It’s a rare feat. Building a game that entertains after the first minute is hard enough, but creating one that is equally entertaining after the first hour, day, and week – now that’s hard. The team at fledgling Hello Games did exactly that with PSN downloadable title Joe Danger, a rollicking good time that never ceases to entertain, combining genres and game styles into an addictive synthesis that can appeal to the youngest and most casual gamers just as much as the devoted, hardcore crowd.
Joe Danger defies easy classification, and a glance at the screenshots only helps a little bit. There’s certainly a touch of racing in the vein of the classic Excitebike, and obstacle navigation that echoes the popular Trials series. What that first look couldn’t tell you is how the game draws equal inspiration from the combo systems of Tony Hawk, the speed-fueled platforming of 2D Sonic, or the creative drive of LittleBigPlanet.
Joe is a run-down, grizzled stuntman, whose old injuries have kept him off the circuit for years. When he returns, he needs to really wow the crowd to get back to the top. To do so, you’ll navigate him through a huge number of obstacle-laden courses, each of which has a number of goals. Collect all the stars. String a combo through the entire level. Land on precarious targets around the course. Beat the time limit. Or, for the big scores, start combining objectives into a single run. Every achievement nets you purchasing power to unlock later levels.
Things seem so simple at first. The tight and responsive controls only reveal their magic over time, and Joe’s bike starts pulling off acrobatics that shouldn’t be possible. The bike can switch its momentum in midair and go backwards. Bouncing springs send the stuntman hurtling through the air. The exaggerated physics are expertly balanced to be amusing but predictable. The high level of precision gives players the same control they’d have over an old school platform character, but here there is the added ability to throw in flips, boosts, and wheelies. Almost every action throws points up on the board.
Nearly every course is designed to reveal its secrets over the course of multiple playthroughs. Ten hours in, I was still learning the flexibility of the controls, and trying to maximize my runs. At the same time, at any point along the way I would have happily passed the controller to a beginner, confident that the early levels would draw them in just as they did me. It’s everything I would want a game like this to offer – fun, scalable challenges that are accessible to all players, with nearly infinite replayability.
While Joe Danger delivers an astounding wealth of levels and content for a downloadable game, it tacks on two other big extras for fun. Split-screen multiplayer has only a few levels, but does offer a great way to introduce friends to the title. The second big addition helps to alleviate that dearth of content; players can create and share online single-player and split-screen levels with friends. The level creator is straightforward and easy to use, and assures all sorts of additional playtime if you ever manage to squeeze through the extremely challenging levels at the end of the core game.
Hello Games’ flagship downloadable game does suffer from a lack of variety in its environments and audio, and I’d love to see more challenges that have the old biker interacting with other riders. But those issues only arise for me because of how long I was drawn into the genre-bending gameplay. It’s an ambitious and exciting new franchise, but more importantly it shows off a small developer that deserves some big attention.
Mixing genres makes for one of the best downloadable games of the year.