The original Joe Danger had a near freehold on charm and geniality, with its sunny exterior and playful cast of personified cubes, cacti and the daredevil himself cajoling you into its colourful world almost without your knowing. It was only after a few hours spent negotiating its sandy nexus of hurdles, jumps and doom-snares that you learned Joe Danger – the game, at least – was a complete bastard; stone-cold in its resolve to see you weep. This was chiefly due to a difficulty curve that resembled the CN Tower at the best of times.
Fortunately, Joe Danger 2: The Movie is shot of the gruelling difficulty and instead relies on a new-found medley of vehicles and objectives to furnish its latter half with plenty of reasons to keep playing once you’ve mastered its simple rule set. Hello Games’ sequel quickly settles back into a familiar groove as you rocket through concise, hazard-filled gauntlets, collecting trinkets and satisfying a docket of objectives that borrow from influences as far and wide as Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater andJames Bond.
Taking full advantage of the action movie backdrop, stages range from the familiar to the delightfully ridiculous. I’m not entirely sure what happened in terms of the overarching story, but I do know I thoroughly enjoyed parking a snowmobile on a nuclear missile, punching a speeding getaway van to death and adopting secret-agent tactics to sneak into a military base on skis. Sam Fisher could learn a thing or two from Joe.
That’s all a long-winded way of saying Joe Danger 2 is a damn sight more colourful in its variety than Joe Danger ever was. Before you’ve even had a chance to mangle our hero beneath his signature motorbike you’ll have piloted mine-carts into mountainsides, jetpacks into grinders and snowmobiles into something snowy. And probably sharp. Indeed, there feels like a reluctancy to even acknowledge the bike on which Joe Danger rode to stardom on, with it consigned to just a handful of cameo appearances across a core campaign that encompasses some 30-odd levels (and another bolted to the side almost equal in length).
Level design is better than before, with tracks tailored to the dozen or so different vehicles on offer. So, while the flat jurassic levels are perfect for sprints on bikes and quads, they’re a world apart from the verticality of the warren-like city tracks, which necessitate careful use of the jet pack’s thrusters over raw speed, or the downhill Indiana Jones inspired minecart gauntlets.
There’s more going on in the levels than you’ll be able to handle in one fleeting dash too, which is partly where the oft-made comparisons to RedLynx’s Trials series dry up. You can, and at first probably will, treat Joe Danger 2 as a racer, whooshing through its tracks competing against the ghosts of your friends. There are leaderboards and objectives exclusive to Joe Danger 2: The Movie: The Racer, with the scores and ghosts of your friends thrust at you at every available opportunity.
Equally, though, it’s just as much a score attack game. You can execute simple stunts with combinations of the shoulder buttons, knitting the more flamboyant tricks together with wheelies and cheeky back flips between the big jumps. Played this way it demands patience and composure, particularly when your two-minute, meticulously woven string of stunts and other brainless exploits comes unravelled as Joe sails unfazed – stoic even – into the gaping jaws of a bear trap.
But it’s also the most thrilling way to play; chancing lofty scores on the greedy assumption that you can make it that little bit further, cram one more back flip in, Superman for just a few more…THWACK. It’s got all the makings of a quality score attack game – exhaustive leaderboards, ghosts, the all-important instant restart – but it probably won’t foster quite the same pathological devotion to leaderboard positions as Trials.
During the longer levels, which often arrive hand-in-hand with punitive time limits and checkpoints more strung out than Terrence Malick’s oeuvre, it becomes a case of committing entire, lengthy routes to memory. Fail to respond to one of the director’s split-second barks and Joe skates casual-like down a mountainside on his face. Fail to notice one of many traps peppered throughout the tracks and his pancreas makes friendly with his esophagus. In Trials, mistakes rarely cost more than a few seconds, but it still maintains its challenge. Here, debacle can spell a minute’s progress lost.
Failing is funny the first few times, at least, and a tap of the back button hurls you back into the fray without so much as a sniff of a loading screen. But there are a few instances where the game falls foul of that ever-so-fine line between challenging and plain annoying. Joe Danger 2 is at its finest when the tracks are concise and the objectives optional; short enough that you can memorise the tough sections by rote while stringing together natty combos without having to worry about repeating large chunks of the track if you forget to duck beneath the thundering jurisdiction of an industrial sized circular saw. It doesn’t help that there’s so much happening on-screen at once: cars trundle by obscuring explosives, crates conceal traps on the ground and the ghosts and score multipliers that take up residency on the screen draw attention away from the many perils at home on the tracks.
Still, there’s plenty more to celebrate: the returning level editor, for one, as well as multiplayer for up to four players. It’s far from exhaustive, offering just five tracks and a simple race-to-the-finish mode (with the added bonus of being able to punch your chums right in the face), but it’s solid local, four-friends-on-the-sofa multiplayer. Which begs the question, why there isn’t more of it? Elsewhere, the deleted scenes campaign is packed to the rafters with unusual riffs on the races and modes found in the main campaign: cupcake motorcross, bowling with chickens, Elvis strapped to a jetpack – these are, at times, some of the best levels.
Of far more importance, there are monkeys riding bicycles, knights riding unicycles and tracks with names like Joe-Manji, The Empire Bikes Back and Good Wheel Stunting. This is not a sequel slavish to its predecessor and when its wild mix of vehicles and goals collides with the slick controls, solid leaderboards and the developers’ endearing sense of humour, out from the smouldering wreckage comes a game shot through with pizazz.
This review was published at BeefJack.