Joe had a great future ahead of him. He was every young boy’s idol, with his fearless and daring jumps on his trusted motorcycle. One unfortunate crash later, and his bones were reduced to paste. Back to square one for Joe. It’s here that Joe Danger takes off, with his return to the big stage, his reinstatement as the greatest stuntman that ever lived. And that’s pretty much where the storyline ends. The rest is for the player to fill in.
“There’s an inherent silliness to the experience, which sometimes throws in the unexpected.”On this journey, Joe has to compete in various stunt competitions taking place in some unknown desert locale. They range from straight-forward races against his arch-nemesis, Team Nasty, to collecting stars or coins or some other objects that are scattered throughout the levels. Of course, being a stuntman, Joe can do various tricks while he’s in the air, replenishing his turbo bar, which allows him to move faster through the track. It’s reminiscent of Trials, but a bit easier and without the same focus on solving puzzles at a high-speed. It’s deceptively simple, yet underneath the surface it reveals itself as somewhat difficult.
Joe is a whimsical little character. He’s quite small, looks a bit like Carl from Up, and has a cartoonishly big head. And that whimsical tone shines through the whole game. There’s an inherent silliness to the experience, which sometimes throws in the unexpected, like when Joe has to perform as a human bowling bowl. Not exactly a novel idea, but it comes out of nowhere and provides some needed variety. Especially in a time gripped by grim-dark, it’s refreshing to see something a bit more light-hearted.
This is the PC port of the 2010 PSN title, and Hello Games have done a fine job with it. I did experience some lower framerates during levels, which seemed to strike randomly, but it mostly runs smoothly and is bug-free. Of course, these are things that should be in place for a PC port. It’d be unacceptable to have a PC port that wasn’t optimized for PCs, even though the platform is notoriously difficult to optimize for, due to the wide variety of hardware available. While it plays best with a controller, the PC controls are surprisingly good, and it’s definitely playable with a keyboard. I did experience some cases of unresponsiveness, where it seemed like it reacted rather slowly to my input.
“Some levels become far more frustrating than they ought to have been, as there are too few checkpoints along your route.”It’s good to see that Hello Games have realized that the main appeal of the game is not a complex plot of intrigue and power, but simply the ability to fly through the air while riding a motorcycle and smash into a pool full of sharks. It’s all about fun – as superficial as the term may be. At the same time, though, it lacks some narrative context. After the initial intro, there’s just a ton of tracks to play and replay. For the completionist, there’s plenty of content to dig into, but there isn’t all that much variety to it. Once I’d reached about 25-30% completition in the campaign, I felt like I’d had my fill, like I’d experienced everything the game had to offer.
Although the game can be quite difficult at times, it manages to do so without becoming frustrating. It makes failure fun, even when it’s something completely mundane, like forgetting to duck when driving through a hurdle. It fits in well with the comical tone of the game, but is also helped by the fact that it’s easy to get back into the game once you have failed. With the press of a button, you respawn at the closest checkpoint, however, the prevalence of these checkpoints varies quite a lot. Some levels become far more frustrating than they ought to have been, as there are too few checkpoints along your route.
“Nonetheless it does become monotonous after a while.”For the most part, replaying a level is not a chore as it can be in other similar games, because each level usually has a wide variety of goals that the player can pick-and-choose from. Because of this, it becomes more appealing to return to a level, because the way you play it changes, even if it’s just a slight change. Getting to the finish line in the quickest time possible requires you to know the level inside out to figure out the fastest route, whereas collecting hidden stars takes on a more puzzle-like character. The player can thus choose whatever playstyle they desire, rather than being locked in a particular style. Nonetheless it does become monotonous after a while.
One reason is that the setting never changes. Every level takes place in the same desert environment, occasionally switching over to a stadium for the big events. This probably comes down to budgetary constraints, but Hello Games could have gradually changed the environment as Joe’s return to the top progressed. This would also have solved the problem with narrative, as you wouldn’t even have to wrap a simple story around the game. You could just show it through environmental changes.
Another reason is that collecting things just isn’t all that much fun, and it’s not really what the game is about. Unless you’re an extremely good rider, you will at several points have to stop your motorcycle, and go backwards if you want to get all the stars on this particular playthrough. Of course, it’s not entirely necessary to complete the level, but to unlock levels later on, you may have to drudge through moments like these. This is further compounded by the issue of lane changing, as it can only be done in a lane changer, which you come across with varying frequency. Most of the time you’ll be able to reverse backwards and find another changer in case you changed into the wrong lane, and didn’t collect all the stars you needed, but at other times you must restart at an earlier checkpoint because there are obstacles in the way.
It also has a competitive multiplayer aspect, which seems ideal for this genre, and would certainly extend the longevity of the game so the fun could continue even after the campaign had started feeling monotonous. But for whatever reason, Hello Games have decided to only have split-screen co-op multiplayer. It’s a remnant from the PSN edition, which was also criticized for its online absence. In a digital age where pretty much everyone is online, this is an odd decision, particularly when taking into account that it is on Steam, which would make its implementation far easier.
Joe Danger is a game best enjoyed in short 10-15 minute bursts. If played for longer, it starts to open in the seams, and the monotonous nature of the game is revealed. At its core, Joe Danger has intensely enjoyable gameplay, that can sometimes be held back by superfluous elements. If Hello Games had focused solely on crazy stunts, it could’ve found a stronger identity.