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Joe Danger
Graphics: 9
Gameplay: 9.5
Sound: 8.8
Control: 9.3
Replay Value: 9.4
Rating: 9.2

Joe Danger is the best downloadable game so far this year. …I figured I’d just hit you with that right off the bat, rather than introducing the game via flowery and elaborate explanation and detailing. It’s difficult to describe it, but perhaps it’s best if the old-school gamers think of Excitebike to the nth degree in a generation where digitally transferred technology continues to get better with every passing year. Essentially, this is a stunt-based action title with beautiful animations, a colorful and wonderfully refined palette, a surprising amount of freedom in both the gameplay and customization options, and sharp, reliable, accessible controls. There are a few drawbacks on the creation and multiplayer angle of this production but from a single-player viewpoint, there’s very little wrong with Joe Danger. In fact, I have to look long and hard to even spot a single, solitary flaw. Don’t believe me? Play it.

The graphics are some of the prettiest you will find in the digital download world. They’re not meticulously created with a trillion-dollar budget of a mammoth blockbuster, but Hello Games clearly settled on a realistic goal for the type of game they wished to produce. Then, they simply executed to the best of their ability and made the game sparkle in its own way. It really is amazingly colorful with a lot of great design and level-building ideas, the effects and animations are top-notch, and in some ways, it almost feels as if you’re playing through a level of Super Mario Galaxy…you know, only with ramps and springs, and some crazy funny dude on a motorcycle. The bottom line is that this display is beautiful and ultimately very pleasant to behold; you’ll never grow tired of the graphical depiction, regardless of the level or stunt in question. There are very few productions, downloadable or otherwise, that can boast this level of solidarity and consistency.

The sound is almost as good, as its sharp, clear and plenty robust. The lone setback is that the soundtrack can indeed get a little repetitive, especially when you find yourself playing for extended periods of time. But beyond that, you’ve got a hilarious announcer, diverse and fitting effects that accompany your high-flying insanity, and in general, everything sounds professional. It’s well balanced, in that the effects don’t override the music and vice versa; it all gels extremely well with the super-fluid and appealing visuals. The first time you tumble into the shark tank, you’ll find yourself laughing at the combination of the genuinely hysterical panic exhibited by Joe and the corresponding effects that hint at a cartoony shark attack. Then there’s the myriad of sound effects that go along with your motorbike tricks; snagging stars and pulling off awesome stunts is always satisfying, and that’s due in large part to the sound.

I am not the biggest fan of games that are oriented around stunts. I just don’t like the idea; I’ve never been very good at pulling off tricks on a motorcycle or anything of that sort in off-road racers, and I would never own a game that placed stunts at the core of the experience. And yet, I just can’t get enough of Joe Danger. I think it’s a combination of the fantastic controls and available level of freedom that makes it so much fun, but before I get to that, let’s do a quick review of the basics: Joe is a stuntman who suffered a serious accident and is now on the comeback path. You now take him through increasingly complex and demanding courses, rich in texture and variety, and you must speed, leap, and flip your way to victory, all the while attempting to satisfy as many of the objectives as possible. For each objective completed, you receive a Gold Star; these are used to unlock major events like Races. Obviously, for such a premise, the mechanics had best be excellent.

And they are. You accelerate with the R2 button, boost with the X button, and perform tricks by either tapping or holding down the R1 and L1 buttons. You will also hold Square to crouch (necessary for bypassing certain obstacles), and when releasing Square, Joe will hop. In other words, hold to crouch, just a quick press to hop; but if you hold it down and come into a spring that launches you into the air, and release the Square button as you hit the spring, you’ll double the height of your jump. You can even double-jump with another press of the Square button. Moving the left analog stick will also dictate tricks in mid-air, and you can even dictate the direction you move in mid-air, with the L2 and R2 button respectively. Now, it’s all responsive and it’s all necessary, but it does take some getting used to, and because you need all four shoulder buttons throughout the experience, you can easily get a bit confused. But the more you play, the more it becomes second-nature.

You’ll encounter ramps of all shapes, sizes and styles, you’ll go off jumps, go around loop-the-loops, fling yourself off springs, avoid obstacles ranging from spikes to shark-infested pools, and go after all the available Gold Stars. This alone isn’t enough to make it an elite title, but the following is: firstly, you’re not always pushed along the course like it’s a race. You can go forwards and backwards to your heart’s content. So if you missed some stars or you missed a target when landing, you can often times retreat and try it again (provided there’s not a very large obstacle in your way that you can’t re-bypass). Secondly, you don’t have to get all the objectives/Gold Stars in one run-through. For instance, say one level has three Gold Stars available; one each for getting all the little blue stars, getting each letter of the word “DANGER,” and beating the course within the time limit. So, feel free to go after them in any way you choose; once you get one and finish the course, that accomplishment will be saved. Hence, one run you can try for the stars and the next, try nabbing the necessary letters.

In fact, for the more complex levels, you almost have to go through a course several times, because there are actual multiple courses to take. This leads me to the “thirdly” aspect of those defining game characteristics, and that’s the lane-changing. When you see a large green arrow, you simply press up on the left analog and Joe will swerve to the far lane, or push down on the stick and he'll come to the near lane. Now, on one side might be some coins you have to get (within a certain time frame), and on the other, there’s a hidden star. So you can either try to do one, backtrack, and do the other course, or you can simply finish and go again. Fourthly and lastly, there’s the inclusion of races, where you will go up against other super stuntmen; you’ll have to strategically use your boost and furthermore, perform enough tricks to refuel your boost meter to give yourself the edge. Just don’t crash! Oh, and I guess there’s even a fifth element: the ability to restart from a variety of different places on the course, and a quick press of Select will restart at all times.

It’s just so well done and so well put together. Perhaps the biggest downfall is what I mentioned in the introduction, and that has to do with the social aspect of the game. Thing is, you can create your own tracks from scratch (how sweet is that?), and you can send these tracks to any PSN ID you happen to know. But unfortunately, there’s no interface to search through available user-made tracks, which means you really can never see what other people have done. On top of which, the local multiplayer is limited to two-player split-screen racing over six courses, which is really sad because racing is only a small percentage of the complete game. However, the single-player experience is unbelievably entertaining and rewarding, and you won’t be finishing it in just a few hours. Add in the customizing options and that $14.99 price tag is nothing to complain about. Normally, this is a big issue for gamers but in this case, the game is worth every penny; I played 5 hours and was at about 25% complete. You won’t even have to wait long for the download; it’s a 261MB file, so you’re done and playing in about 10-15 minutes.

Joe Danger surprised the crap out of me. I’ll freely admit that. It’s just so much fun and so ridiculously addictive. I will say that some of the obstacles in the levels felt a little cheap, and that if you play it long enough, this one can infuriate you (but sort of in a good way). I saw that IGN gave it a 9.5 and I was a little surprised; but then I actually played it and I wasn’t really surprised any longer. I normally don’t cite other reviews but I will add that GameSpot’s 8 is only that low because they harp so much on the multiplayer lacking. You may notice in that entire review they mention almost no flaw concerning the single-player, and that’s about right…there really isn’t a flaw worth mentioning. Some small, minor ones, but that’s about it. You guys gotta try this, plain and simple.

6/12/2010   Ben Dutka