XBLA Review: Joe Danger: Special Edition

Joe Danger: Special Edition features vibrant and catchy music, however, the sound that will ring in your ears after playing is no melody, it’s the gut-wrenching “KERCHUNK” of failure. This sound near-constantly jabs at your ears during the 6 or so hours it takes to finish the career-mode. But whenever that horrible effect is played you’ll instantly punch the Back button to start your umpteenth attempt of the level because the one-more-go-factor shines with this one.

Essentially, Joe Danger is a physics-based, more complicated Excitebike focusing on traversal rather than racing. As titular stuntman Joe Danger, you ride your motorbike through a series of side-scrolling obstacle-courses filled with platformer-style hazards. Interspersed with these standard levels are races, which ramp up the chaos a few notches. To progress, one performs level-specific challenges such as collecting items or finishing within a set time. By doing this, stars are earned and used to unlock new levels.

Great controls are largely responsible for how entertaining the game is: The bike-physics are tuned to a perfect sweet-spot between nimble and weighty, making it satisfying and simple – though not necessarily easy – to pull off jumps, flips and tricks. Contrary to certain other precision-based, platforming-style games, the controls in Joe Danger are never a hurdle between player and game, and instead manage to reach the ideal state of any control system – to feel nonexistent.

The second half of Joe Danger’s Yin-Yang of great gameplay is the level design. Early on, the game teaches you the simple key concepts; boosting, tilting the bike in the air, and jumping. Subsequently, your skills with these concepts are tested in an increasingly devilish fashion. Often, the game tricks you by repeatedly incentivizing a certain maneuver, only to throw out a situation where you must deliberately NOT perform that maneuver to succeed. The level design consistently forces you to keep an open mind and rethink your techniques, giving the game a slight puzzle-game feel.

As for the volume of content: Besides the 6-8 hour career mode there is an additional, Special Edition-exclusive, “The Lab” campaign featuring extra-challenging levels, as well as a level-editor similar to LittleBigPlanet (though not nearly as comprehensive, and sadly lacking the ability to share levels with anyone but your friends). Both of these provide more Joe Danger, an undeniably good thing, but are definitely complimentary rather than essential to the game. Finally, there is split-screen multiplayer, which I could not test, but imagine is solid.

Giving the game a pleasant vibe is the Pixar-like aesthetic. Cartoony and colorful backgrounds, hummable and upbeat music, and Joe’s regular shouts of “Wahoo! Yee-haw!” will glue a wide grin to your face, at least until the challenge becomes too much and you start Dragonborn-shouting cuss-words at the screen. Nonetheless, the jolly presentation is a nice element, and certainly improves the game’s experience.

Joe Danger is everything an Arcade game should be in the classic sense. It’s to-the-point, it’s easy to learn yet hard to master, and above all, it’s fun. Even with the “Kerchunk”-based ear-torture, it’s well worth 1200 Microsoft points.

Pros:

  • Satisfying, arcadey gameplay
  • Bonus modes provide a wealth of content
  • Charming presentation

Cons:

  • Can be hard. No-longer-fun-hard.

4/5

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Author: Magnus Risebro View all posts by
Magnus Risebro lives deep in the bowels of Norway. He writes about videogames for Vagary.tv.