Falling smack-bang in the deluge of summer sport and E3 excitement, Joe Danger’s low-profile release on Playstation Network has gone largely unnoticed, which is unfortunate to say the least for brit-based Hello Games’ debut title. As a gameplay primer, think of Trials HD crossed with Kickstart, blend it with a dash Motocross Maniacs, add a pinch of Sonicstrained through LittleBigPlanet, and you’ll be somewhere in the vicinity. Fortunately for a game with so many immediate influences, quality remains consistently high throughout.
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 50+ are commonplace after the first couple of tiers. Triggers control acceleration, braking, reverse and trick rotation, with one button 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.
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. The developer quickly litters each playfield 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.
Of course the requisite leaderboards provide the main draw once each of the levels has been mined for stars (collectible items traded that unlock new courses), and it’s here that the scoring system comes into its own. If ever you were addicted to Tony Hawk in its early days, you’ll recognise the appeal instantly, as the combo system allows for chaining an entire level’s worth of content together with wheelies and various other tricks. 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 a restart button brings you back to a checkpoint moments away from that initial failure.
Perhaps the only major disappointment is that online support is entirely absent. The packed-in level editor is a joy to use, and it would have been good to trade and rate other designs from the playerbase, but maybe that’s expecting a little too much from the small team that produced such a well-polished and addictive single-player experience. If you enjoyed Trials, and if you like Sonic, or even Tony Hawk, you owe it to yourself to give this a try.