The original Joe Danger, released on PSN in June 2010, was a blast right out of left-field. We’d been tracking it’s development for a good few months before it dropped and had high hopes for its release… but you never know with indie titles from a small developer. Luckily Hello Games, and it’s tiny dedicated team, managed to absolutely knock it out of the park. They set the bar for what to expect from an indie studio and downloadable title and many have chased that level of attainment ever since.
So, with multiple awards lining their shelves now, Hello Games are back; as is the titular character Joe Danger. What can they do with a slightly larger team and a little over 2 years of development time? How about not only knock it out of the park, but blast in to orbit and nuke the park from space! (It really is the only way to be sure)
So, hyperbolic ramble aside, Joe Danger is back and this time he’s living it large as the stuntman the big studios call when other stuntmen just can’t cut it. The main game mode is broken down in to mini chapters like the first game you take on a series of six themed areas dragged from genre classics like Indiana Jones (Action & Adventure movies), James Bond (Spy movies), dodgy Sci-Fi (hello Timecop reference!) and several more besides. Each area is broken down in to five levels for Joe to traverse whilst looking to pick up various collectable large hidden stars, the small stars that line the pathways, bananas (great banana theme collection mode that pits you against the clock to collect the oblong fruit…. dressed as monkey of course!) and letters that spell DANGER. Levels have time limits to “Par” them and other require you to perform specific tasks like stop rockets launching in to space or crack huge pink Easter eggs.
The thirty Movie Mode levels not enough for you? Good because it’s just the tip of the ramp. There is also a multiplayer mode that stays true to the last title with up to four racing at once on the same course. Slapping each other about whilst trying to not only win but make the best combos i s superb fun and truly should not be underestimated. Sure it’s, as before, local only multiplayer which is again a large downer BUT Hello Games has appeased those now groaning by including some neat leader board mechanics. Each time you race your best performance is uploaded as a ghost. You’ll then find yourself racing against the ghostly efforts of friends or those higher on the leader board than you.
This pulls firmly on the “must beat my buddy” strings that titles like Trials and NFS: Most Wanted have pulled at before. You’ll find yourself hammering the Select button over and over to restart your run just to try and make that jump just perfect or maintain your multiplier for the entire race. Even if you play offline the game has an incredible “one more try” feeling about it. I spent far too long trying to perfect runs on early levels only to realise I ’d never get the review done if I didn’t move on… don’t worry I went back after to have a few hundred more tries.
Other game modes include the superb Deleted Scenes mode. This is where Hello Games cuts loose and throws some seriously whacky stuff at you as well as ratchet up the difficulty. Fun to be had in these events include riding a Unicycle wearing a ringmaster outfit, being a large pink cake and various other delights I really don’t want to ruin for you. These levels are tricky, wacky, fun and funny. They jump around styles and take the best elements of the game to their logical conclusions.
Add to this the incredibly versatile and simple track editor. Yes you can make your own Joe Danger adventures now and in traditional Hello Games style the whole thing is explained in a very unique way. Rather t han run through a series of dry tutorial screens Joe Danger 2 allows you to play your way through the tutorial. So you jump on your bike and zoom along to a section you can’t pass. Hit Y and enter edit mode. It then lets you pick up a springy bumper and place it in front of the obstacle that is causing you grief. Exit edit mode and then ride over the obstacle. Well done you’ve learned how to pickup and manipulate objects in the editor. And this carries on over a series of levels until you know exactly how to build your own and share them with your buddies.
Graphically the game still has the cartoonish ascetics of the first title. Everything looks la little cleaner, shines a little brighter and runs a little smoother. Joe is still a fabulous character and his animations – along with all animation in the game – is superb. Truly comical moments happen when he fal ls in a lava pit or smacks in to obstacles. It even takes the edge of failing a section for the thirtieth time in a row. The interface is well designed, cleanly laid out and the editor is simple and easy to use. You just can’t help but smile when playing Joe Danger 2 – it just brightens your general mood despite it’s sometimes punishing aspects.
I still to this day hum the theme music from the original Joe Danger… it’s like lift music of the best kind to me. It’s looping around my head now as I type. Joe Danger 2 offers up some superb tracks once again. Each themed in some ways to go with the level they’re attached to. Hints of John Williams on the Indy inspired levels. A nice bit of Bond like twanging on the spy missions. It’s these obvious things that so many miss out on and what Hello Games seems to relish. Sound work is vari ed and well managed. Plenty of wacky sounds and environmental noise help flesh out the world. The announcer is, to my mind, a little hit and miss in delivery. During the levels and in small doses it works very well – the face American styling seems so apt. There are sections where a lot of dialogue is read and, despite some of it being well written, can get a little grating. Now that might just be because you can’t skip those scenes or it might be that I just really wanted to get back to the games. The actual voice work quality is great though, but that was just a minor concern.
So it looks great, sounds great, is stocked full of levels and a super simple and powerful editor. But have they managed to improve the game play? Well yes and no in almost equal measures. First the improvements. The series of moves that Joe can perform this time out is enhanced with the use of the left and right bumpers. These will get him to perform a genre or vehicle specific action. For example on his motorbike Joe does a no hands trick. When on skies he does a series of nifty twists and tricks in the air. These are a nice addition and allow you to bolster your multiplier to rack up some large scores.
The addition of many new vehicles is a real bonus. Great fun can be had in mine carts, on skies, using snowmobiles, police bikes and several others. You also get the chance to use a pretty meaty rocket backpack. This sees you traverse the levels collecting stars and doing stunts whilst rocketing through the air. My problem with these is that they feel a little out of place. More of a platform collection moment than a racer. I appreciate the change of pace, but felt at times it maybe didn’t work as well as it should have. That said it was still great fun rocketing around the levels for the most part.
The game still has lighting quick controls that react so smoothly it’s obscene. The control scheme used is a little more involved this time with the extra bumpers but it still feels well balanced and very tight. The combo system is very forgiving, allowing you small amounts of down time to chain moves together. This just makes the game ever more playable and helps not detract from the real point of the game – to have enormous amounts of silly fun. Level design has been masterfully handled with many levels very simple to run from start to finish but devilishly tricky to find and obtain all the collectables on.
A few down notes to end the review then? Well there aren’t really many at all. The slightly flat jet pack moments, the lack of online multiplayer an d the feeling that you’ve seen some of this before all drop away when you actually pick up and play the game. An odd couple of physics issues in the editor crept in a couple of times too – a block when spinning like a possessed spinning-top at one point (it did look cool though!). These are notable niggles by the very nature that the rest of the game is just so well made.
Joe Danger 2: The Movie takes the incredibly personable, fun and playable elements of the original and builds on them handsomely. Sure you could argue it’s more of the same but being only the second title, and supposedly the last, in the series you can’t really level that as a criticism here.
Joe Danger was one of my top ten games of 2010 – I loved it that much. Joe Danger 2: The Movie will be in my Top 5 games of 2012 I’m almost positive. The game is great looking, good sounding and has been crafted with skill and, most importantly, real love for the genre and the need to make that simplest of things – a great & fun game.
The controls are tight, the challenges varied and lengthy. The editor is a super addition that just works so well. The ghosts that taunt you as you race to be a better player add the final flex to the choke hold that Joe Danger 2 has around your gaming throat. If you liked the first, then you’re already lined up for the second. Fans of Trials should also be clambering at the XBLA gate come Friday morning to get their hands on this. If you never tried the original (I shall not judge you even though I should!) then you owe it to yourself to pick this up. 1200 MSP is a bargain for this title – make no mistake you’ll get your monies worth in smiles and laughs in the first hour alone.
Hello Games, let’s not forget a small and independent UK developer, have taken a well loved and well received hit franchise and improved on it significantly. Those tricky second album jitters are nowhere to be seen as they deliver, once again, the essential download title of the year.