Joe Danger Special Edition: review

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  • Format: XBLA
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Hello Games
  • Developer: Hello Games
  • Players: 1-2 (offline only)
  • Site: http://www.hellogames.org/

The modern gamer’s Pavlovian response to bright colours and relentless smiles is a sneer and a derogatory comment. Should such a young whipper-snapper pluck up the courage to give this game a go, however – which they really, really should – within five minutes they’ll be wearing a grin goofier than that of Joe himself.

As has been declared before, Critical Gamer’s official genre for Joe Danger games is ‘raplunter’ (racer/platformer/stunter). Though Joe is a stuntman, he acts more like the illegitimate offspring of Mario and Sonic. The racing element is clear; he’s on a motorbike after all, and a handful of levels feature other racers who must be beaten to the finish line. Many of the levels without opponents have optional time limits to beat. What will likely surprise those unfamiliar with this game is that it’s much closer to a traditional side-scrolling platformer than it is to a side-scrolling racer.

There is a jump button. You will use this a lot. Not only are there hazards on the track, there are extra long/high jumps to be made; sometimes in conjunction with – yes – your double-jump, or one of the many springs dotted throughout the game. Another element taken from old-school platformers is collectibles; yet another element pickups that, once activated, only stay in the level for a limited time.

That’s not to say that Joe’s stuntman status is ignored. Far from it. His boost bar, essential for certain jumps and all races, can only be used when full – and can only be replenished by performing stunts. You will therefore find yourself pulling wheelies on the ground and performing various tricks in the air, desperate to fill your boost bar in time for the next boost-demanding section. Some stars require you to constantly stunt your way through the level from start to finish.

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Ah, the stars. While getting from start to finish in each level is usually quite simple, meeting the requirements for all the stars – used as currency to buy access to most of the levels – is much less so. Some events have just one or two stars to win, while others have half a dozen or more. You can earn stars by picking up all collectibles, hitting every target in a level, beating the time limit, beating the time limit and picking up all the collectibles, finding hidden stars within the track, and more. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? It is – and this is why you’ll play this game again and again and again.

The controls are little more than forward, reverse, boost and duck (hold to crouch, release to jump), with mid-air steering possible. This game is old-school in all the ways it should be. With no convoluted plot, expensive cutscenes, gun-porn weapons roster or celebrity involvement, it relies on good ol’ gameplay. In fact, it relies heavily on trial and error; like Dark Souls, only much more fun and infinitely more fair. The first time you play a track, you’ll come across a hazard and/or relentlessly demanding course of duck/jump/boost/switch lanes that you’ll almost certainly fluff and crash (this is an instant death game). Certain events will see you fail time after time, yet you’ll carry on and love every second.

Why? Because you can see it’s doable, if only you can be good enough (and you can instantly restart at any time). Because you want to grab every star the game has to offer, even if you’re the only one who’ll ever know. Because you want to earn five stars in one run because it’ll look cool. And when you still haven’t managed to get the star for collecting all the coins and beating the time limit after the 53rd attempt, you’ll finally leave it for later because you can’t wait any longer to see the next beautifully designed level. Because you’re having so much damn fun.

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What does the Special Edition bring to the table? Well most significantly there’s a generous dollop of new levels, a big chunk of which are immediately accessible in ‘The Laboratory’ (which is also a new background for the excellent level editor). While brilliant fun, most are perhaps a little too easy for Joe Danger veterans. That final assault course in The Lab though… evil incarnate. In an unstoppably addictive way.

Of equal interest are the ‘Pro Medals’. A total of twenty five of the game’s events have one of these to hand out to those who can earn all of the level’s stars in one run. The more of these medals you earn the more you unlock, such as extra characters (including the ones available as paid DLC for the PSN release) and, teasingly, content in “future Hello Games titles” (that’ll be Joe Danger: The Movie then). Want a complete Joe Danger outfit for your avatar? You need only collect a complete set of D-A-N-G-E-R pickups a few times. Result! Loading times are also shorter, and mumblemumble anti-aliasing mumblemumble.

Unfortunately, the few improvements the game needs are, it seems, being held back for the sequel. Joe Danger is ideally suited to splitscreen play, but online modes would have been more than welcome. There’s still no LittleBigPlanet style community of user content, either; you can swap levels you’ve made with people on your friends list, and that’s it. At time of writing, it’s actually missing the PS3 version’s ability to save replays and upload them to YouTube.

If you have a 360 connected to the internet and you’ve never played Joe Danger, download this game immediately lest we lose all respect for you. Is it worth buying for those who own the PSN release? Tough call; if you played through once and never went back, then probably not. If you fell in love with it the way we did however, this is the perfect excuse to do it all over again – with Pro Medals and some brand new levels to fight with being the sort of bonuses that make grown men say “squeeee!”.

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Written by Luke K

He 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.

He doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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