Joe Danger is a game you need to know about. And if you do know about it, you need to know more. We've been following its progress at new indie dev Hello Games for quite a while now, and every time we play it, it just gets better.
A bright, funny, and very clever hybrid of platformer, racer, stunt trial and sandbox toy set, it's one of the most rewarding and imaginative download games we've played in a very long time. It's due for release on the PSN this June, and having recently spent a lot of time with the latest build, we're giddy with excitement. Hello say they want to 'make games that will put a stoopid grin on your face'. So far, we reckon they're succeeding. Here's why...
On first glance, Joe Danger looks simple. Generic even, if you’ve played Trials HD or Excite Bike. But it’s far from either of those things, and has more going on than either of those games. See it as a towering iceberg of multi-layered fun. New modes, new options, new depths and whole new ways of playing torrent forth like spurting magma with every hour you spend with it. (Yay for scrambled geology metaphors!)
Above: The most stylish way of changing lanes. These on motorways please
On paper it's a Trials-style stuntman game, but its control mechanics make it so much more than that. He might be on a bike, but Joe is as versatile and controllable as a 2D Mario or Sonic. He can double-jump, charge-jump, leap back or forward with equal ease, and can even change direction completely in mid-air. He’s streets ahead of Trials’ faceless riders in terms of options, and his stunt tracks totally follow suit, being more about cleverly thought-out old-school platforming than they are calculated momentum and inertia.
Above: Also, the most stylish way of navigating a packed bus lane
But at the same time, Joe is a pure, seat-of-the-pants racer, with eyeball-melting tension and lung-bursting giggle potential en masse. Take Joe’s speed and manoeuvrability, transfer them onto a wide multi-laned track with four other gleefully aggressive racers, and you're suddenly playing a none-more-frantic 2.5D Road Rash, spliced with the DNA of Sonic 2. Or start chaining tricks with analogue stick wheelies and you've got a side-on Tony Hawk.
Forget the physics-wrestling nightmare of Trials. The pixel-perfect jumping precision of Mario and the speed and aerial showboating of Sonic are what Joe Danger is about. Controlling Joe is like playing keepy-uppy with a balloon. He’s light, manoeuvrable, and will do anything you want him to do just as fast as you want him to do it. Minutes to pick up, and within an hour you’ll be pulling out maneuvers you never thought possible.
Above: Always grinning, even when his head's about to come off
Joe’s events turn into completely different experiences with every new approach you take and every new step of your increasing mastery of the controls. Having seen the guys at Hello Games play, we can tell you right now that even the earlier tracks hold stacks of hidden depth for those willing to get serious with their riding skills. And things get sadistically hard later on. Trust us, Joe Danger is as hardcore as its hero’s name suggests, and you’ll need every trick and nuance you can learn to get through it.
Joe Danger doesn’t just look cartoony; it takes serious inspiration from the absolute best. Half the fun of stunt-based games like this is in the horribly painful consequences of when it all goes wrong from a great height, and when it goes wrong for Joe, it’s as funny as vintage Warner Bros.
Above: Visual sound effects, just like Batmom used to make
He can be smashed, bounced, broken, snapped by giant mousetraps, spiked, squashed and dropped in shark tanks. And whichever foul fate befalls him (and they will, a lot), it’ll be laugh-out-loud funny. Smash him on a big spike trap and he’ll bounce around (controllably) in agonising ragdoll fashion for as long as you choose to torture him.
Above: Looking bad, going to get worse
Crash him near enough to a spring and he and his newly-separated bike will bounce up and down like a lava lamp of pain. He’ll crawl along Terminator-style, dragging over-sized mousetraps attached to his battered legs, and he’ll clamber valiantly out of a shark-infested paddling pool and perch on the side, before slipping, cracking his nuts, and falling back in. Not since the PSN's PAIN has injury been so funny.
Possibly the best thing about Joe Danger though, and the thing that will keep it around for ages, is its incredibly tactile level editor. Simpler to use than LittleBigPlanet, but immensely versatile and powerful, it puts us very much in mind of a 2.5D ModNation Racers. It all works in real time, allowing you to drive (or jump) Joe along, pause, drag and drop in a platform, stunt or hazard (everything in the game is available), then unpause and immediately interact and experiment with your newly-morphed environment.
Above: Part level editor, part toy box, part real-time stuntman torture chamber
As much as we’ve been banging on about the versatility and variety within Joe’s ready-made game, in the level editor is where you’ll see his complete potential. See it, and be instantly gob-smacked by it. Twitch-driven speed runs, split-screen, jostle-heavy multiplayer race tracks, rollercoasters, multi-directional, Super Mario World-style platformers… You can create them all, or anything in between (and we have). Every variant you build will show you more of Joe’s control depth, and that in turn will show you more possibilities for the immensely varied level designs he can navigate.
Above: Lunatic racetracks like this are only the start of what you can create
Conveyor belts, spike traps, loop-the-loops, blink-and-you’ll miss-it lane changes, bombs, lethal blink-and-you’ll miss-it lane changes with bombs at the end, jumps, springs, shark tanks, and a staggering amount more are all there, ready and waiting for you to drop, stack and combine at any height and angle you like, as you build new game after new game after new game. Or you can just mess about with your toys and see what horrible ordeal you can put Joe through next.
You really can take anything you want from Joe Danger, but whatever you want to take, it’ll be brilliant.