Joe Danger has one goal that the entire game is designed around. That goal is fun. From the single-player, to the level creation to the multiplayer, every aspect of the game is designed around making sure that nothing gets between you and having fun. Imagine a game like that. OK, that isn't that hard, but I don't bring up Mario Galaxy simply to make a joke. The same idea that gaming should just be fun that is in the Galaxy games permeates throughout Joe Danger.
However, ideals and good intentions don't make good games. If they did we'd have a lot more quality games out there. What it comes down to is whether this game, which looks like an Excitebike knock-off, can really be as much fun as it obviously wants to be.
I bet you can guess where the answer is. It's after the jump.
Joe Danger (PlayStation 3)
Developer: Hello Games
Publisher: Hello Games
Released: June 8, 2010
The premise behind Joe Danger is pretty simple. Take a little bit of Trials HD and mix it with a little bit of Excitebike and you've got a physics-based sidescrolling stunt racer with a quirky sense of humor, and more importantly, fun. Yes, Joe Danger is pretty much nothing but balls out fun, and it's clear that that is all the four guys at Hello Games wanted it to be. It offers up gameplay for almost any gamer out there, no matter what genre of gaming you like. That might be a bit of hyperbole, but what isn't is that from the very basis of its control scheme and design the game screams that it doesn't want to get in the way of you having fun and it succeeds wonderfully at it.
Speaking of the basis, what a wonderful place to start. As stated before, Joe Danger plays a lot like Excitebike. You'll start at the beginning of a course and head straight on forward until you reach the end. Of course the courses are jam packed full of ramps, springs, traps and all sorts of crazy things that let you pull of amazing stunts and massive jumps thanks to the game's loose, but fun physics. The tracks also are incredibly well put together, with each one pulling out some new feat or tactic that you wouldn't have thought of before (and in turn inspiring you to try crazy stuff out in the creation mode). But pulling off stunts and racing from one end to the other in some sort of time frame isn't all this game is about, in fact it is probably one of the smallest parts of the game.
First, it's important to mention how simple the control scheme is. You hold down R2 to go forward and L2 to go back. You're stuck in the lane you started in unless the course tosses a lane changer at you, in which case you need to switch the lane manually and sometimes quickly, and to pull off stunts you simply use the d-pad to do back flips or front flips with R1 and L1 to pull of slightly more complicated tricks.
And so we come to the first access point of fun: the game doesn't actually care what you do on a course. There are absolutely no requirements for finishing a course, though there are some for advancing forward in the game. "But, Matt," you might say, "The point of a stunt bike game is to get high scores and stuff." To which I would most likely respond, "What? I'm sorry, I can't hear you over all the fun I'm having." The point is that you can just do it for fun. There's no overwhelming pressure to hit a high score or force yourself to do some insane amount of tricks. You can race a course however you want to.
This stems from how the game advances and the multiple challenges that each course has. In order to move on to new courses you have to spend stars. Stars are collected by completing certain accomplishments on a track. There are, of course, the obligatory time limit and stunt goals, but there are also goals that have you collect coins throughout the course in a certain amount of time, others task you with finding hidden stars, others have you collect a plethora of smaller stars throughout the course and there are still more tasks. Most of the courses have at least two of these types of challenges on them and what is truly impressive is how the different challenges change how you play the course. The coin collection is like a high speed racer, the hidden stars make the course into an area to explore and the mini-stars make the game more like a platformer. There are even levels that turn the game into a puzzle where you have to use the track editing feature to figure out the best set-up in order to finish a course. On top of this add basic racing levels at the end of each section (the game is divided up by how far along you are in your comeback career). It is, in short, some absolutely brilliant and varied game design.
I have gotten a bit ahead of myself, however. The basics still need to be covered, and while the simplified stunt controls add plenty to the game, it's the ease with which you can reset or try a course again that really shows how well Hello Games cut through the crap and delivered you non-stop fun. I know it sounds a little dumb to be talking about such a small feature, but how many times have you played a game of any sort where messing up meant you had to go back out to a menu or sit through some random loading screen over and over. Joe Danger simply makes you press select whenever you want to start over and you're taken instantly back to the last check point on the course.
And you will be starting over. Just because the game has checkpoints doesn't mean it's easy. In fact, one of my few complaints with the game is that some of the tracks near the end start to get Battletoadian in their necessity for memorization in order to complete them. It never gets too bad though, and, as the best of games always do, you know it's possible to beat the level. Since I'm complaining in this paragraph, however, I'll point out that the music could use a few more tracks. By the end of the game I was getting a little tired of the repeated course music. However, it was hard to care that much because I could barely hear it over all the fun I was having.
You might think that this review is getting pretty long for a PSN game, but Joe Danger has your $14.99 worth in it and then some. The single player alone is worth that amount, and then they throw in a plethora of bonus levels. multiplayer and a creation mode. I didn't get that much of a chance to dig into the multiplayer, but from what I played it was just as enticing and fun as the single player. Competing against someone else on courses is a blast, and the simple controls make the learning curve immensely low so that you never get that issue where you're better than all your friends so they don't want to play anymore and end up hating the game.
The track creator follows much of the same theory as the rest of the game: if you keep it simple it's going to be more fun. Throughout the single player you'll play such a diverse amount of levels that you'll think there must be a crazy amount of items to build levels from, but once you get into the level creator you really see how well the levels were constructed from just a minimum amount of items. Not only that but the create a track interface is simple to use and pretty darn easy. There are a few times when I wished it was a bit faster to get through the basic menu or adjust an item, but they were few and far between. If you're still playing around with Excitebike's or Trials HD's course makers then you're really going to dig this one. If I had any friends I could have easily shared my completely crappy courses with them as well via PSN.
What it comes down to is that one word I've been tossing around throughout the review: fun. Joe Danger is simply fun. I can't see how I could possibly say anything better about the game.
Score: 9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)
reviewed by Matthew Razak