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[Review] Joe Danger

You know you have a real winner on your hands when a game says “Attempt 72” and you haven’t gotten overly frustrated. Such was the case with the PSN title, Joe Danger. Developed by Hello Games, a team consisting of four people. It puts you in control of the washed up has-been of a stunt rider, Joe Danger. In this game, your overall goal is to bring him back to his status as a legendary stunt man on the biggest comeback tour of his life. And what a ride it is.

First of all, the game looks great. Apart from a few blocky shadows here and there, the color palette is nice and bright and the colors tend to really pop out at you (this would also be a really cool game in 3D by the way; hopefully a sequel will come about with such a feature?). The track designs are done very well, too, and none of the props ever seem out of place, either. I’ve noticed a drop in frame rate on some areas loaded with props, but that was in sandbox mode (which will be touched upon further into the review). The background really ties the track together, too, with a desert-like landscape (there are, from what I can remember, 4 different backgrounds, but the central theme seems to be desert). I would love to see different environments in the future, though. Tropical perhaps? A ‘Las Vegas’ theme? I guess we’ll have to wait and see what Hello Games has planned.

As far as sound design goes, the sound effects are nice and, for lack of a better word, fun. I have noticed a few glitches here and there, but they’re generally rare. The music track? It could definitely use more variety, as playing a track over and over, and hearing the same song play can get old, but at least the developers are currently at work on a patch to allow custom user tracks to be playable in the game (even more of the quirky music style the game already uses would have been pretty cool, too). The sounds of wrecking have a bit of an impact, though.

The overall presentation of the game is decent, but the menus could have used a little more work (the whole menu system takes place in a pit area, with your trailer and a bunch of billboards and newspapers strewn about that you have to navigate through to find what you‘re looking for). It took me a while to figure out how to get to the “Sandbox” though, since it would seem the “Options” menu should have been the last of the menu choices instead. I would have also have wished to be able to see the progress on each individual tour/event when you highlight them as well.

Anyway, with some minor problems I had with the presentation, it definitely more than made up for it in gameplay. If you were a fan of games such as Excite Bike or Trials, you’ll love this game, as it definitely seems to have a lot in common with both games. If you’ve never played those before, the game is still a blast to play and very easy to pick up (the physics engine is pretty good, too, but can be a bit forgiving in some situations, so its also a bit accessible to non-gamers as well). Just keep in mind, you will absolutely want to keep track of your position in the air before you land, as well as the amount of boost you use, since those really do require a lot more strategizing to meet some of a track’s goals (especially hidden stars and beating the clock).

As you progress through the game, the tracks get harder and harder. At least it’s a pretty gradual advance, as you can usually hold your own pretty well, but can definitely feel the difference in challenge when you go to replay old levels and realize how easy they were. Occasionally, some of the tracks will become very challenging if you try to master it and get all the stars and a gold trophy. If you’re searching for hidden stars, the game seems more like a plat former than a race, which is a nice change of pace. These different challenges is where my 72 attempts come in. I forget which track it was, but after restarting and restarting to try to beat the clock, I noticed the “Attempt 72” on one of them and thought to myself “I couldn’t have done this that many times…” Turns out, the game is so addicting, that when you really get into it and challenge yourself to meet the specific goals, you don’t realize how many times you’ve restarted to meet those goals, and that’s something I have to commend Hello Games for achieving.

Most of it is thanks to the feeling of speed and, especially, the combo system. Most tracks require you to complete 100% of the track in a continuous combo (even one of the game’s trophies requires players to get a 100x combo), so learning the moves is a must, but at least they’re very, very simple to use. Usually, the easiest way to start a combo is to pull back to begin a wheelie. From there, you can use the square button to duck, as well as hop, pull back or push forward in the air to do flips, and land on the rear wheel to perform another wheelie.

The physics engine has been done pretty well, too. Though you can occasionally get away with doing a flip and continuing it after landing on your head, for the most part, you’ll crash. And when you crash, you really get to see those physics at work. The bike falls to bits (and will react with props around the track, including bounce pads), and Joe’s body flails wildly into the air. If you’d like, you can control his fall, too, and be able to slow down your decent, or, if you use the L1 button, curl up into a cannonball position and fall relatively fast, and bounce off the ground. While racing, the physics hold pretty tight still, and still make it pretty easy to finish combos and moves. It’s not the most advanced physics system in the world, but some things require a bit of finesse to avoid wrecking, yet, it still allows the game to be very accessible to newcomers.

To really build up your combos, the L1 and R1 buttons are used for the different aerial moves available to Joe. Instead of making it super complex, each button is assigned different moves, with the advancement of the moves being solely dependent on the number of times you quickly press the button while airborne (and from what I can tell, the most advanced moves are both buttons at the same time with three consecutive presses). To get even more air to perform such moves, they allow you to “hop” off of the top of a jump to gain some insane altitude and distance on jumps. Just keep in mind some jumps will probably cause you to overshoot a target, or some stars, etc. Given that, you can control Joe in the air to move him more forward or back by pressing the L2 and R2 buttons, or stabilize him to fall straight onto a target. After the first couple tracks, it’s really easy to get used to, though, as you’ll be pulling off some amazing combos in no time, and then share your scores with your friends.

And while we’re on the subject of friends, the central online component of the game is to try to beat each other’s high scores, so there is no online multiplayer portion (you can play two player split screen on a few tracks set up specifically for that feature, as well as having the ability to make some in the sandbox). And yes, it will automatically retrieve the latest high scores from your buddies when you select a track, so you know where you stand against them (and you can check out worldwide leaders, too).

Personally, after playing the game, I think that they should definitely stick to keeping the game competitive with high scores, so if they decide on a sequel, I would definitely prefer to see that system stay. One of the things I would love to see is local multiplayer without split-screen, and multiple log ins. What am I talking about? How about, say, four friends are over. Each of them gets assigned a player spot, and also have the ability to play as a guest or log into PSN. Player one selects a track and goes through it on one run, and the subsequent players are queued up until their turn, so it’s more competitive on a local number, and you won’t have to sacrifice frame rate or anything because of split screen. Just an idea…

Now for one of the bigger draws of the game. The Sandbox. It took me a while to get the hang of at first, but you can start to build levels really quickly once you get used to everything. The only thing I would have wished for were more props to use, including those used in some of the career tracks (such as the crushers and old west-style building faces), but there’s enough there to make some truly creative tracks. I still have a few more tours to finish, so maybe new props unlock as you progress? I’ll have to play some more so I can verify that, since my first time into the Sandbox, I was already pretty far into the career. My first project was actually a bounce tower, which had two tall towers lined with angled bounce pads that Joe bounces off of, and, if you hit them right, you can fly over to the next bit. I just wish the mode had a tutorial to let you know some of the basics, but I’ll explain those here.

First off, a track is divided into 16 segments to create one whole track. If you run out of room on one segment, don’t fret like I did at first. Though the game doesn’t tell you, that space is only used for one segment, and each segment is able to carry the same amount of props. Placing the finish line, by the way, is as simple as just ending a segment (or, if you do a segment after that, it will automatically continue onto the next one). If you manage to fill all 16 segments (and trust me, that’s a LOT of track), you’ll be playing that track for a while.

Laying props is done very quickly, and you have the ability to place them in the middle of a jump or simply driving down the track. Once you are at a point you’d like to place a ramp, it’s as simple as opening the tools and placing it. You can also freely move the cursor to where you want to place them without having to bring Joe along with you, which gives you some freedom to lay pieces on one of the three planes a level has (much like LittleBigPlanet). You can’t pause the gravity, though, so pieces hanging in the air, apart from the bounce pads and spikes, will fall into place, so if you’re wanting to increase the angle of a ramp, you need to place something under where you’re going to place it first.

As far as level goals go, you don’t have the ability to put in the D-A-N-G-E-R pieces (which act like the COMBO in the old Tony Hawk games, but don’t require you to combo the entire track to get them), which are found in some of the Career mode tracks, nor can you place hidden stars. You can place coins and the star points, as well as landings for the other challenges, though. When placing landing pads, I suggest taking the jump first and placing them just before Joe Danger lands.

Some of the things I would have liked to have seen done differently? Well, for one, I would have liked it when you finish a segment, the game would automatically place the staring position on the plane that the previous section ends on, to at least let you know where you left off (although, some segments could have had any of the three planes available to continue into). I would also like to be able to perform different goals on retries, but still get credited for goals I completed on a previous play through like in career mode. I also think being able to pause the physics when placing pieces like in LBP would have been nice as well, so you have the angle of something you wanted to achieve, and then place something else under it to keep it steady when you un-pause the physics. Relatively minor issues, but still noteworthy. Sandbox is really, really fun.

What’s more, you can also share your tracks with friends and compete for high scores with that as well. You’re only able to have ten saved tracks though, and you must use one of those slots for shared tracks and tracks of your own, so you’ll have to keep track of what tracks you already have, etc. (yeah, I used that word a lot in one sentence :P). What would have been nice would have been a universal hub to download and share tracks, so it’d be much easier to share your creations with the community instead of solely between friends, and have even larger leader boards so you can track worldwide who has the highest scores on your creation.

Now, for a few more details of what is planned, based off of comments and the like by the developers themselves. I’ve already mentioned an upcoming patch including custom soundtrack support, but there are apparently a few more upcoming additions that might make you consider purchasing the game. They’re currently at work on allowing you to view replays, and even upload them to YouTube, so such features would be welcome for sure. Hopefully the YouTube support works on custom tracks as well, so everyone can see the crazy stuff I made without having to get the game or be my friend :lol:. Of course, why wouldn’t you?

Overall, the game is one of those titles that you simply must own, especially if you’re into challenging yourself and your friends, or to simply just have some fun. It’s family friendly and you can potentially spend hours upon hours playing it and not even realize it. Sharing tracks with your friends is nice, and being able to track the scores of your friends helps add to the fun factor. You’ll begin to spend a lot of time in the Sandbox, that’s for sure.

Technically, the game has a nice physics engine, and tripled with the beautiful graphics and fun soundtrack, you have a game that not only plays great, but looks and sounds great, too. The simplicity of the controls make it a blast to do some crazy ridiculous combos and the challenging levels will certainly make you want to try harder to meet the goals, all while not getting to the point where you want to break the controller (though, I can’t say that for everyone). It’s a complete package, and with upcoming features that are planned, it makes it even more of a bargain. You owe it to yourself to pick this one up, as it’s one of the best PSN titles to date, and with that, I can’t wait to see what Hello Games has for us gamers in the future!

[review pros=”Nice color palette
Fun for everyone
Sandbox mode allows for creativity
Challenging for those who want to complete everything
Trophies are pretty easy to gain
Destroy your friends’ scores
Simple, intuitive controls
” cons=”Some minor bugs here and there
Can’t pause physics in Sandbox mode
Lack of a tutorial for Sandbox
Can’t share track creations globally
Has the potential to be frustrating for some
Environments and music could use some variety
” score=95]

This review is based on a retail copy of the PS3 version of Joe Danger provided by Hello Games.