In the summer of 2010, PS3 gamers got a quirky little game called Joe Danger. Equal parts Excitebike and Trials HD, the game brought together the track creation and motorcycle sensibilities of the former while melding it with the physics, challenges and addictive nature of the latter. The result was both brutal and charming, and it was a big enough hit with both the critics and gamers that a multiplatform sequel is in the works. Before that sequel officially hits, though, the team at Hello Games has released something of a director's cut as an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive. Joe Danger: Special Edition may not be that unique of an experience to a crowd that got Trials HD, but that doesn't make the game any less fun.
The premise is rather simple and lighthearted. You take on the role of Joe Danger, a stuntman whose time in the spotlight was cut short after an injury put him out of action. Wanting the adoration of the fans once more, he officially announces that he's coming out of retirement, but after being away for so long, he's pretty rusty once he gets behind the handlebars of his bike. Your job is to retrain him in the ways of a motorcycle stuntman and get him past more challenges so he can defeat his archrivals at Team Nasty. He must prove that he still has what it takes to be the best motorcycle stuntman.
Although you're on a motorcycle, the game is more of a platformer than a racing title. While there are still a few opportunities for you to race against computer opponents, most of your time is spent navigating the course, avoiding spike walls and stripe, jumping over speedbumps and ducking under bars while taking off on ramps to perform tricks, such as jumping over buses and shark tanks. Crossing the finish line opens up the next course, but a few levels require stars to unlock. These stars are earned by performing certain tasks in a level, such as making a trick combo last through a whole run, getting all of the pickups in a level, or picking up the letters to spell "danger." Picking up hidden stars also adds to your total count.
Running through the various courses isn't the only thing you can do in the game. Like games such as LittleBigPlanet or the original Excitebike, you can create your own courses to complement the ones in the game. You're only given around 10 slots to save custom courses, so creating more levels means having to delete one in the process, but one of the more interesting elements is that you can share levels online and download them from others. The only issue is that you're restricted to sharing and downloading from those on your friends list as opposed to total strangers, but hopefully this can be addressed later with a patch.
The multiplayer differs greatly from the single-player game by being more traditional. You're still running through various obstacle-filled courses against a friend, but the objective is to make it to the finish line before your opponent does instead of going for a high score. It works well enough, but it is limited to two players split-screen and offers no online play; it's disappointing to those who don't have friends nearby who want to play the game. Fortunately, the game has online leaderboards for all of the single-player courses, so those who crave some type of competition can get it there.
The core game remains the same as the original version, but there are a few additions to merit the "special edition" addition to the moniker. Most of the features added in via patches as well as the characters available via DLC are all part of the package this time around, making the base release on par with a fully upgraded PSN version. Pro Stars are now bonus goals that are a part of some tracks, and they're awarded to players who manage to pick up all of the level stars in one run. Finally, there's the Lab, a set of new levels designed to test out one's skill with the game. These levels are rather well designed, and while they aren't as frustrating as the competition, they are fun experiences nonetheless.
What's featured in the game works very well. The task of navigating through obstacle-filled courses on a stunt bike is inherently appealing, and the emphasis on doing good-looking tricks as opposed to navigating precariously through an unstable course opens up the game a bit more to those who aren't so skilled in this type of game. Those players will be able to get through a decent chunk of the game without paying much attention to most of the goals, and by the time they get stuck completing tasks necessary for progression, they'll be comfortable enough to do so without feeling that the tasks are impossible. Veterans, on the other hand, will appreciate the complexity because of those tasks, especially the new Pro Stars since trying to get that medal often looks like something you'd see from a good Trials HD run.
There are a few things that Joe Danger seems to either omit or do wrong. When compared to the PS3 version, the only thing missing is the ability to make a recording, either locally or on YouTube, of your runs. It would've made the inclusion of Pro Stars more worthwhile, since people who grab these awards will likely want to show off to the world how they accomplished such a feat. While the more determined will have recording equipment, some built-in functionality would have been much more ideal. Also, the menu flow dictates that the completion of a level means you go back to the main menu instead of automatically going to the next level. This wouldn't be that annoying if it weren't for the fact that the load times are still a bit lengthy. With the courses as short as they are, it makes for an experience that, while good, lasts longer than it should.
The controls retain the same precision as before, and that's because the layout has remained unchanged from the original version. The left stick handles steering as well as bike balance, both in the air and on the ground when performing wheelies and endos. The A button handles boost, and the X button controls jumping when tapped once or twice and ducking when held down. Both the left and right bumpers handle tricks through a combination of holds and taps while the triggers handle forward and backward acceleration. None of the elements feel unresponsive or loose, so trick execution and landing never feel out of your control.
Graphically, the game looks just as good as it did on the PS3. The cartoon look, complete with bright colors, makes it stand out. While Joe and the members of Team Nasty look great, it's the background that stands out as being the most memorable element. The mountains and random blocks really add to the lighthearted look, but the random ads that litter the track are what one will remember the most. Cute monkeys serving as the mascot for a repair shop and a gentlemanly looking T-Rex hawking tea are rather humorous and become a very memorable part of the game's appearance. The animation is also well done for little things, like dancing cacti, and bigger things, like Joe crashing into a shark tank. However, the inability to skip longer crash animations gets annoying after time. Overall, this is a great-looking game that has the benefit of running at a smooth 60 fps.
The sound remains relatively unchanged. The music is bouncy but energetic, and a few tracks have a tendency to stay in your head for some time. The sound effects hit with just the right pitch, and while the voices are minimal, they are delivered rather well. The stadium announcer is purposefully over the top, and the crowd is just loud enough to replicate the feeling of a stadium stunt show.
Simply put, Joe Danger: Special Edition is a winner. The graphics and sound remain top-notch, and the easy-to-grasp control scheme makes it accessible for nearly everyone who wants to give the game a shot. Performing death-defying stunts may be appealing, and the low initial difficulty level eases in players, but the extra tasks challenge those who are looking for a higher level of difficulty. Even though the multiplayer feels limiting, and the replay options are no longer there, the presence of extra content mostly makes up for that oversight. Unless you've already invested plenty of time in the PSN version, you should have Joe Danger in your XBLA library.
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