Every game that has ever made you go fast is in Joe Danger. Hello Games artist Grant Duncan points to his childhood love of Sonic The Hedgehog as the inspiration for Danger’s spring-and-spike-filled level design. The little blue blighter’s touch is palpable throughout, but that’s only one of the game’s many influences. From the obvious Excitebike homage in the titular stuntman’s nemeses, Team Nasty, to the clever use of Burnout’s focus on trick-combination and nitrous-oxide-boost management to the surprise co-opting of Super Mario 64’s star-collecting level-progression. Hello Games has thrown every last toy from the chest into Joe Danger. Shockingly, it never feels bloated. It feels fast.
Joe Danger’s skeleton is motocross racing, but its muscles and meat are in making precise jumps off absurd ramps while cutting the speediest and most daring path through the game’s devious courses. You always begin at a starting line, and races end when you cross a checkered finish line, but reaching the end point is only a fraction of each track’s goal. You have 10 sets of multiple courses. Some are made available when you finish a preceding course, but most are unlocked by spending stars. Stars are earned by performing the various feats of derring-do dictated by each course. In the early going, stars are relatively easy to earn; complete the course under a certain time, finish without breaking a combo chain, get first place in a race against Team Nasty, etc. By the fourth set of courses, though, the difficulty ramps up significantly. The previous conditions to earn stars start to pile atop one another; it’s theoretically a lot easier to keep up a constant stream of stunts without wiping out once while hitting all seven targets on a dusty desert track than it is in practice.
Danger is never a chore, though. Repeating courses is expected and encouraged, and a simple press of the select button sends Joe back to the most recent course checkpoint. This is easily the game’s best control feature, one deserving to be singled out in a series of complex inputs. Nearly every button on the PlayStation 3 controller is used to manipulate Joe, and there’s a serious learning curve in wrapping your head around the physicality of the game itself. Once you have, though, the game is wonderfully fluid and immensely rewarding. Other diversions in Danger include a full (though cumbersome) track editor, and a truly excellent set of multiplayer races. Two-player split-screen races that last between 30 seconds and a minute are the only option, but they are the sort of sweet, simple confection rarely seen in a game of Danger’s caliber these days. Hello Games’ debut is a fine stunt in its own right, a game bursting at the seams with play that is never anything less than perfectly focused.