When I get together with some of my mates we tend to drink some beers. Maybe play some Rockband or take in a movie. When Sean, Grant, Ryan and David – the entire team of Hello Games – got together, they decided what the world really needed was a fantastically fun game that served no greater purpose than to amuse and entertain – I’ll wager some beers were also consumed during this postulation.
With that pure notion in mind they have spent the past two years slaving away over Joe Danger. Leaving behind well paid jobs at some of the UK’s top development companies to create a start-up developer in one of the most unpredictable financial markets of the past 30 years. Luckily for them their game is an absolute belter.
Hello Games seem to of drawn influences from titles current and past that there are so many obvious titles that could be mentioned here. Titles like Trials 2 and Trials HD spring instantly to mind. As does Nintendo’s Excite Bike. All of these comparisons are fair and justified but there are so many more genre types bursting forth from this game.
You take control of Joe Danger. A fearless stun performer, who was recently injured, Joe is told he will never walk again. He proves the doctors all wrong by not only walking but getting back on his motorcycle. And that is where the story pretty much ends – you just don’t need it any more. You’ve got the character setup for Joe and the rest is pure adrenaline fuelled fun. That’s not too say you won’t get attached to Joe after you watch him smash his bones for the 300th time.
Joe Danger is a combo-fuelled racer at heart. Think the techni-coloured love-child of Sonic 2 and Tony Hawk Pro Skater and you’re on your way to understand some of the influences under the hood. The idea of each level is to travel from left to right, jumping, tricking, boosting and flipping your way towards a finish line. This might sound pretty simple and in all honest it is. The game for the most part is super simple, just race from A to B taking in the obstacles as you zoom along. If you just do that you will not only miss the point of Joe Danger, but soon run out of the gold stars needed to enter future events from the stack of 50 levels on offer.
Joe is such a well articulated character, reaching levels of Sack Boy facial expressions at times – and all this from the back of his motorbike! Controlling Joe over the varying courses is incredibly simple to pick up and devilishly addictive to master. Simply hitting R2 will send Joe zooming on his way towards hospital food. Using the left stick you adjust Joe’s weight on his bike making him perform Wheelies, Endos, flips etc with great ease. To mix it up you can use the combo trick system by tapping or holding the L1 and R1 buttons in different combinations. This makes Joe perform some pretty crazy stunts and help rack up that score.
Don’t worry though if you’re not a score hound. Instead you can take pleasure on locating the myriad of different collectables on each level. Or from performing a level with a 100% combo rating (that’s never letting your multiplier drop once in the whole level). If those still don’t grab you there are speed runs, hidden stars and four way races with a large dollop of Road Rash thrown in. There really are a load of classic games all bursting to get out of Joe Danger.
Unlike most games that mix several genre ideas Hello Games have managed to reign in their desires, eliminate what must have been very tempting feature creep and produce a tightly balanced and well made title.
The graphics are on par with full retail titles like Little Big Planet and Modnation Racers. In fact I’d say these beat Modnation Racers. The speed and fluidity with which the levels whistle past is a pleasure to see. The in-game assets are all crisp, colourful and very well defined and the animations are just gorgeous. In short this is an incredible looking downloadable title that nails its style right out of the gate.
Audio wise the game just oozes charm and quality. The cheesy “Joe Daaaangeeeer!” voice over at the start of the game is exactly what you want to hear. The spot effects are all beautifully engineered and add to the zany nature of the whole affair. The incidental music on the title screen has been playing over and over in my head ever since I first started the game up – it’s like someone re-wrote the Paperboy music for the 90’s.
And I think it is fair to say that this game takes a lot of the influences that made great arcade titles back in the 90’s and channels them into a package that is acceptable to gamers in 2010. The Sonic sense of speed & ring collecting, the Mario hidden items. Then add large doses of Excite Bike and Tony Hawk blended with older classics such as Wheelie and Kickstart 2 all culminate in a very fun game.
Joe Danger is that rare breed of game that is ideal for a quick ten minute blast through whilst you wait for your pizza to be delivered. It is also just as at home being that game you sink countless hours into trying to locate every collectable or win gold in each event. Add to that compulsive “just one more go” feeling the knowledge that at the end of every event your friends times and score are displayed just to taunt you in to trying to be king of the leaderboards.
As an almost over the top extra the game also comes with a fully featured level editor. Simply choose one of the available save slots and drive Joe along the course picked from several in-game environments. Press triangle to bring up the editor menu and then select your portion of the track you want to place down. I managed to build a pretty rudimentary course with two loop-the-loops, barrels, jumps, a shark pool and about forty stars to collect in roughly five minutes.
You can then share these creations with your friends and they can attempt to set the records on your created courses. With a little time and effort you could create some truly amazing courses to share with friends. Unfortunately you can only play levels that your friends send to you as there is no central “pool” like there is in titles like Little Big Planet or Modnation Racers.
Whilst we are talking of disappointments let us get some negatives out of the way. The multiplayer in Joe Danger was a real missed opportunity. There is no online component for multiplayer. Instead they focus on the traditional split screen multiplayer and the general “pass the pad” gaming of the 90’s. Where as this was an absolute boon in the 90’s when we were all playing Mario Kart things have moved on and it would have been nice to of also had an online multiplayer too. That said the multiplayer that is there is good fun with speed runs and challenges being levelled at both players.
All in all Joe Danger is an absolute joy to play. It’s fast, quirky and ever so playable. For under £10 on the Playstation Store this is an absolute steal. The game, even without online multiplayer, will keep you coming back. Maybe not in a few months time, but for now, this is an essential download purchase.
For a downloadable title this boasts some pretty spectacular graphics. Not in the Uncharted 2 show stopper sense, but more in the gorgeous and colourful art style and fantastic animations. It also moves at a fair clip and stays lovely and smooth throughout the action.
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Almost pitch perfect race, collect and chase gameplay is hampered slightly by the nature of the genre & the physics based gameplay. Trial and error can get frustrating and the game can sometimes feel a little unfair but is always great fun.
The themes are wonderfully influenced by the games that inspired Joe Danger. The Paperboy’esque title tune is particularly appreciated. The production values are higher than a lot of full retail titles for sure.
If Joe Danger has a weak spot it’s the fact that the game may fall from your regular play list after a month or two. The friend challenges and ability to swap created tracks adds some longevity but not being able to download from a pool of courses was a missed opportunity.
Joe Danger is an absolute delight. Fast, colourful, playable and fun it delivers on every front. That this was produced by a small four person team should be a swift kick in the head for some of those bloated development studios out there. Sure it has frustrations and might loose it’s shine after a few months but for under £10 it’s an absolute essential.