Hot off last year’s PSN release of Joe Danger, four man outfit Hello Studios is back to woo the Xbox Live Arcade crowd with the upgraded Joe Danger: Special Edition. Promising a unique blend of physics-based motocross, tricks, platforming and level exploration, Joe Danger: Special Edition is a novel hybrid indeed. Does its curious concoction of flavours simmer into a delightful whole or do too many ingredients turn the pot sour? Read on for the full review!
A subtle blend of gameplay elements
Joe Danger is a surprisingly cohesive game. Its developers cite influences from across the spectrum of gaming history, with Trials HD¸ Sonic the Hedgehog and Tony Hawk being the most discernible from among the pack. In most cases these three games stitched together would make a revolting Frankenstein’s monster, but Joe Danger makes it work. At first glance a bright and colourful Trials HD, Joe Danger quickly reveals that it’s as much about pulling tricks, platforming and exploring the course. Its levels aren’t quite as tightly designed as Trials HD. Indeed it doesn’t match any of its biggest influences in any of its respective areas. Levels are linear with a handful of divergent paths you get the opportunity to switch between at junctions, and the on-bike platforming is present just enough to warrant a mention. However while Joe Danger may be the jack of all trades and the master of none, it still manages to work its individual elements into a very engaging whole. It’s a testament to the high level of design that each course can, and generally does, feature all three gameplay aspects interwoven seamlessly. You may blast off a ramp with bounce and boost, sending your bike pirouetting wildly, pulling tricks all the while, then land on your back wheel to keep the combo, bounce over a road block and then deftly switch lane at a junction to avoid an upcoming obstacle.
There’s so much going on that early on the novice player can feel overwhelmed by the different controls. Pulling tricks, turning your bike, ducking, bouncing, boosting and switching lanes all have their own commands. Even well into the main game I still managed to forget what to press and when, as the quick pace means you’ll be calling on all the games various functions in tandem to get through all the levels with the best scores. However, as tricky as the nuances of Joe Danger can be to nail down, it’s a rewarding experience when you inevitably do.
A wealth of challenges to keep you playing
The lion share of your game time in Joe Danger: Special Edition will come from the in-course challenges. The ‘campaign’ mode (for want of a better word) is essentially a series of courses absolutely littered with things to pick up. There are strings of blue stars to hit, targets to propel yourself into, hidden stars that will reward exploration, intense dashes for coins, DANGER letters to grab, as well as standard time trials and trick runs to try out. It’s almost more than a well contained sentence should be expected to hold. Each level typically has a handful of these, requiring multiple attempts to get everything, incentivising re-runs to make sure you see absolutely everything the game has to show.
Players will find progressing in the campaign easy enough. Stars for the aforementioned challenges are currency to unlock new courses and even a handful of races. However anyone wanting to hit the alluring 100% mark is going to have to put some serious effort into getting there. While lacking the thumb-straining exactitude of the demonic Trials HD, Joe Danger is no slouch in difficulty towards the end. Players of all calibre will find something to enjoy in this quirky game, but those who relish honing their skills and chiseling away at a particularly tough challenge will get the most out of it.
The updated Special Edition also includes The Lab, a series of all-new challenges exclusive to the XBLA release of the game. The Lab puts Joe Danger against a new bold backdrop, and delivers a host of new courses that aim to teach you some of the more advanced skills. While not a significant departure from what is already on offer over in the main game, The Lab is a welcome addition that offers a subtle change of pace in its levels which put more emphasis on tight control rather than the speed and trick-blasting of the regular courses.
Most racing games come with some form of level editor, but the one found in Joe Danger is possibly the best use of the function yet. After completing the arduous journey through the core levels you’re bound to have thought up some equally fiendish designs yourself. Cue The Sandbox to satiate your desire to construct elaborate death-traps. The Sandbox is essentially your standard console level editor, allowing you to flick through dozens and dozens of individual objects, manipulate them, and then place them on the track. Levels can be downloaded and uploaded, though only to friends, which is a shame, meaning the game is somewhat less community focused than it could have been.
However, the best part of The Sandbox is a subtle but important one. You can enter the edit mode at any time from normal gameplay and place objects while Joe remains paused where you left him. Like I say, it’s a subtle touch but one that greatly eases the creation process. No longer do you have to guess where a target or star should sit. You can bust up a ramp, pause and easily see the typical trajectory of the ramp in an instance, allowing you to make decisions instantly.
Joe Danger is an endearing game in many ways. It looks like something straight out of a children’s cartoon while at the same time just managing to avoid overloading you on cutesy to the point of nausea. The user-interface at some times can’t quite keep up with the depth of information it’s supposed to convey, however, meaning the menus for selecting levels can look cluttered, though this is a small point of contention for an otherwise visually attractive game.
If I’m expected to have just one silver bullet for this game, though, it’s that the music
A confusing blend of acoustic guitars, organ and recorder plays in level and in the menu. I could never leave this game on its main menu thanks alone to the constantly looping, inane tune. I’ll concede that the style chosen does fit the aesthetics of the game fine, but the music is just pedestrian ‘cheery’ tunes that I could not stand. The in-level music doesn’t fare much better either. All of them stand out in my mind, but only because of their uniform terribleness. Considering the amount of time you’ll spend in the levels going for the gold medals, the music will begin to grate if you’re anything like me. Luckily this is easily solved by either muting the TV or playing your own choice in music via the Xbox Guide. While the music is pretty bad, it’s only really a minor peeve.
Joe Danger includes split-screen multiplayer, though it might as well not. The best parts of the game come in mastering the wide variety of gameplay styles across all the courses. The games multiplayer comes in the form of a one on one, split-screen race. Seeing as racing is only one aspect of a much larger game it seems strange that Hello Games would choose racing as their multiplayer focus, rather than on coin hunts or trick runs. A persistent lack of online options for the game confounds this limited multiplayer. Be sure: Joe Danger is a game for you to keep to yourself and master; not one to share with your friends.
Joe Danger might at first seem like a painfully saccharine affair, but closer inspection reveals a well-made game with a lot of depth. A unique blend of gameplay ideas makes Joe Danger a truly unique little title. Whether you’re throwing down mad tricks for extra boost and more speed, or taking your time to collect every blue star in the level, there are multiple approaches and goals in each course for compulsive collectors to obsess over. If you’re the type of person who can’t get enough of time trials and gold medals, Joe Danger will represent a significant new challenge. While an unfortunate lack of community and multiplayer features hold it back from being the all-encompassing experience it could be, Joe Danger is still a well-crafted and legitimately fun game. Simultaneously accessible and challenging, Joe Danger: Special Edition is a novel experience with tons of appeal and plenty of depth.
[Editor’s Note: Joe Danger: Special Edition was reviewed on the Xbox 360 platform. The game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]Joe Danger: Special Edition Review,