A few years ago, a small studio named Hello Games made a big splash with its game, Joe Danger. Initially a PSN exclusive, it became a complementary game to Trials HD on XBLA, as it still featured some tricky motorcycle platforming with a friendlier aesthetic than the competition. It became an instant hit on PSN, big enough to propel it over to XBLA in an enhanced version with new levels. In an interesting reversal, Joe Danger 2: The Movie shows up on XBLA before the PSN release, with the latter version now sporting extras over the former. There's no word on whether the extra content will reach Xbox 360 players in some form, but one has to wonder if this is a worthy sequel.
All of the antics and stunts Joe had to endure from the first game have paid off big time. Back in the spotlight once again, he's been hired by a big-time movie director to perform all of the stunts for his latest string of action movies. As Joe, your job is to get through all of the death-defying courses until the movies are in the can and the end credits roll.
Like the first game, this is all about stunt platforming. Using your given vehicle for the level, you have to navigate through loops and jumps while trying to get to the end of the course in one piece. You have the usual spikes and barriers that hinder you, but because this is all done in the context of a movie, the dangers are much more lethal. Cannons firing in the background, spiked pneumatic presses, laser gates and grenades threaten to take you off your wheels, making the courses more difficult to navigate. Completing the level gives you a star and access to newer levels and, just as before, doing extra things — grabbing all of the collectibles in a level, performing a continuous string of tricks, or getting all of the letters needed to spell out "danger" — awards you with bonus stars that can be used to open up certain levels designed as checkpoints.
You may notice that the earlier paragraph said "vehicle" and not "motorcycle." That's because your vehicle depends on the scene. You still have your trusty motorcycle as well as an ATV in a few levels, but regular bicycles make an appearance, as do mine carts, skis and snowmobiles. The good news is that they all control in a similar enough manner, so there isn't much of a learning curve with each new mode of transportation. The only differences are in the tricks you can do in those vehicles, but since this game isn't trying to go for an expansive trick library like a Tony Hawk game, the limitations are fine.
There are two vehicles that play out differently, though only one of them is used extensively. The jetpack controls similarly to Pilotwings in that you only have to worry about thrust. You can slam your way to the ground, but most of your time will be spent avoiding objects or exploring nooks and crannies while controlling how high you can go without worrying about your fuel gauge. The other new vehicle is the unicycle, and unlike the jetpack, you only get to use it in a few levels. It behaves similarly to two- and four-wheeled vehicles except that you have to keep it balanced, giving you more to worry about beyond the challenges presented by the course.
Those last two vehicles keep the game feeling fresh since they're vastly different from everything else. Both are wildly different in terms of how they affect the game's difficulty. The unicycle adds much more challenge to a level because you have to maintain a constant balance. You'll retry a level several times because you somehow forgot to re-balance yourself after a loop or pushed too far forward up a hill. The balancing act means you'll always be doing some type of trick, though, so you'll easily earn two stars for these levels. The jetpack, on the other hand, feels like you're taking a break from the game since those levels are much easier to navigate. There aren't as many dangers to worry about, but the sheer joy of flight makes these levels still worth playing despite the low difficulty level.
The game is split up into several different modes, with the Movie Mode taking center stage. As mentioned earlier, each movie has you taking on different courses with different objectives and dangers. Some of these fit well with the theme, such as blocking missile blasts from a helicopter in the background or smashing the armored van the crooks are driving. The themes also play into the vehicle types, such as skis and snowmobiles for the spy levels and carts for the more Indiana Jones-like courses.
The levels are well designed and feature tricky segments, but you won't find much in terms of cohesion in this mode. The movie themes stay consistent through the early levels, but once you make it past the midway point, the themes repeat and get mixed up. The same movie has you riding down a cart before thrusting you into a snowmobile chase and then sending you back to medieval times — all without rhyme or reason. After the end of each movie, you're forced to sit through an unskippable replay of what you've done. The replay isn't of your exploits but of those recorded by the development team to give you an approximation of what you've done instead. While they don't mean much due to a nonsensical and almost nonexistent story, the game could have tried a little harder to maintain the illusion.
Those who found the first game to be challenging will find that the opposite is true in the sequel. There aren't as many levels that require stars to unlock, and the number of required stars for these levels is quite low. For the most part, you can gain just about everything you need by passing the levels and maybe getting a bonus star or two along the way. This ensures that there will be a higher percentage of people who finish the game, but it also means that non-completionists will be able to breeze through the title in one sitting. The completionists will have fun with the more difficult challenges in the main movie levels, but with the only real reward being more costumes to wear and a few Achievements, only the dedicated will bother.
Players looking for more of a challenge will find it in the deleted scenes section, the only place to find the unicycle. Like the latter levels, the themes don't connect, but the common bond of all levels is challenge. A good chunk of the levels contain multiple challenges and opportunities to get pro medals. In addition to the regular challenges of collecting more objects and finishing the level in a certain time, you'll run into some interesting challenges, such as using Joe to knock over multiple bowling pins with his body and exploded bike. The star count needed for some of the final challenges is fairly high, and there are over six cups to challenge, giving you plenty to conquer once the movie mode is done.
Just like before, the game features the ability to create your own tracks. You can use just about any background and any number of objects so long as they all fit into memory. The levels can be shared online, but unlike the first game's restriction of levels only being shared among friends, this title has global sharing — complete with the ability to rate levels and get your creations recognized by the developers. This really helps with the longevity of the title, especially if your friends don't create their own levels or own the game. There's a decently sized community making levels, a good sign that content won't end anytime soon.
Then there's the multiplayer, which plays out similarly to the last game. There are five courses, all of which feature different vehicles to use. Some courses have you being chased by an avalanche while others let you punch your opponents but all use the basic racing mechanic to determine the winner. The mode is quite fun, but it is restricted to local play, an interesting omission that was also done in the first game. Also perplexing is the fact that none of the user-created levels can be used in multiplayer mode, and while the five courses are well designed, it would've been superb to have a near-endless supply of tracks.
The controls are fine, though some actions aren't configured as expected. Thankfully, the whole thing is simple, with the left analog stick controlling balance, the triggers controlling acceleration and braking, the A button for turbo boosting, and the bumpers for pulling off tricks. The X button may be the source of contention for some, as it controls both ducking and jumping. Holding it down causes the rider to duck while releasing it from that state or tapping it produces a jump. While it means fewer buttons to remember, having both functions mapped to one button can be tricky for some and perplexing for others. The other design question is why players can't map any of the other buttons to available functionality. This is especially bothersome for those who have a hard time remembering that X is for jumping since the more traditional option is the A button.
Graphically, the game is just as colorful as before. There's a wide range of pastel colors used for every inch of the environment, and the different scenes mean that you'll see more than just the desert, lab and stadium environments of the first title. The environments are still littered with things like smiling blocks, and that cartoonish design bleeds over to the character models, which look as friendly as before. The particle effects look great and the animations look terrific, but the best part is that all of this holds up at a solid and smooth frame rate. It may not be the pinnacle of what the current generation of consoles can do, but it has a near-timeless look.
On the other hand, the sound has fared a little worse this time around. The director's voice has hyperactive but irksome inflections. You'll be annoyed the first time you hear him speak, and it doesn't get any better. Get past that, however, and the rest of the sound is fine. The effects have just the right pitch, with the sounds of the engines roaring realistically and the explosions coming through sharply. The music sounds both exciting and whimsical, and it fits the mood of each scene. The only other complaint is that the default volume is louder than normal, so everything sounds deafening even when you're on the main menu.
Joe Danger 2: The Movie is a game for the fans who wanted to love the first game but were turned off by its difficulty. The ease with which you can get through the stages means casual fans will be able to complete a good chunk of the game while the more dedicated ones can occupy their time with the various challenges included in each stage. The ability to share levels online means an endless supply of content, and the presentation, save for the director's voice, is great. It could use some work in the multiplayer department but, overall, Joe Danger 2 is a fun sequel to a surprising game.
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