It’s no secret that the Gamervision office was swept up in Trials HD fever last year. There was just something special about the stunt-fueled motorbike time trial game that kept us coming back for more, and many of us continued to play long into the winter gaming season. Despite the wealth of amazing retail titles in 2009, nothing quite captured the ease, addictiveness, and accessibility of Trials HD. Sadly, anyone who was strictly a PlayStation 3 owner never got the chance to enjoy what so many others did on a nightly basis. Until now. Combining a unique cartoon style with gameplay eerily reminiscent of Trials HD and Excitebike, Hello Games’ Joe Danger delivers an experience that is not to be missed, and immediately sets the bar for quality for the rest of this year’s downloadable games.
Joe Danger is the story of stuntman Joe Danger, a once triumphant hero on the comeback trail after a terrible accident left him sidelined thanks to an extremely risky jump. It’s up to you to guide Joe back into the spotlight through a series of increasingly difficult challenges and races. That’s about as deep as the story goes in this game, and though it’s certainly barebones at best, at least there’s some semblance of a plot carrying you through the game’s many tasks. Getting Joe back to the top is no insignificant challenge, but Hello Games instituted an easy to grasp control scheme, which makes playing the game a breeze no matter what your skill level. Acceleration and deceleration/reversing is handled by the lower two shoulder buttons, while the pressing the top buttons in any combination will allow Joe to perform some impressive tricks like the can-can and the superman in midair. You can also bunny-hop by hitting square, boost by hitting “x,” and punch other drivers during the race portions by hitting circle. Joe will also be able to flip, spin, and do wheelies depending on which direction you flick the right analog stick. The simple controls make completing courses a cinch, though how well you perform on a given track can make all the difference.
Not only will you have to perform stunts for a high score while racing a track, but you’ll also have at times up to eight different tasks to complete while making your run. Nearly every course has mini-stars for you to collect, and you’ll have to grab them all in one run to earn credit. It’s not that tough a challenge in the early going, but the farther you make it, the more difficult it becomes to grab each and every last little blue star. The letters in the word “danger” will also be scattered throughout the level, occasionally in hard to reach places that require a bit of ingenuity to capture. Joe Danger’s stunt scoring system can be built up with a combo meter, and on a majority of the tracks you’ll have to maintain a combo for the duration of a course. It’s not nearly as effortless as it sounds, but it’s easily one of the more enjoyable challenges the game provides. There will even be levels where you’ll have to enter the level editor to rearrange the ramps and obstacles in your path to ensure you’re able to complete the level with a high score. These are but a few of the varied challenges you’ll face, and it’s easy to see there is a pretty decent amount of variation in how you’ll have to complete each track. You’ll also have to watch out for hazards like spike traps, shark tanks, explosives, and more, and they’ll often stymie you from getting that perfect run on a level. It’s not frustrating to the point that you’ll break your controller, but succumbing to any of the game’s pitfalls when you’re cruising on a 40x combo can cause your teeth to clench.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much variation in the tracks. Other than changing up which obstacles are used, and where they’re placed, many of the game’s levels look very similar. Now that’s not to say the game’s presentation is bland. It’s quite the contrary, in fact. The vivid color scheme pops off the screen, and Joe himself looks as if he’s just walked off the lot of the latest Pixar or Dreamworks animated movie. Though you’ll often be more concerned with watching where you’re going to land than you will be with watching Joe’s trick animations, the fluidity with which he transitions from stunt to stunt is impressive. There are few things more satisfying than flying off a huge ramp, hitting three or four different stunts while back-flipping, and landing on the ground in a wheelie, and Joe makes it all look so effortless. The music isn’t anything spectacular, but the main theme is pretty catchy, and I often found myself whistling it even when I wasn’t playing the game. There’s also a smidgen of multiplayer in the game. You can race with a friend split-screen on any of the game’s maps, or ones you’ve created on your own. Unfortunately, the level creation system here, while fun to mess around with, succumbs to the same issue that the level creator in Trials HD did: You’re only able to share levels with friends. I’d love to see what the game’s sure-to-be-rabid fanbase comes up with, but constraints like this make it nearly impossible. It’s a shame, but the single-player campaign is so enjoyable that this was hardly ever a distraction for me. You will be able to see the scores your friends achieve on any given level, adding a level of competition to the solo campaign, and increasing the replayability of levels you previously dominated.
Joe Danger is everything I hoped it was. The game’s incredibly fun, highly addictive, and offers a decent amount of replay value to those who wish to complete every last challenge, and stay number one amongst their friends on the leaderboards. Hello Games has done a phenomenal job crafting a game that combines some of the best elements of time-trial racing and platforming into one unique package. Joe Danger makes a strong case for the most enjoyable downloadable game of the year so far, and it’s going to be a tall task for any other game to usurp this title from the throne. Now get out there, and return this daring driver to prominence like he deserves.