While it’s easy to look at Joe Danger: Special Edition and assume it’s a kid’s version of XBLA smash Trials HD, that would be doing it a severe disservice. It is in fact far better than that would imply, and perhaps surprisingly, far deeper and more intricate than Trials. While RedLynx’s title was undoubtedly a fantastic, insanely addictive game with perfectly polished level design, it was far from a Jack of all trades. It was a master of its one trade — navigating from the start to finish of intricate, expertly-designed trials-biking obstacle courses — it offered little variation outside of that. Now don’t get me wrong, that isn’t intended as a slight on Trials, but Joe Danger offers far more depth and variation than just a progressive, hair-pulling difficulty curve.
You see, while the core concept of riding from the start to finish line of a obstacle-ridden course may be the same between each game, the biggest trick up Joe Danger’s sleeve is that rather than asking you solely to get from point A to point B, each level offers numerous “stars”, tasking you with various challenges. For example, to get a Time Star, you have to beat the level’s par time limit. For a Combo Star, you have to keep a combo of flips, tricks and wheelies going for the entire length of the course. There’s stars for collecting pickups, hitting targets and finding hidden objects, as well as combinations thereof (such as collecting all the pickups AND beating the par time). There’s also bronze, silver and gold trophies for hitting each level’s high scores. While written down, that may not particularly sound like there’s much depth, chasing each and every star takes a surprising amount of intricate time and skill, not to mention being unbelievably fun and incredibly addictive. And I really mean INCREDIBLY ADDICTIVE, especially as you work through the game’s innumerable levels and steady, ever-increasing difficulty curve.
For the truly psychotic/inhuman (sorry, I should use the politically correct term: “advanced”) players, the XBLA Special Edition adds a new sort of challenge to the previously PSN-exclusive, the Pro Medal. These batshit medals challenge you to nail every star in a single run of the level. Again, on paper this might not sound too bad, but trying to keep a combo going while collecting every floating coin, finding and collecting the hidden star, landing on top of every target AND
reaching the finish line within the time limit simultaneously takes a psy… *ahem* I mean, it takes an “advanced” level of precision and skill.
The combination of all of these various methods of tackling each level offers a surprisingly amount of content and playtime into what essentially looks like a simple game. While most courses can be “beaten” (by that, I mean merely reaching the finish line) in easily under a minute, you can just as easily spend over an hour on one single level chasing each star.
While the game can be frustrating at times because of that, it’s thankfully never unfair. It’s a tough balancing act between the two, but Hello Games tread that line carefully enough so you never feel cheated when something goes awry, but it’s tricky enough that there is always a sense of success and satisfaction when your run goes perfectly. On top of that personal satisfaction, each Pro Medal rewards you with a specific unlock: additional playable characters, gamer pictures, and unlockables in future Hello Games releases. And when there are levels or stars that you just can’t master, don’t worry – you can unlock any level you want at any time, as long as you have obtained the requisite number of stars unlocked.
One of the most notable feathers in Joe Danger’s cap is its inimitable abundance of charm. Everything about the game makes you smile, be it the brilliant character designs, the bright colour schemes or the effervescent music and sound effects. All utterly charming, as I’m sure the screenshots alone prove. It does help somewhat that when you do get angry after a solid half an hour working on that one damn ruddy star that you know you can get, eyes and ears are soothed by that overwhelming charm assault.
For those of you who played the game on the PS3 when it was released last year via the Playstation Network, you’ll know all that already. What about new features? On the most basic level, the game fixes the complaints and niggles of that original release, namely the long loading times (reportedly 80% faster on the XBLA version), tighter bike handling and eradicating anti-aliasing issues.
The biggest new feature that the developers have added to the Special Edition of the game is the Laboratory, a challenge mode full of elaborate prototype levels. Just in case the main career wasn’t stuffed to the rafters with quite
enough content, the Lab mode adds dozens more levels and entirely new, arguably harder challenges to the mix.
The game also features a Sandbox, a fluid, excellent level creation/editor mode that allows you to share levels with friends online. While I personally don’t have enough creativity to get full use of this mode, it’s undoubtedly one of the easiest to use level creators I’ve ever come across and, judging from the levels I’ve played and seen, the end results can be astoundingly impressive.
Finally, just in case that wasn’t quite
enough content, the game also offers a multiplayer mode that is an absolute blast to play. Sadly it is only local multiplayer, but the online leaderboard integration for each track does a great job in compensating for that - after all, isn't it better to spend more time working on a perfect run and wiping the floor with your friend's best score than it is beating them in just one race?
While it's easy to judge the game based on its simplistic, easy-to-master controls and its wonderful child-like visuals, Joe Danger: Special Edition is far bigger and better than that would suggest. It packs a huge amount of content and variety, offering endless hours of unabashed fun. There’s often a stigma attached to the 1200 MSP price tag on XBLA titles, but the massive, almost overwhelming amount of content and the pristine, perfectly-polished production of Joe Danger: Special Edition definitely gives you more than your money’s worth.