Though we were tickled by Nintendo’s revamping of Excitebike, the plain Jane trimmings and lack of local multiplayer meant the WiiWare offering was ultimately short-lived. Changing lanes, we had Trials HD, a thrilling, if not obnoxiously brutal, game that still has many folks hooked on its clever brand of physics-defying stunt cycling. Newcomer Hello Games now throws their hat into the motocross ring with Joe Danger, a sort of marriage of the two aforementioned games, and we’re filled with giddy pleasure by its simple playfulness.
Much like the dirt hog our hero rides, Joe Danger is a vehicle for goofiness. The developers make no bones about their intentions with the game, and if you enjoy a challenge wrapped in hilarity, stop reading now and go purchase Joe Danger off of the PlayStation Network.
If you’re still on the fence, however, allow me to enlighten you. There are three basic modes to choose from: Career, Multiplayer, and Sandbox. For $15 dollars, gamers are getting a lot of great content, and though there are a few additional things I wish were included, as well as one or two elements I could live without, Joe Danger is a premium downloadable title that really lives up to its asking price.
The Career mode will run you through a slew of levels, each with various objectives that must be met in order to earn stars. Stars are the game’s currency, which you’ll use to unlock additional tracks. It’s a great system that is forgiving enough to allow most players to push on through to the end, though you will eventually be forced to return to earlier stages in order to complete harder objectives you might have previously passed over.
Though you’ll experience most of the game’s objectives within the first few tours, the tracks throughout the entire game are engaging and fun. Some tracks may challenge you with completing up to eight different objectives, and there’s simply no way to hit them all in a single run. Collecting coins, stunt comboing through an entire level, and hitting all targets are among some of the various objectives you’ll come across. The difficulty ramps up steadily, and the game’s pacing is really well thought out.
The game also does an excellent job doling out the basics. For instance, some of the latter levels will task you with editing the actual track in order to make it to the finish line – a fun and easy way of acquainting players with the game’s track editor (Sandbox) – and a mole bearing an uncanny resemblance to Resetti from Animal Crossing will pop up out of the ground from time to time with various tidbits of advice.
In spite of its seemingly simple approach, Joe Danger is far from easy. The controls are, for the most part, really tight, making stunt execution pleasurably precise, but the feats before you are nothing short of death-defying. You may find yourself retrying a particular area of a track upward of 20 times before you either nail the segment or give up in frustration. Luckily, longer tracks have check points, so if you die or simply want to redo a portion of a track it’s as easy as pressing the Select button.
Though I enjoyed the control scheme, it’s not necessarily conducive to long gameplay sessions. You accelerate and brake/reverse with the triggers, and after prolonged play my hands started to feel the burn. I also had some issues with analog commands being read properly when attempting to change tracks. In Joe Danger, you can only change tracks when passing through a lane changer – pushing up on the stick to go left or down to go right – and there were ample occasions when I’d push in the desired direction, see the arrow change, and then return back to the neutral position. The track changers play a major role in completing various objectives, so it was, admittedly, a source of regular frustration later on in the game.
Those issues notwithstanding, the mechanics and track design are a delectable treat, making the game really hard to put down. The triggers on the controller don’t just allow you to control your direction on the track but in the air as well. Manipulating Joe’s position in the air in order to hit targets or land in hard-to-reach areas of a track is actually one of the main elements of the game; it’s crazy fun, and the ragdoll physics make each run through a track unique.
When you’re ready for a break from the single-player campaign or have a friend eager to join in on the action, split-screen, local multiplayer is also on the menu. There’s a decent selection of preset tracks, but you can also create or download new ones to enjoy as well. Multiplayer is focused strictly on racing, but creative, zany track design makes it great fun with a friend.
Lastly, players can create their own brand of mayhem in the Sandbox mode. Sadly, some of the elements I came across in the Career mode don’t seem to be available in the editor, but I still managed to whip up some fairly silly stuff with the many elements that are included. The editor is very newbie-friendly, laid out in a straightforward fashion. You can create tracks in separate pieces, which makes it easy to concentrate on specific contraptions and such. Unfortunately, there’s no online hub where players can go to exchange tracks, though there is an option to trade with friends.
When it comes to the game’s aesthetics, Joe Danger is a good looking downloadable product. There are various backgrounds to experience in Career (and utilize in Sandbox mode), all with a playful style and motif. The camera is set up to make the most of the gameplay, though there are track assets that will occasionally obscure the view. The physics look great and are an integral part of the track design, the framerate was never an issue, and loads were mostly quick and painless. There are also some cool nods to other gaming franchises, not least of all Excitebike.
The music and sound effects are fitting, but the variety is a bit lacking. Explosions sound great, while themes playing in the background come off as a bit generic. Overall, though, the presentation is impressive for a downloadable game put together by four guys.
I had some quibbles with Joe Danger, and I had some moments of frustration as well; mostly, though, I just had a good time with the game. The controls aren’t perfect, but the mechanics are wildly entertaining. I never felt like corners were cut or elements of the design glossed over. The developers obviously had a blast putting the production together, and that infectious vibe comes through in almost every aspect of the game. The $15 price tag initially gave me pause, but Joe Danger ended up being a terrific value I’ll likely be enjoying for a long time to come.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
The game has a really fun look, with a fair amount of variety. Shadows aren’t very attractive, however, and track elements occasionally obscure the view. 4.3 Control
For the most part, the controls are really tight and precise. Constant use of the triggers means your hands will tire after a while, and there were some issues with input recognition. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
I really enjoyed the sound effects, as they added to the gameplay in a fun way. The music was fitting but forgettable. 4.5 Play Value
If Joe Danger had online multiplayer and an online hub to exchange track creations, it would be darn near perfect. Even without these additions, the game’s still an incredible value. 4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.