It’s tough to dispute the notion that stuntmen have the most dangerous job in existence. Or, at the very least, one of them. Regardless of the exact details of each situation they attempt to conquer, severe injuries are always an unwelcome risk. As a result, these high-flying, risk-taking men and women are risking their lives each time they attempt to thrill us by conquering a seemingly impossible task. Not surprisingly, it takes a special character to be willing to attempt these types of tricks – someone who cannot live without the excitement of it all. That perfectly describes the playable and titular, on-wheels madman, found in Joe Danger: Special Edition.
The best way to describe Joe Danger, would be to refer to him as a fearless motorbike-riding thrill seeker. After suffering a terrible injury, he was forced to walk away from the profession that he lived for. One would have expected it to be the last time our high-flying friend would ever attempt a dangerous trick, but that isn’t the case. You see; there’s no way to keep a driven man such as Joe down. After taking some time off to heal, he’s decided to attempt a comeback, disregarding nearly devastating past events. Using our trusty Xbox 360 controllers as a gas pedal, brakes, handlebars and other necessary bike parts, it’s our job to help him achieve that glory-filled goal.
What you’ll find upon booting this fifteen-dollar downloadable title up, is an experience that mixes side-view driving with goal-based challenges and high-flying tricks. Think of it as a mixture between the classic Nintendo game, Excitebike, and the free XBLA game, Doritos Crash Course. Most of the time, you’ll be driving from left to right, across a flat track which has been meticulously covered with ramps, hurdles, boxes, springs and boost pads. Getting to the finish line is key and sometimes, navigation is the main task at hand. Other times, coming in first at the end of a race, or solving a puzzle will be required. Although each stage has its own specific star goals, they’re generally very similar, falling into one of several different categories: time, score, combo, collectibles, letters, hidden stars or coins. Examples include beating a track’s par time, finding each letter in the surname Danger, or collecting every one of a stage’s 100 purple stars.
The nice thing about this game is that goals can be completed in more than one run. It’s a requirement, actually. A lot of the included tracks feature multiple lanes. For example, there’s usually one in the foreground, one in the middle and one in the background. Using switch pads that resemble something from a kids’ Hot Wheels toy set, players can occasionally move from one lane to the next. Sometimes it’s mandatory, with crashes resulting if you fail to move one way or the next. However, there are other times where it’s a choice. You’ll find that one type of collectible will be located in one lane at a given time, while another type is placed in another one’s route. Deftly moving throughout these lanes will help you achieve ultimate success. As a result, successive attempts should focus on choosing different routes, in order to pick-up what you missed the first time.
One star which will require the most tries to get, especially later on in the game, is the 100% combo star. It tasks armchair madmen with an attempt at stringing a combo together from a track’s starting line, to its checkered finish line. This is often tougher to do than it sounds. Tricks can be pulled off using various combinations of shoulder button presses, but they can be dangerous to string together. Flips are also easy to pull off, but landing improperly can completely destroy your combo line, forcing a complete restart. The easiest way to string together a lengthy combo, is by keeping lengthy wheelies going, with minimal flips completed off of approached ramps. Boosting can help and hinder your attempt, so use it wisely. Also keep in mind that your boost meter will only fill up again, once you’ve completed a lengthy trick or three.
There are two main single player modes present within this release – the expected and aforementioned career mode, alongside a brand new Lab trials campaign – both of which use the star goals system for progression. Completing a track is pretty straightforward, involving movement from one point to another, but they key is to unlock as many stars as possible. Sometimes, the next challenge will unlock after that basic act of completion, though not all will. Quite a few of the stages found within each mode, will require you to spend banked stars, making it important to try to get as many as possible along the way. Prices go up as you make it further and further into the experience.
Let’s take a second to talk about the career mode itself, which tends to act as the game’s core story mode. Then again, this game is devoid of story elements, meaning that the road to redemption premise is what drives you from point A to point B. Each new set of its featured tracks, becomes more and more elaborate, with a difficulty level that can become pretty challenging. Despite this, Joe Danger: Special Edition is fair. The game won’t beat you with problematic controls of faulty mechanics. Every time you fail, it’ll be as a result of doing something wrong. Attempting to perfect your attempt (mainly in later levels which will require some thought and quick reflexes,) becomes addictive and fun in and of itself.
New to this second release of Joe Danger (which was originally a timed PSN exclusive,) is the Lab. Its five ‘tours’ take different mechanics and develop challenge stages around them. In many ways, this mode plays a lot like the career mode does. Though, there are differences, such as the chance to manipulate ramps and other items in certain environments. This is a challenging and fun secondary campaign, which was originally developed as a way for the development team at Hello Games to test their created mechanics. The decision to include it was a smart one, as the new challenges are not only fun, but uniquely innovative as well.
Combined, those two modes offer quite a bit of game time. Additional length is created by the amount of times some of the later sections will take to perfect. The fact that multiple runs are required to perfect some stages, also adds more time to the experience. However, it’s also contributed to by two additional modes – a split-screen multiplayer mode for two friends to tackle together, as well as a track creation tool. The latter is a polished and straight-forward way to let fans build their own death-defying stunts, without the need for an in-depth education. Players simply choose, alter and drop the hazards, ramps and environmental items that they want, onto a blank canvas. Created tracks can then be sent to friends.
Opting to go with an extremely colourful look, the team at Hello Games has delivered a stylized and exaggerated game, which has a style all of its own. Several different environments are showcased, with each one having its own unique style, colour scheme and accompanying details. The downside here is that, despite this visual variety, there isn’t much of a noticeable difference in the way that all of the locations play. Lacking event type variety is also a minor issue in the game’s single player modes. However, it’s not a huge drawback considering how fun and comedic Joe Danger‘s core aspects are. This experience exudes character and comedy, delivering something which takes a risky extreme sport and turns it into a game that resembles a quirky cartoon. That resemblance is exemplified by this version’s (new) unlockable costumes, which include a green chicken suit and a blue monkey.
In keeping with the caricature style of its accompanying visuals, the included audio can be easily described using the term, ‘quirky.’ The most prevalent sounds you’ll hear are sound effects relating to Joe’s motorcycle, as well as effects resulting from tricks and crashes. Upbeat and original music is also present. Despite not being memorable by any means, it does the job and doesn’t take anything away from the experience. Though I did find that the soundtrack’s overly-prevalent whoops, hollers and name-shouting, ended up becoming a bit grating after a while.
This was admittedly my first time playing Joe Danger in any shape or form. Going in, I had high expectations, after hearing great things about its PlayStation Network debut. Thankfully, Joe Danger: Special Edition lived up to those lofty hopes. It’s a very well-made, polished and addictive game, with a lot of content available for an affordable price tag. What’s great is that it provides accessible gameplay with a difficulty level that introduces itself gradually. Fans of challenge-based games such as Trials HD or the aforementioned title, Doritos Crash Course, should certainly check this one out. Even those who are new to this sub-genre, should give this game a try. It’s an excellent and top-notch, stunt-based release.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game that we received for review purposes.