A Surprisingly Deep Arcade Racer
Joe Danger, at its core, is an arcade racer that owes a lot to ExciteBike on the original Nintendo. Of course, current gamers demand more than ExciteBike could ever have delivered in 1986, and Joe Danger obliges them with local and online multiplayer, as well as a simple and powerful level editor/creator.
But let’s focus on the single player campaign for the moment. Most downloadable titles offer up a couple hours of solid gameplay, giving completionists perhaps another 6-8 hours to earn all Trophies or Achievements. Joe Danger’s single player mode spans 11 tournaments, each of which is broken into multiple race events. Finishing each race will typically unlock the next one, but you can also earn gold stars for accomplishing specific tasks such as beating a time limit or collecting all blue stars in a level. You can “spend” gold stars to unlock more difficult races. There are so many events that, despite my snit above about finishing games for the sake of integrity, I was unable to finish every race in Joe Danger in time for this review.
The narrative driving your quest for stars is as shallow as you might expect. You play as a washed up stuntman named—wait for it—Joe Danger. And old Joe’s looking to get back on top of the pile by winning as many events and awards as possible. Honestly, just don’t worry about it. You’re racing a motorcycle equipped with a jetpack on tracks with steep ramps, spiked traps, and springs that shoot you fifty feet in the air. That’s plenty of enticement.
Like countless video games before it, Joe Danger places heavy emphasis on high scores. If your PS3 is connected to the internet (and it must be if you’re playing Joe Danger, as the game is download-only), your score will appear on the online leader boards every time you finish a race. You will also earn bronze, silver, or gold trophies based on your score—not PSN Trophies, but regular in-game trophies. You earn PSN Trophies for much more complicated tasks, such as earning all stars in eight different events.
Racking up points is as simple as performing combos. Ramps and jumps provide ample opportunity for you to flip Joe’s motorcycle forward or backward in the air or perform more dramatic stunts by pressing and/or holding the R1 and L1 buttons in midair. Holding stunts until just before you land increases the amount of points you receive. Maintaining combos means performing smaller stunts, such as wheelies, while you’re on the ground as well. Several stages actually require you to maintain a single combo from starting gate to finish line to receive a gold star.
By now it should be obvious that Joe Danger is not nearly as simple as it initially appears. A seasoned gamer could burn through, say, the first three tournaments, earning all gold stars without breaking a sweat. Then, far too suddenly, that same seasoned gamer will hit a wall of difficulty. Races will still be accessible and easy to finish for just about everyone, but those gold stars will require a dozen or more playthroughs to earn. Partly this is due to the multiple routes on the more advanced tracks—you may not be able to earn all blue stars and gold coins in a single run, for example. But the plain fact is that the game just gets a lot harder all of a sudden.
Fortunately the controls are dead-accurate. Blowing a trick or falling into a trap will always be your own fault, not the game’s. As with most modern games, physics also play a role in control, so you will have to be aware of your momentum at all times. Physics does fly out the window with Joe’s inexplicable ability to reverse his motorcycle’s direction in midair, but such concessions are both necessary and fun in video games.
About halfway through the single-player campaign, you will be certain you’ve seen everything Joe Danger has to offer, and the rest of the tracks will be increasingly difficult combinations thereof. And that is when the game introduces that level editor I mentioned earlier. Some races will require you to pause the action midrace and manipulate the track by adding, deleting, or moving ramps or obstacles.
These little forays into level creation will undoubtedly whet your appetite for the full-fledged level editor, which allows you to trade your created levels with anyone on your friends list who also has Joe Danger (remember, Sony allows you to share PSN games with up to three friends if you log on to their machines under your ID to download them—read the User Agreement for details). It is a real shame, however, that unlike Little Big Planet there is no online lobby or level sharing with strangers on the PSN. Multiplayer matches are similarly limited to local split-screen races, though racing a buddy in the same room is still a blast.So is Joe Danger the best downloadable game on the PSN? No, not even close. That honor goes hands-down to a futuristic (and tremendously difficult) hover racer called Wipeout HD. If you have a Playstation 3 and haven’t played Wipeout HD…what’s the matter with you? Stop reading this review and go download the demo right now. But back on topic, Joe Danger works as a fun and mildly challenging game for casual and skilled gamers alike. At $15, it’ll offer you hours of enjoyment, as well as supporting talented independent developers. Everybody wins.