Break Bones and Records, Not Controllers
Something about Joe Danger seems to attract crowds. Passerby -- though rare, considering I'm playing in my basement -- can't help but stop and stare, at least for a little while. They'll leave after I botch my 110th (the game counts your attempts) try at landing on a target and successfully ducking under the hurdle right next it, but the fact that the game caught their attention at all is praiseworthy. I wouldn't be surprised if, assuming you're playing the game among a group of friends, money begins changing hands at the end of each of your attempts. In this respect, Joe Danger stays true to its inspiration.
The titular Joe, hailing from the prestigious Danger clan, wants to break every world record out there, most of which usually involve getting all of the blue stars in a certain stretch of land or holding a trick combo across that same stretch of land for some reason. The Evel Knievel-inspired stunt-rider can only smile and wave his hands in the air as he lands that perfect trick, or, more commonly, falls on his back and yells "Ouch!" and has to start all over again. It sounds odd, but you'd swear he was happy when he said it, too.
It isn't as "groundbreaking" as so many other "indie" games claim to be, but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make for the sake of quality. The narrative setup for the game isn't exactly enthralling, either, but I'll forgive Hello Games for their lack of storytelling muscle since Joe Danger is so much fun. Getting to the end of a given level on your relatively tiny bike is certainly not as frustrating as it would be in something like Trials, but you will find yourself stuck in certain levels as you try to beat the level under a certain time or follow the proper path in order to collect all the coins in a single run.
As is the case in many games of this kind, you'll be eased in during the first couple of levels and think you're on top of the world before the game really shows its devilish potential for level design and brings you back down to Earth, usually in the form of a face plant.
When a game is about high scores and rote memorization, it usually lives or dies based on its level design. Joe Danger's levels certainly have the creativity that's expected, and it's especially important here, where your objectives are limited to about 8 per level. The usual traps are accompanied by multiple lanes, gravity-defying treadmills, and other sorts of deadly devices. I never felt as though the levels were ridiculous are difficult for difficulty's sake, and I knew that every mishap was my fault.
And if you see it fit to one-up the creators, you can make your own levels in a fairly easy-to-us level creator, though it lacks one or two things that the main game has access to (most notably, fans that lift you up in the air that could've made for some really twisted death devices).
The most ingenious thing about Joe Danger is that instead of making the end of the level the ultimate goal, every level has a set of optional challenges. You can go for the high score or just find a hidden run on separate runs. After you "beat" a level, you can go on the next one without doing all of the challenges, which makes a certain amount of the possible frustration avoidable. But even when I aimed to get every star on a level, I never felt like throwing my controller once, even when my tries exceeded 200. That's likely because Joe Danger isn't as hard as Trials or other games that emphasize "the perfect run", but I'll take something that'll let me see both the credits and my walls intact any day.
Though it could've used some standard online features such as recording and watching playthroughs, Joe Danger is a fantastic exercise in frustration, in that it isn't really that frustrating. The optional difficulty is very much welcome, the level design hampers most of my anger at constant failure, and the fun of having people watch you fail over and over again is definitely worth the $15 asking price. If you happen to lose more money than that to the game, well, you know who's to blame.