Joe Danger: Special Edition Review (Xbox360)

Falling smack-bang in the deluge of summer sport and E3 excitement, Joe Danger’s original low-profile release on PlayStation Network went largely unnoticed, which was unfortunate to say the least for brit-based Hello Games’ debut title. Since then he’s gained a steady reputation as one of the better platform/race protagonists in the downloadable space, and this XBLA Special Edition should open up the appeal even further. Fortunately, Joe Danger is a game that fully deserves all the attention.

As a gameplay primer, think of Trials HD crossed with Kickstart, blend it with a dash of Motocross Maniacs, add a pinch of Sonic strained through LittleBigPlanet, and you’ll be somewhere in the vicinity. Fortunately for a game with so many immediate influences, quality remains consistently high throughout.

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Our titular hero is a permanently-grinning washed up old motorbike stuntman on a trail of a redemptive and glorious comeback, and it’s your job to guide him through numerous obstacle courses as the acrobatics become more outlandish and difficult with every passing tyre. Progress is measured inch-by-inch in some cases, and restart counts of 100+ are commonplace even in the first couple of tiers. The triggers control acceleration, braking, reverse and mid-air rotation, momentum is manipulated with the left stuck, whilst one button is assigned to a quick bunny-hop, one to duck, and another to the nitro boost - a portion of which is refilled with every successful trick. Simple enough on the surface, deceptively deep with practice.

As the most immediate point of reference, Trials HD is the most blindingly obvious touchstone for Joe’s left-to-right traversal, albeit with a far more forgiving approach to physics. But to sell it as a simple clone would be criminal, since Hello Games has littered each of its levels with sections that require significant changes in elevation, reverse motion and all sorts of bounce-pad chicanery. Indeed by the third tier of challenges, each section of colourful scenery often resembles a platform game more than it does physics-based racer, with progression depending on landing a series of jumps accurately, collecting difficult-to-reach objects, or floating over obstacles to land with precision.

The trick system remains intact

Of course the requisite leaderboards provide the main draw once each of the stages has been mined for stars (collectible items traded that unlock new courses) and D-A-N-G-E-R letters, and it’s here that the scoring system comes into its own. If ever you were addicted to the Tony Hawk series in its early days then you’ll recognise the appeal instantly, as the combo system allows for chaining an entire level of tricks together with wheelies and various other linking mechanisms. Popping onto the rear tyre isn’t quite as satisfying as nailing a revert into a manual, but the string of expletives as you crash within centimetres of the finish line is undoubtedly the same.

And just like its skateboarding cousin, you’ll be back for another attempt almost immediately. Danger’s concoctions are all tests of skill, and rare is the occasion in which a wipeout or a bail was caused by anything other than bad timing or, in my case at least, pure ineptitude. The camera lingers a little too close to the action on occasion, and perhaps there could be some better signposting for obstacles as you plummet blindly to earth, but even in mild moments of frustration, a quick jab of the restart button brings you back to a checkpoint moments away from that initial failure.

The physics-based obstacle courses are as joyous as ever

Perhaps the only major disappointment is that online support still remains entirely absent from the XBLA offering. The packed-in level editor is a joy to use (and expanded with a new arena for anybody coming over from the PS3 version), and it would have been good to trade and rate other designs from the playerbase (level sharing between friends is still encouraged), but maybe that’s expecting a little too much from the small team that produced such a well-polished and addictive single-player experience.

As far as the 360-specific additions are concerned, there are a few extra environments and characters for you to get your teeth into, but the core of Joe Danger is resolutely the same as its PS3 cousin. And for once, that’s a fantastic thing. If you enjoyed Trials, and if you like Sonic or even Tony Hawk, you owe it to yourself to give this a try.

Best Game Moment: Bouncing up the leaderboards.

Platform Played: Xbox 360