Hands on with Joe Danger

Despite the two wheels, the engine and the stopwatch, Joe Danger isn’t really a racing game. It’s been drawn with ultra crayons that make colours three shades too bright to look at, and every noise is a ‘pling’. We’re on to you, Joe. You’re a platform game in disguise.

Superficially, yes, there’s racing. Joe is a stuntman, cape streaming behind him as he ducks under poles, hops over bumps, and flies over jumps on his little bike. But the levels are stacked with pickups: coins, stars and letters to collect. There are jump pads to send you into the air, obstacles that whack you in the face. You’ll just make a ridiculous leap, and see the podgy little rider turn to the camera and give a thumbs-up. Keep your hands on the bar! Look where you’re going!

This isn’t Junior Kickstart. More like Junior... Quick... Load? It’s got a whole lot of influences: willfully difficult 8-bit platform games, Crazy Taxi, Sonic the Hedgehog. Completing the courses requires finger-gnarling precision: jump is powered by releasing the duck button, one of those design decisions that creates blind panic when you’re riding up to a jump followed by a head-height pole. It’s one of those games: cruel, but with an instant restart button that turns failure into motivation.

Like Trials 2, it’s a manic, barely-in-control fight against gravity and momentum. Joe can shift his weight to wheelie on the ground or spin in the air – whether to get the better of the bump pads that toss you up just out of the correct arc to grab coins, or simply to make wild spirals for fun.

But with a nod to TrackMania, Joe Danger is made up of multiple challenge levels. Timed runs, collection races, bowling, even a build-the-track-as-you-ride level that mixes the game’s level editor into a race. The four-man development team is keen to allow us to pick our own path and avoid the challenges we don’t want, so beyond the tutorial you’re free to skip to the bits you like. That said, everything we tried was fun. A split-screen race between two Joes introducedus to the punch button – not to mention the art of controlling landings so as to leave the other racer behind and yourself out of punching range. Pro-tip: land on your back wheel to carry your momentum on.

Joe Danger is characterful and silly. It promises to be the game you’ll want to pick up whenever you have a few spare minutes tocareen down a dirt track towards a loop-the-loop. It’ll be there when you want to pick up and perfect your run on a few tracks, shaving time or grabbing more coins to unlock a few more levels. Or you might fancy seeing what sort of levels the community has devised in the level editor. It has plenty of reasons for you to keep track of it.

Apr 8, 2010