Joe Danger 2: The Movie is old-school in both its gameplay and the way it communicates its world and rules to players. If you remember the days when games merely started, handed you a gun/skateboard/sword and told you to get on with it, you’ll be right at home. If you’re more accustomed to being babied through the openings of games, however, there’s a very real chance the opening 20 minutes might culminate in more violence outside the screen than in it.
It’s infuriating in the way that only videogames can be. ‘Come on,’ you think. ‘It’s just Tony Hawk via Trials with some wacky vehicles.’ Then you start, you die, you restart, you’re not told how to do any tricks, stuff keeps killing you, you finish the level and see your friends’ scores, and you weep softly. How did they get 45 million on a level, when you can’t break a single million? Then you get better, or you quit. Just like old times. Screw Joe Danger: The Movie, and screw its stupid name. It’s the game’s fault, not ours.
In a way, that’s true. Joe Danger: The Movie could really do with a dedicated tutorial mode, just to ease you in. Stretching these lessons out across a couple of hours seems like a good idea, but really it is confusing and irritating. Especially when you consider that, unlike the original Joe Danger, there’s a multitude of vehicles, each with different handling and even gameplay styles to pick up and learn.
And then you realise that the game actually is babying you; it’s just that your friends are better than you and that burning hatred of the game is, in fact, an unstoppable desire to better them if it takes your forever and a day. Like we said: old-school. Not perfect, nor particularly elegant, but there is some logic there.
Because Joe Danger isn’t about finishing the six chapters that comprise movie mode and the even more difficult ‘deleted scenes’ that follow, nor getting big scores as you do so. Those levels are your lessons, in both how to play the game and how to understand its layers. The little reminders you get at the end of the stage about how insignificant your score is are to be ignored for now. It’s about beating your friends, and user-unfriendly as it is to get essentially no assistance at the start of the game, soon you’ll have learned the ropes and be ready to challenge.
Most new games are about constantly going forward; Joe Danger is about going back, learning the rules and then challenging, not having it all handed to you on the first run. Each of the chapters comprises a different theme – Indy-style minecart races, futuristic jetpack jaunts – and each has a different set of levels and vehicles to suit. And then each of those levels has different rules to adhere to and insta-death pitfalls to avoid.
This initial complexity is bewildering, frustrating, and then finally freeing. Because, like the old Tony Hawk games, the best runs are about mixing both your individual flair with the rules of the game. Once this penny drops, the game becomes infinitely more enjoyable, and those high scores, once gargantuan and unattainable, are up for grabs if you’ve got what it takes.
This being a sequel, Hello Games has added more features, for both good and ill. The upside should be that there’s more variety in the levels you play and how you approach them; after all, isn’t skiing away from an avalanche about as far away from riding a unicycle as you can get?
In theory yes, but in practice some of the new vehicles dilute the experience. The jetpack doesn’t really suit the game’s style, hilarious as it is, and its inherently floaty handling coupled with the close camera doesn’t tally with a game that’s all about control.
Other vehicles fare better. We’re fans of the unicycle and the constant battles to stay upright, but functionally there’s no real difference between the skis and the minecart. Aesthetically it’s a nice change of pace, but we’d have preferred to stay on the motorbike to be honest, and we’d also have liked more straight trick fests, without the environmental interruptions and constant deaths.
Your mileage may vary, but we know that when it all comes together and you’ve learned the stages, the pitfalls, the jumps, the grenade bounce heights and the best trick spots, when you’ve learned how to keep a combo going for an entire level //and// get all the stars, and when you’ve realised that the game isn’t purely about pace and never really was, that’s when Joe Danger starts to sing. If you’re buying it to play on your own, we’d be tempted to tell you not to bother. Global leaderboards are featured, of course, but this is a game about competing against friends.
Like illustrious forebears in the score attack/total frustration genre, Joe Danger: The Movie will annoy as much as it delights. Don’t be fooled by the cutesy graphics and sound; Hello Games wants you dead and the levels it built are happy to oblige. There are times when you’ll consider that maybe, despite your endless improvements, the deck is stacked against you too much, and we can’t help but feel like Hello has gone wide when it could have gone deep, adding more tricks rather than more vehicles. If you’re the competitive type, however, meet Joe. He’s a right bastard, but you’ll warm to him.