racer, puzzler and even rhythm action game. It looks familiar, but plays unlike anything you've seen before. Want to know just what makes it so damn cool? Watch this video of director Sean Murray taking a few of the game's modes through their paces, then read on and we'll break it down for you in detail.
Admit it. Go on. You've seen the screenshots on this page and you're thinking “Trials HD gone cartoony casual”. Well you couldn’t be more wrong, and we’re grinsomely happy to tell you so.
While it shares the basic 2D trappings of bikes, ramps and comedy limb-devastation with RedLynx’s brilliant XBLA frustratathon, Joe Danger actually has just as much in common with Sonic the Hedgehog. And yes, we’re talking about proper, 16-bit Sonic. You know, when he was awesome.
Where Trials’ riders are cumbersome lumps of pendulous physics, to be wrestled through the air like elephants through axel grease, Joe is a genuinely manoeuvrable platform hero. He can jump. He can duck. He can dash (via a nitro). He can move forward and backward in mid-air thanks to some physics-abusing off-ground reversal skills. Just imagine that his accelerator and brakes are the same as the left and right buttons on a d-pad, and you’ll get the idea. He might be on wheels, but Joe is every bit the versatile 16-bit jumping star. And the tracks he navigates absolutely play up to that.
Sure, you’ll be tackling all the dips, ramps and jumps you’ll expect from a stunt racer, but you’ll also be dealing with the same obstacles you’d expect from a nippy blue hedgehog. Spike traps. Shark tanks. Stratospheric vertical spring jumps. Multiple routes you’ll need to navigate with clever, precision platforming skills. Fiendishly placed collectibles. They’re all there, and they’re all just as exhilarating a hoot as they’ve been since the nineties.
But for all the precision jump-trickery, Joe is an eye-wateringly seat-of-the-pants racer as well. As if negotiating the springy, hazard-strewn platforming wasn’t a meaty enough slab of challenge prime rib, you’ll also have to do it against tight time limits and deliciously snidey AI race opponents (and online, no doubt even snidier human ones).
As bright and breezy as things look on the surface, the action is beyond frantic. One second you’ll need to boost across a ramp into a charged super jump (think Super Mario Bros. 2’s squat-and-spring method) in order to soar majestically over legions of Looney-Tunes-standard cartoon death. You’ll squeeze in a couple of backflips along the way and briefly feel like the king of the skies. Then the nanosecond you land, you’ll hit a flurry of satanically-placed over/under obstacles and need to alternately crouch and hop to safety at breakneck speeds.
Then a set of unforgiving vertical walls will screech suddenly into view, furnished only with the tiniest of land-them-perfectly-or-die jump springs by way of apology. And if you want to beat your throttle-happy foes to the prize, you’ll need to conquer it all at a terrifying rate of knots, and evade their Road Rash style melee slaps along the way. There's even a Tony Hawk-style stunt combo system that lets you link tricks with carefully balanced wheelies for massive scores. Still sound like a casual version of Trials? Pah. And we’re only just getting started.