“ Developer: Hello Games / Released: 9 June 2010 „
The appropriately named Joe Danger is a stuntman. His job is to ride his motorbike along a course, leaping ramps, ducking under hurdles and generally avoiding hazards which could end his career. As if that wasn't enough, he has to collect stars that have been left lying around, and perform tricks to keep the crowd entertained and generally do enough to boost his score and unlock the next level. Who said life as a stuntman was easy?
Joe Danger is an unashamedly retro title. It wouldn't have been out of place in an arcade in the early 1990s and has that instant appeal that pure arcade titles need. Saying it would have looked out of place 20 years ago, though, is not the same thing as saying it looks rubbish. It just has an old-fashioned look to it. And believe me, that's no bad thing.
Unusually, these days, the game doesn't bother with any of this new-fangled 3D nonsense and is an unashamed 2D game, with all the action viewed from side on. Graphics are excellent, big, bright and colourful, giving a real cartoon look and feel to the whole thing. Joe himself is full of character, with his big head and over-sized helmet. Animation is similarly quirky and some of the accidents look genuinely painful which makes you feel bad when you cause him to crash. This is a game that will instantly appeal to kids, thanks to the bright colourful graphics, but is just as much fun for adults.
Sound is a bit more of a mixed bag. The sound effects are generally good, matching the cartoon-like graphics. Joe whoops and squeals with delight as you race along the course, the crowd roar their approval as you complete a tricky stunt, or groan in sympathy when you come a-cropper in a particularly painful way. Elsewhere various boings, bumps and bashing sounds represent the different hazards you come across and perfectly match the retro look.
The downside is the in-game music. Initially, this is fine. Like other elements of the game, there is a quirky cartoon-like feel to it and the jaunty music suits the on-screen action. After a while, though, you realise that the tune is actually rather short and loops endlessly, so that it soon becomes rather repetitive.
Thankfully, this is a rare mis-step in a title that gets more right than it does wrong. The learning curve and difficulty levels are generally well-implemented and make you want to play. Early stages introduce you to the basic controls or help you maximise your score by showing you how to effect different tricks. These come often enough to keep you interested, but not so often that you start to forget what all the various buttons do. Once you've been introduced to the various controls the difficulty of the individual levels slowly starts to ramp up.
The difficulty level can occasionally be frustrating. As the track scrolls from left to right, some hazards are not always obvious until you are right on top of them. When this happens, you have virtually no time to react, which means level design can feel a little unfair. However, since you don't generally die but just get pushed back to the start of the last section, it's not too serious, although if you keep failing a section, it can be annoying to have to replay it endlessly. In order to get the absolute best scores on a level, if you do crash, it's often necessary to replay the level right from the start, remembering what the various hazards are and where they occur. As such, there are times when Joe Danger feels more like a memory test than a test of your gaming skills.
You could also argue that Joe Danger is a little repetitive. Most of the levels boil down to doing the same thing - driving from left to right, avoiding hazards and performing stunts. The layout might change, but the basic gameplay remains the same. Certainly, I find that after a while Joe starts to lose my attention and I start to think about what to play next. However, it's also a fun, undemanding game that will keep you coming back for another quick go in the long term. It's a game that's perhaps more suited to playing in short bursts than long sessions. And if you do enjoy it, it certainly offers plenty of long term challenge with a couple of different modes and even a Sandbox where you can create your own levels.
Some gamers might express mild disappointment at the multiplayer option. By "multiplayer", Joe Danger simply means the ability to play against one other human player physically connected to the same PS3 (there is no online mode). Personally, I mostly play games on my own, so this is not an issue. But if you're one of those competitive people who likes to test your skills against gamers from all over the world this might be a black mark against Joe.
Joe Danger is not particularly big or particularly clever. It's a good, old-fashioned racer-come-platform game in the tradition of classic 8 bit titles like Kickstart 2 or Daredevil Dennis. It might look like it's been ported straight from an Amiga 1200, but don't hold that against it. Sure, it doesn't come close to challenging the power of the PS3, but it's got it where it counts - in the gameplay. If you can forgive the odd frustrating element and the occasional reliance on blind luck or memory, then Joe Danger is a great little title.
At £7.99 to download, it's not the cheapest game on the PS Network but if you want to support independent game studios and encourage them to keep making good games, then you could do a lot worse than taking Joe Danger for a spin.
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012