I’ve been at this an hour now. My fingers are sore from gripping the controller so hard, and in all honesty it’s lucky it hasn’t been thrown through a window yet. I can feel my heart hammering in my chest as I exhale deeply before letting out a massive, neighbour-shocking profanity. Am I playing the latest Modern Battlefield shooter? No. Am I playing an extremely high calibre survival horror? No. What I am playing is one of the harder levels from the cute and cuddly looking Joe Danger Special Edition; one of the most difficult to master, yet compelling games of the year.[drop2] The original Joe Danger crashed onto the PSN last summer, and seemed to strike a chord with Alex, who awarded it a 9/10. Special Edition, which is an Xbox LIVE exclusive, looks to add some technical improvements, along with a raft of additional content.
The idea behind the game is a simple one. Viewed from side-on, stunt man Joe needs to ride his motorbike from the start of the level to the end. Simple! What isn’t so simple is avoiding the humungous amount of spikes, mouse traps, barriers, sharks, drops and pneumatic boxing gloves that are housed seemingly every 3ft or so.
Of course, getting to the end of the level is but a tiny fraction of what Joe Danger is about. Each level normally has a number of challenges to complete to earn stars. Stars are your currency, and without them you cannot unlock levels further on. These challenges range from simple(ish) “collect all items” to rather more challenging ones, such as collecting all coins before the timer hits zero.
Then there are the absolutely crazy, brand new ‘Pro Medals’ which demand almost inhuman levels of patience with tasks such as collect all items whilst picking up every coin, landing on every marked target whilst doing trick combos for the entire level. You’re rewarded for battling your way through these nigh impossible tasks with unlockable characters to play as. The star/Pro Medal system is a nice touch, as it almost guarantees repeat plays.
All of this content would be for nothing if the controls weren’t up to scratch, but luckily Joe Danger is extremely accessible. The right trigger is used for acceleration, with the left used for reversing. The beauty of this is that these two controls can be used in mid-air, giving you a large amount of control over where the bike lands.
Mastering this becomes essential fairly early on, because the game isn’t about charging off as fast as possible. There are times where finesse is just as important as a lead foot, as you coax the bike gently over a barrier, then under a barrier, and then blast off over a ramp. Something else you’ll need to use often is the boost.
Whilst the boost is useful to gain speed, a lot of time is spent using it as a little push to help you avoid some spikes when a jump just won’t take the bike quite far enough. It’s also useful for doing a “Mega Jump”, which will launch you both far and high into the sky.[drop] A big part of Joe Danger is scoring points, which get uploaded to a global leaderboard at the end of every level. The easiest way to score points is to do tricks. The simplest to do is the wheelie, which not only earns points but recharges your boost. The two shoulders buttons also activate other tricks whilst the bike is in the air, and the key is to hold the trick as long as possible, releasing it just before landing to get a “perfect” rating and a big chunk of points.
Once you’re done with the main career mode, Hello Games has added a new mode called ‘The Lab’ for you to play in. The Lab is like a challenge mode; forgoing long levels for shorter, harder ones. It’s almost a full game in itself, with five labs split into various levels.
For the creative souls among you there is also the Sandbox Mode to get stuck into. This is a level editor, which is actually pretty easy to use, and your results can be sent on to Joe Danger SE owning friends.
Talking of friends, there is also a split-screen multiplayer. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try this, mainly out of fear that the wife would end up bludgeoning me to death with an Xbox 360 pad.
However, and it’s up to you whether this can be classed as a con or not, the game can be maddeningly difficult. Actually, here’s a little video to watch:
In all honesty that is one of the tamer levels, and there were a few that took me over 80 restarts before I managed to get a perfect run, failing over and over (and OVER) again. Those who don’t enjoy trial and error will most likely run a mile from this game. Some of the levels can also get extremely busy, and I actually had a number of crashes due to not being able to see the obstacles through all the other boxes etc. bouncing past.
There were also times where the crash triggers didn’t seem to work properly. For example a few times Joe landed on his face before bouncing back up and carrying on, but then I’d crash for simply brushing past an object.
- Looks and sounds fantastic.
- Loads of content.
- Sublime controls.
- Totally compelling.
- Maddening at times.
- Perhaps too much trial and error.
- Sometimes the levels are too busy.
- Some inconsistent crash triggers.
Frustrating, annoying, wonderful, addictive; Joe Danger surely has to be the most confusing game in history. When everything is going right it’s an absolutely amazing experience, but you’ll also spend a great deal of time pulling your hair out, muttering curse words and weeping copiously (perhaps that was just me).
If you like the sound of this then Joe Danger Special Edition will be worth every penny.