Joe Danger 2: The Movie Review
The first Joe Danger is easily one of the best downloadable games of the generation. Like a modern and wickedly amped-up Excitebike, it was just endless fun. The sequel has now arrived on the PlayStation Network and although it too is a great game and is undeniably more diverse and imaginative, the new frenetic style and increased difficulty make the experience almost twice as frustrating. The game doesn’t cheat you out of your accomplishments; you earn every scrap. But earning them can be more chore than entertainment.
The graphics are once again highly polished, fantastically colorful, and this time around, surprisingly detailed. The first title did a great job with level design but the follow-up effort takes everything to a whole new level. Being a stuntman on a movie set, Joe now has to face everything from “Indiana Jones”-like film settings (yeah, you’re in a mine cart) to avalanches that threaten to crush him and the tiny skis he uses. Jet packs, unicycles, snowmobilies; there are quite a few vehicles, and a ton of various level types and objectives. It can be difficult to see everything you need to see with so much going on, but each facet of a level is meticulously created and the animations are excellent.
The sound is great as well, but the director of a movie set sorta gets on one’s nerves. He’s frequently yelling out new commands to Joe and when you have to replay a particularly difficult section over and over, you get really sick of hearing the director bark out the same order a dozen times in a row. The effects, as good as they are, have a tendency to snuff out a really solid soundtrack, although I suppose that fits. After all, special effects usually take center-stage in big-budget action extravaganzas for the big screen, right? And the combination of the visual and audio effects really makes this game pop, so we really shouldn’t complain about the increased production values. And they are higher.
Developer Hello Games hit just the right note with the first Joe Danger. There were times when it was a little frantic, like when you were trying to complete a stage within the time limit, or when you were involved in a madcap race from start to finish. But there were also times when you were actually encouraged to explore a level, looking for hidden stars, making sure to find all the DANGER letters, and perhaps stumbling on a few other secrets. Because you could go backwards and forwards with almost absolute freedom and there was no time limit for completion, you could take all the time you needed. I loved that.
Now, for the record, the sequel sports the very same controls, which should make fans of the original happy. You can still go forward and backward, there are times when you are free to explore a certain level, and many of those familiar, fun and challenging objectives have returned. It all works just as it did, which is to say the control is absolutely rock solid and never lets you down. Plus, with the huge amount of variety in the game, coupled with all the new vehicles, one just has to appreciate all the extra effort expended on this production. In so many ways, it’s just fantastic and Hello Games deserves plenty of credit.
But have you ever seen newer developers hit big with a fresh IP, only to maybe try a little too hard with the sequel? I mean, you can’t fault them for being so ambitious and so creative; those are never “faults,” in my opinion. And you can’t very well say they abandoned the original formula, because that really isn’t true. But Joe Danger was beautiful and addictive in its straightforward simplicity, and it wasn’t bogged down by a continual sense of urgency. That’s what I get when playing the sequel: A constant sense of being pushed. Like when on skis, I could feasibly backtrack but that’d be pointless as an avalanche is chasing me.
And then there are times when something new simply doesn’t work. The unicycle is a great example of that, as it just doesn’t function the way it should. I know it sounds ridiculous to say they "tried to hard," especially when I just got finished saying that ambition is never a bad thing. But in playing with that unicycle, one can’t help but be disappointed and at the same time, we’re asking ourselves, “Why exactly is this in here…?” It’s perhaps a reaction to fans saying they wanted more (and various) content, or maybe it’s just because the team wanted to embrace one interesting new vehicle to many. Whatever the reason, the hectic, sometimes all-over-the-place nature of this sequel holds it back in my eyes.
As for the difficulty, I think it assumes most anyone who’s playing the game spent a fair amount of time with the first title. While they do tell you with quick pop-up commands what to do and how, you’re immediately tossed into a fast-paced level upon first starting. Even being a Joe Danger veteran, it took me a little while to remember everything and even then, you have to account for a lot more environmental things. Grenades you have to duck beneath or jump over are only the start of your stuntman adventure and while it’s always entertaining, the frustration level starts high and sorta remains there throughout.
The Pro Medals are new but in order to get them, you have one chance – one chance – to grab all the blue stars in a single run through a level. If you die or restart, that’s it. You can’t go back and try again, which I find to be an overly restricting and downright annoying feature. The rest of the game is fine; you should easily be able to obtain all the yellow stars you need to progress, and the seemingly endless variety really is something to behold. It’s only when you start trying to get everything a level has to offer where you feel like breaking the controller in half. Or maybe into little tiny pieces that you can feed into the trash disposal.
And if you want to get involved in the “Joe Danger Gaiden” levels…well, have fun with that. On the whole, though, Joe Danger 2: The Movie is well worth the cost of admission because there’s a lot of content, the control and style remain top-notch, and provided you can conquer what lies within, the satisfaction and fulfillment is sky-high. There’s so much to like and that cannot be denied or glossed over. I just think there are a few obvious examples of a developer trying to do too much, trying to implement a ton of things that aren’t 100% reliable, and trying to add a sense of urgency that fans of the original might just find vexing.
The Good: Eye-popping visuals and fantastic effects. Solid music and general audio. Control remains extremely reliable and accessible. Level design is inspired and imaginative. Plenty of gameplay diversity with great style. Lots of content.
The Bad: All those colorful details can clutter up the presentation. Too hectic too often. Unicycle was a mistake. Frustration is a definite factor.
The Ugly: “I’m too old to break something because of a video game, aren’t I…? Maybe not.”
10/15/2012 Ben Dutka