Joe Danger reminds us of a more innocent time. Whether it’s down to their good nature, or naïve business sense, Hello Games have packed this to its reasonably priced package. Nothing is held back for DLC and there’s no need for an improved sequel next year (unless you’re desperate to race online). You get stunt-riding and platforming, time-trials, minigames and a level-editor, making this one of the PSN’s best-value offerings yet.
Joe’s opening stunt runs aren’t all that taxing – you’ll be boosting through tracks and performing ludicrous jumps at every opportunity. Just the way a stuntman should. And right from the start, whether it’s through the catchy soundtrack, cartoon physics or tactile controls, JD oozes happiness. The breezy art-style reminds us more of Mario and Sonic’s 16-bit days than any modern racer, and sets it a comfortable distance from the cruel, relatively sterile Trials HD.
15 seconds into the first track you’ll be bunny-hopping over spikes, ducking under hurdles, and cramming in tricks at every opportunity to earn boost. The controls are immaculate: rewarding perfect timing, while forgiving the occasional misstep. After each run, you’ll see a leaderboard of your friends’ scores, taunting you to improve. Lost your combo because you didn’t land into an endo? Hit Select and you’re back on the starting grid within a second. JD’s early difficulty curve is pitched perfectly, relying on your developing skills to open up new paths – not upgraded bikes or perks.
Each course has a finite amount of stars to earn for completing mini-challenges, which you’ll spend on unlocking new tracks. It works well for the most part, forcing you to return to earlier stages with fresh skills and a new perspective. You might concentrate on ripping through the stages at first, then, after earning stars for the speed run, try to link your tricks and combo the whole track.
The campaign is littered with races against AI players, but they’re little more than timed runs with a few punches thrown in. Considering the mechanics are so streamlined, it feels like a missed opportunity, just like the bare-bones split-screen racing and lack of competitive online multiplayer.
So far, so 2D bike racer then. But there’s another side to JD. Later on you’ll be revisiting earlier levels and dedicating runs to discovery and collection, not style. Bouncing on Sonic-esque springs, riding up vertical conveyor belts, adjusting your positioning in mid-air with accelerate and brake – the controls feel refined, but the platforming doesn’t sit quite as comfortably as speedy stunt runs.
Hello Games have even tried to satisfy creative types with the most intuitive and instant level-editors on PS3. You can pause the action mid-air, drop in a ramp, then land on it – all within a few seconds. There are even tracks dedicated to collecting pickups by manipulating a selection of objects. You can share creations with your PSN buddies and race them in split-screen.
But JD’s not perfect. It can get tedious replaying earlier levels when you’re desperate to progress and, although the art-style is hard to fault, it can get repetitive. Mario’s influence is clear, but he does travel to distant worlds whenever he gets the chance. There’s no such variation in JD. We also had some issues with the camera focus late in the campaign. It’s locked at a distance, forcing you to memorise oncoming obstacles, thereby testing dedication as much as dexterity.
Joe’s portly exterior hides a hardcore belly that’ll keep leaderboards lively long after release. Depending on how you enjoy each of his talents, the tour will feel consistently great or slightly patchy. Still, at the nice price, you’ll get your money’s worth, even if you don’t embrace every brand of Danger that Joe offers.
Jun 22, 2010