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Hands On: Joe Danger

Kick start.

Hello Games’ ballsy, confident forthcoming digital download is an absolute treat. With eye popping colour and crisp, solid graphics Joe’s rotund, aging gut is a visual treat the likes of which the PSN is sorely missing.  Of course, the Xbox 360 already has a bike-based platform title, but Joe Danger leaves behind the static, dark confines that wrapped around Trials HD and presents a charming, compelling character-focused take on the genre.

We’ve previously spoken to the guys behind Joe Danger (read the full interview here) and on a personal level I’m full of respect for what they’re trying to do here.  “We all wanted to use this opportunity to bring back some of the bright, fun, arcade magic that we grew up on,” Hello Games’ Sean told us back in November. “So we went for the most obvious way to get us back into that frame of mind, bringing down a box of toys from the attic.”

“There was an instant power to demonstrating your latest game idea with Optimus Prime in your hands. We kept coming back to one toy, an Evel Knievel stunt cycle.”

It’s this love of real world toys and a single minded focus on creating a game that just feels fun that’ll be the success of Joe Danger. The build we’ve been playing has the game’s first four chapters of the cute, story-based campaign mode (that sees a retired Danger heading back into the stunt limelight) and most of the ‘Sandbox’ mode, which offers a fully fledged level creator that just oozes ease of use and simplicity without ever being too basic, and smacks of a certain Sackboy powered creation tool.

“The Media Molecule team are about the nicest people you could ever meet,” Hello Games’ Sean told us. “I think they have been a massive inspiration to us and lots of other small teams. When we first started we went over and they gave us loads of really useful advice. They have made just about the most influential game of this generation, so it’s weird that they are down the road in an office above a bathroom tile store just like us.”

But what of the game itself?  Well, it’s a blast.  Seemingly capable of switching between races modes and complex, platform based antics in a flash, Joe Danger is nothing if not diverse.   The courses are all based around Danger’s desert-based trailer, with the options and campaign progression navigation familiar to anyone who’s played recent Codemasters titles.  The story mode is split neatly into clear, themed sections, and each section has its own set of levels within.

Controlling your plumpy rider is easy peasy: the L2 and R2 triggers move you back and forth, you can lean with the stick and duck (and thus jump, when releasing the button) with square.  Tricks?  The L1 and R1 triggers, the team’s love of Tony Hawk games another clear influence.  Scoring then, is just as important as a quick time within the game’s level structure; and combos, wheelies and perfect landings all contribute towards your total ranking, which is immediately shared online.

Running at a rock solid sixty frames per second with a deep, rich colour scheme and some brilliantly funny animation, aesthetically this is a gorgeous looking game.  Even at this stage (with a month or two to go before the game is ready) Joe Danger feels complete, graphics wise, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

Sadly, our build doesn’t include the game’s apparently extensive multiplayer mode and some of the mini-games are currently locked, but it doesn’t matter: I’ve played enough.  Games as smartly focused as Joe Danger don’t roll around every week, so it’s refreshing to get my hands on something so clever and yet so easy to play.  Obviously the work of a novice development team with plenty of ambition and the freedom to do exactly what they set out to do: make a game that’s fun.

So, Joe Danger.  It’s the side-on raw fun of Excitebike combined with the technical grunt of Trials HD, and it’s out this Summer.  We’ll have more on the game soon…

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