Evil Knievel was a hero of mine back in the early eighties. I still have memories of watching his stunts at Christmas time and I owned more than a few of his toys. As a 7 year old boy there was no purer definition of the man I wanted to grow up to be. Sadly, that never turned out to be the case, instead, I spend my days in a relatively safer office job but catch myself staring out of the window yearning for those days of innocence with absolutely no regard for the consequences of doing something wondrously stupid.
I think someone at Hello Games must have caught themselves looking out into the distance reliving their own childhood dreams of jumping the Grand Canyon in a Jet Powered Motorbike when they came across the idea for Joe Danger, which was released on the PSN in 2010. December 14th sees the chance for fans on the XBLA to sample some flaming hoop action with the updated Joe Danger: Special Edition (Joe Danger: SE).
She Handles Like a Dream - Joe Danger: SE handles superbly and offers the holy grail of a relatively simple idea and control system that deepens the more you progress in the game. The best way to describe what you are getting with this game is to imagine the love child of a particularly kinky, ménage au trois between Trials HD, SSX Tricky and, everyone’s favourite plumber, Mario. You will have the challenge and the addictive ‘one more go’ feeling of trials, the intuitive control and trick system of SSX and the platforming, star grabbing buzz of Mario. It’s a base mechanic, of unfolding depth, that many games boast of providing but few generally provide. This is one of those rare diamonds.
Gameplay, Gameplay, Gameplay - There are 2 main modes in Joe Danger: SE. The Campaign and the, all new for Xbox 360, Lab mode. The campaign mode brings us an aging Joe who is returning from, an all too common, serious injury. Joe will start the level with a series of jumps, tricks and obstacles in his isometric path and be asked to complete a series of challenges. One level may ask you to collect letters to spell ‘DANGER’, hit every designated landing mat and keep doing tricks for the whole level, while the next course may ask you for 3 or 4 completely different objectives. Complete the level while delivering one of these challenges and you will be rewarded with a trophy, which are used to unlock later levels. In most of the levels completing every challenge, in the same run, will award you with an additional SE token which, it is promised, will offer rewards in later Hello Games titles and is the only way to consider a level truly beaten. You may have found it easy to pull that 720 Superman but the real challenge is to chain the stunt while collecting that out of reach coin and landing in the correct spot, all at the same time. Lab mode is a new mode that gives this version its Special Edition Moniker. It plays in very similar fashion but is slightly more diluted than the large campaign mode and the courses are set up to be a much greater spectacle. Although the differences between the two are minimal, both provide an addictive, intuitive and highly rewarding experience.
You Learn Something New Every Day - In the first few minutes of playing Joe Danger: SE I had decided that I was playing a fun but forgettable arcade attempt to bring Trials HD to a more casual audience. A few more minutes and I was starting to play about with the excellent trick system and this trend continued until a few hours later I was back flipping through spikes while delicately balancing the trajectory of my bike, using boosts and double jumps, to get through unscathed. Joe Danger drip feeds the hidden complexity of the game. This means that by the time you get to the closing challenges the difficulty may not quite reach the primal scream-inducing spikes of Trials but the challenge is right on the edge of the fun becoming too difficult. You’ll want to punch yourself straight in the face after a basic mistake but not as much as you’ll want to hit start and begin the level again.
Changing Lanes - The graphics are not a high point of the game by anyone’s standards. They are, however, friendly, bright and clearly telegraph what you are required to do even when moving at high speed. The game is presented in 2.5d view in which everything looks 3d but you can only ever move on the 3rd axis at certain lane change points. It keeps the game looking fresh and fully fleshed out while never infringing on the game play by over complicating things.
LANDED A FEW BUSES SHORT
I’m So Lonely - As I was playing through the single player portion of the game the thought kept coming to me that this would be a great game to play against friends. It was a real disappointment, then, that on starting the multiplayer it became obvious that the experience was limited to an on the couch split-screen mode. There was an opportunity here to provide a platform for a couple of online friends to get together and have some real fun trying to best each other in races, stunt runs or just about anyway you could imagine, but it’s been curiously omitted. The fact that the game is available as a local multiplayer suggests that Hello Games are aware of the potential to be unlocked and that makes it all the more disappointing for it not to be included. In the same vein, there is a nifty little level editor included but the only option to share your creations is with people on your friend list. It’s just another small example of a good idea falling just short of being superb.
S-S-S-SO ANNOYING! - The sound effects in Joe Danger: SE are more than acceptable. They will help to raise a smile when Joe falls into one of the many potential pitfalls in a level. The music and in-game announcer, however, are an entirely different matter. The music is a hark back to the 8-bit era where the same 8 bars of the same tune is repeated on an endless loop. I can’t be sure if this was deliberate attempt at nostalgia on the part of the developers, but I found it infuriating. The announcer deserves special attention for one reason only. At the start of each and every level he will shout ‘J-J-J-Joe Daaanger!!’ in only the way that an overexcited sports announcer can. This would be bearable if it were not for the fact that, later in the game, you can find yourself restarting every 10 or 15 seconds in an effort to perfect a certain stage. ‘J-J-Joe Daaanger’ followed by a few seconds of the same tune. It’s enough to leave Bob Marley reaching for the valium bottle. On the plus side, the reason that you hear this constant repetition is because there are no load screens to wait through once you do have to re-start.
Joe Danger: Special Edition is an excellent title. It’s a simple idea with so many brilliant sub-plots revolving round its core that nearly anyone will have fun. It all feels relative, with nothing added just to drag out the time spent to completion. It’s a title that only shows it’s real quality after you’ve spent a couple of hours with it but delivers so much fun from the very beginning that time will pass almost instantly. It’s a title that you can pick up, have a few minutes of unadulterated fun, then get on with your day or keep satisfying your compulsion to play for hours on end. It’s a title that has amalgamated so many good ideas from gaming history and delivered them in a cohesive, imaginative, competitive, addictive and, above all, fun experience. The omission of online multiplayer is a disappointment but if anyone was to ask me the best way to spend 1200 Microsoft Spacebucks this Christmas, then my answer would be two words: J-J-J-Joe Daaanger!
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