Joe Danger: hands – on with Hello Games

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There’s a depressingly good chance that you, dear reader, have never heard of Joe Danger or Hello Games. You should have though; you really should. And I’m here to tell you why.

Grant Duncan (former Climax and Sumo Digital employee, now 25% of Hello Games) had the dubious honour of being my first interview victim at the Eurogamer Expo, and he also took the time to show me through his company’s first game, Joe Danger. Now only the most preposterous of gaming snobs would instantly turn their noses up at an indie game; but when that indie game comes from people who have worked on the Burnout series, Black, Virtua Tennis 3 and a bunch of other big name games, you really should be sitting up and paying attention.

Who or what is Joe Danger? The short version: bloody brilliant fun. The long version:

Joe Danger is “the world’s most determined stuntman” – on a motorbike. What this means for us is a wide range of side scrolling race tracks of varying lengths, littered with things to jump over, crouch under, leap through, and crash into. The easiest way to get excited about this game is to be lucky enough to play it. I guarantee you will be hooked within ninety seconds of playing it.

The most obvious influence here, for modern gamers at least, is probably the Excitebike games. The title that Grant repeatedly uses as a point of reference however, is Kickstart on the Spectrum. Nonetheless, the biggest influence on Joe Danger is not a video game at all.

The biggest influence is playing with toys.

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The best example is the infamous Evel Knievel toy of yesteryear. Evel Knievel was of course a world famous motorcycle stuntman, and when the distressingly fast (for parents) motorcycle toy was released, children across the globe appropriated tables, chairs, books, toys, and small animals for makeshift stunt courses. Hideously unstable ramps and obstacles prepared, the bike would be sent to shoot off to glory. Or, more often than not, to veer off to the left and traumatise the cat, before smashing into something made of glass the child’s parents had forgotten they had owned. Anyway, the point is, children put their imaginations to use to create their ideal stunt courses.

Fast forward to the space year 2009. Joe Danger allows children (and adults) to do essentially the same thing, but with infinitely more power and flexibility. The game also offers a level editor you see which, like the LittleBigPlanet games, is the exact level editor the developers used to make the preloaded levels. Though I didn’t use the editor myself, Grant showcased it several times. In one instance he dumped a few dozen cars on the ground within seconds, dropped a suitably meaty ramp in front of them, and made the jump. Making your own levels looks to be quick, easy and – most importantly – fun. You’ll also be able to swap levels with other people – though whether this will be with Joe Danger fans in general, or only amongst your friends, has not yet been decided. This is mainly due to the fact that even the game’s format(s) is still up in the air (I played it on a PC, using an Xbox 360 controller, with a PSN release still being discussed as a possibility). A firm decision on formats should hopefully be made in the next few weeks.

In an example of ‘why hasn’t somebody already done that?’ thinking, Hello Games encourage use of the level editor in single player races. ‘Coin Dash’ races are all about getting from start to finish, performing stunts, and collecting coins. The ‘Puzzle’ levels however, require you to use the game’s editor along the way. That wall too high? Call up the editor (which freezes the action), drop the right ramp in the right place, then unfreeze the game and carry on. Can’t jump those spikes? Drop something to land on.

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There’s so much I haven’t even touched on. The scores and combos, which will clearly lead to obsessive leaderboard chasing; the split screen two player mode (which I frustratingly never had time to try); the Super Mario influence in both art and gameplay; the forward flips, backflips, bunny hops, wheelies; lane changing that sees you move in and out of the screen to avoid obstacles.

“Er…did I just see ‘I made a stunt that looks like a cock’ in the menu?” I asked, questioning my sanity.

“Yes, well spotted.” beamed Grant. “I know somebody’s going to make a stunt that looks like a cock as soon as the game’s released. I can’t wait to see how they do it.”

Joe Danger has been made by fun loving realists. You need this game.

Visit Joe Danger’s home, where you can check out the developer blog and even jump into a forum, at www.hellogames.org

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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