Joe Danger Special Edition Review
Joe Danger was originally released on PlayStation Network back in June 2010 after particular attention was drawn to the UK developer Hello Games, as they noted the difficulty of finding a platform to set their game free. Managing Director Sean Murray made headlines, calling Xbox Live Arcade a “slaughterhouse for small developers” whilst declaring that a running XBLA version of Joe Danger was “the world’s rarest game” – played by four people in the office. It is no secret that Microsoft tends towards exclusivity deals, which in the end pushed Joe Danger to market on the PlayStation Network.
Eighteen months later a new Xbox Live Arcade exclusive version of the game, Joe Danger Special Edition, arrives on the Microsoft platform with a host of new features. From the outset it is quite clear that nothing has been overlooked. Complete integration with the platform including purchasable skins, unlockable avatar awards, leaderboards and user created content, as well as a wealth of new features, is nice to see after such an early public struggle with Microsoft.
Joe Danger Special Edition is a bright and beautiful game. It isn’t shy with its use of colour and mixed with a bold, sharp art style, the games’ aesthetic is almost Pixar-esque. If you are diligent with completion, you won’t find much variety in scenery by sticking to career mode. The career is branded with the American Old West and the oversize ‘developer challenge’ Lab is given a science theme, brandished with striking colour and inventive backgrounds. The themes have their limits when based across such large sections of the game, but clever level-design leaves the player with more concern over the upcoming 360° loop than whether the background assets are repeating too frequently.
When it comes to sitting down to play the game for the first time, there is almost too much content to handle. If there is one thing missing it is a guiding hand, as one can quite simply be bowled over as all of the content hits you at once without a tutorial. I find the most striking example of this to be at the very beginning of the career mode, as you are pushed to pursue challenges and intake new gameplay concurrently. The game is driven as a motorbike platform-racer with an angular, 3D side-scrolling progression, reminiscent of Trials HD. The career sees stuntman Joe Danger driven through obstacle-ridden levels, spread across several courses, the last of which includes Joe’s nemeses – Team Nasty. The career builds upon this rivalry as a glue to hold everything together, but it is safe to say that a significant portion of the game distances itself from any story whatsoever, to its credit.
The building blocks of the game are set pieces; strung along to create the level structure. Once the player has passed one challenge, the next is just along the road. Much like the free, yet entertaining Doritos Crash Course, once you have the right tactics in memory to knock down the entire string of obstacles, the level becomes much more manageable. The player is actively encouraged to fiddle with this level structure in-game, with a sandbox creator’s suite, complete with download and share content over Xbox Live. It is quite a fiddle, but it is there for compulsory progression in the career and the creative types.
Managing the course elements thrown at the player is the most important aspect of the game, as it leads into completing challenges. Collecting a steady amount of stars from completed challenges is the basis of progression, as certain levels are unlocked by spending them. There is a mixture of what can be accomplished in a given level; some contain a large amount and some just a few. A favourite would be completing the length of the track in one combination of stunts, but landing on target pads after a big launch or knocking down an oversize set of bowling pins can be just as entertaining. Whether you’re given a time challenge, or you just need that extra lift, a booster is always provided. The aforementioned stunts are needed to fill the accompanying meter before it can be used, but the boost is one of the early gameplay elements that is fatally overlooked yet just a trigger away.
Joe Danger Special Edition comes together to form a complex, strategy-driven experience that surprisingly manages to steer clear of frustration in favour of an addictive trial-and-repeat chase, perfect for the completionist. The game doesn’t give you quite the soft-mat landing that is commonly handed out these days, nor does it pay much respect to multiplayer, with only local forays, despite the inclusion of in-depth Xbox Live features such as its own user generated content. Joe Danger Special Edition is a great game from a studio that generated a lot of fuss before the game landed on Xbox Live Arcade, fuss that shouldn’t suspend your time or money.