This review was provided by freelance writer Mike Mason.
After a pain-staking recovery from multiple bone-breaking injury, there’s nothing more that Joe wants to do than hop back on his bike, slip on his safety helmet and revive the dream of being a world-renowned stuntman. Fearless Joe has no daring, exuberant, yet ultimately hidden, middle name — he shows his will for Danger shamelessly in his surname.
Hello Games originally released Joe Danger on PlayStation 3′s PlayStation Network in 2010, citing issues with Xbox Live Arcade’s sales figures in the wake of so much competition as a primary reason for its exclusivity. One year on, however, the independent British developer has struck up a deal with Microsoft to bring the title to Xbox 360 owners. Joe Danger: Special Edition adds an entire new mode, extra characters and fresh challenges to what was already a critically acclaimed title.
Hello Games are probably getting sick of the comparisons to Trials HD by now, but the two games skid about in the same stunt park. Each involves performing crazy jumps, tricks and spins over 2D stages, dodging obstacles and mustering up as many mid-air manoeuvres as can be managed in an effort to complete the increasingly challenging courses with plenty of points to the player’s name. Joe Danger: Special Edition takes a lighter approach, though, filled with humorous backdrops, bright colours, and recognisable characters. It’s as if Trials HD was daubed with a Pixar brush.
Yet it would be unfair to extend this comment on Joe Danger: Special Edition’s style to the entire game, as, while the stunt riding concept is shared between the games, they each have their own clear identities. While Trials HD punishes crashes with faults, Joe Danger doesn’t allow them at all, putting the emphasis more on item collection in between the continuous stunts. Stars litter the courses, timed-coin challenges can be activated and hidden objects are dotted about – the platforming influence is definitely noticeable, backed up by the inclusion of helpful springs and double-jumps. Each level is multi-layered, so as well as escaping dangers, gathering bits and bobs and maintaining combos, players also have to worry about changing paths every so often.
Possibly the best inclusion in Joe Danger: Special Edition is perhaps not immediately obvious. Tapping the back button resets Jack to the start of the course, or to a checkpoint if it’s a lengthy course. Initially it’s natural to use this function only upon crashing, but it soon becomes a key part of a compulsive strive towards perfection. Miss a star? Back button, do it again. Dozens and dozens of times, the desire to win kept ever-fed by the game’s announcement of the number of attempts so far. On the harder levels, combinations of sound effects from the restart point get burnt into mind in a nightmarish loop of addiction. The respawn button allows Joe Danger to be as difficult as it wants – and oh how it wants later on – without forcing unnecessary frustration on the player. The restarts are so instant that it never feels like a chore to try, try again.
The controls are pretty simple, but in the more chaotic moments hands can become a frantic mess. Face buttons are hit to boost, crouch and jump, while curled fingers alternate between the right trigger’s acceleration and the left trigger’s reversal. Add the bumpers’ tricks, activated by different combinations of taps and holds across the two, and Joe Danger: Special Edition shows itself to be a title that very much demands that your hand-to-eye coordination is in good nick.
The main mode is the traditional career, charting Joe’s return to success from local newspaper fodder to superstardom. There are no attempts to inject any further story than this; it’s all about the stunts. Things begin simply – a boost over a few ramps, a charge to the finish, the chance to test out that wheelie – before gradually becoming increasingly tricky with an organic difficulty curve. It’s not long before players are expected to hurtle through spiked tunnels at speed, leap over tanks of sharks and dodge under barriers, all while attempting to complete the numerous challenges scattered about to earn stars. Sometimes just finishing a level is enough to warrant one, but additional ones are only gained by collecting certain objects, or by running through the entire stage without ever dropping the trick combo.
Further levels unlock as you go, but certain ones can only be played once a certain number of career stars have been earned; they’re used as a currency to buy new areas. This means that levels have to be replayed on occasion to fulfil missed objectives so that progression can be afforded, forcing players to tighten up their skills and approach past levels differently, taking into mind anything they have learnt since the original run-through. In amongst the more standard stages there are also boss races, wherein you have to perform the best tricks while beating competitors to the finish line, and diversions such as human cannonball sections.
The big addition in Joe Danger: Special Edition is the Lab, a collection of 25 developer test-style levels designed to test out every accumulated skill to the limit. This significant extra holds the game’s most finger-testing of moments, each set of levels culminating in an increasingly vicious, expanding obstacle course of split-second timing that requires all the player’s concentration to conquer. It’s brilliantly brutal and will have that back button left battered and bruised. Lab mode also uses the same star progression system as the career; there are essentially two full ‘story’ modes here.
Lob on top of that the Sandbox mode and Joe Danger: Special Edition is a very enticing prospect. Here levels can be created from scratch and sent to friends to test their skills on whatever horrors you can cook up. The creator is simple to use, letting players turn their hand to every element of the game, and it really doesn’t take long to set up a loop-de-loop-filled death race with multiple optional paths to pass through. There are a couple of issues, such as the limited number of obstacles allowed per level feeling a little restrictive, but there’s more than enough room to build some stuff to be proud of. Though there’s a taste of it in the friend uploads and leaderboards that end each stage in the career and Lab, a community aspect with a central hub of user uploaded levels and competitions would have been great, though, as would online multiplayer – only offline split-screen is available.
Joe Danger: Special Edition is a fine example of a game that becomes better and better every time it’s played, every time a new nuance or approach is learned. It’s finger-blisteringly addictive, and it might have older players swearing with fury – always at their own ineptitude — but it’s accessible and appropriate for all ages. All it’s really missing is more online functionality.
MLG Rating: 9/10
Platform: Xbox 360 Release Date: 14/12/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a digital copy of Joe Danger: Special Edition for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.