Bouncing here, there, and everywhere, Joe Danger is at once a delightfully old-school stunt-racing experience and something entirely new. From the joyous presentation to the sounds of panic as Joe drops into a shark tank, it is almost impossible not to love Joe Danger and his enormous cheeky grin from start to finish. The game's charm belies deep, challenging, and rewarding gameplay that will keep you busy and grinning for many hours.
The game's story, as much as it has one, is a tale of redemption. Joe is an aging stuntman, who has returned against the odds after breaking all the bones in his body and is trying to claim the Master of Disaster title for his own. Now, he's back on his little bike, determined to make it to the top of the daredevil game, and it's your job to take him there. You do this by working your way through a number of different tours, wowing the crowds across a range of equally delightful locations and bizarre courses. As you work your way through the game, you face many racing and platforming challenges. These include simple races where you collect stars, dash for coins, and pull off death-defying and quite often utterly ludicrous stunts. When you add to that the local multiplayer options and the game's competent creation suite, you have a very high-value package. The one downside is that the game doesn't give you the ability to share your creations with the world--sharing is only between friends.
The core gameplay is fairly simple. The left stick controls your balance and aerial rotation, the triggers control your speed, and the shoulder buttons perform tricks. The square button lets you crouch and then jump, while the X button controls your boost. Boost is used to increase your speed in whichever direction you happen to be pointing, so while at the start it's just an effective way of gaining speed, at various points later on, you'll find yourself using it to fire yourself up over ledges, through spike-lined tunnels, or launch yourself toward bowling pins that need to be knocked over with your flying body. Controls are sharp, and you always feel that you are in control of Joe's movements. For example, double-jumps and aerial control using the brake or accelerate controls feel intuitive and natural. However hard the game gets, the precise controls and relatively forgiving nature of the game itself means that it never seems anything less than scrupulously fair.
These core controls play into a varied race-platforming game that at points rewards out-and-out speed, the utmost finesse, and even the occasional bit of mindless violence. The aim of each level of Joe Danger is to complete a range of challenges--some levels have up to eight different tasks for you to complete, not all of which can be done in the same run. Completing challenges earns you gold stars, which serve as currency to buy your way into later events. The game is structured so that you don't need to get all of the available stars to progress, so you're never forced into repeating any particular level or challenge over and over again.
This is rather fortunate because even early on, some of the challenges are fiendishly difficult. Normal tour events cost a maximum of three stars to enter (with many costing just one) and reward between two and eight stars if all challenges are completed. These challenges take their inspiration from a number of other games and genres. Some are essentially platforming challenges, such as those that require you to collect a string of coins that only exist for a set period of time after you pick up the first one, collecting the letters that spell out danger, or hitting various targets spread throughout the level. Others feel more akin to something you'd have found in an early Tony Hawk game, requiring you to complete the level or one of the objectives without breaking your trick combo as you string aerial daredevil stunts together with wheelies.
Another layer is added to the gameplay as the course editor is introduced during the single-player campaign. This gives various levels a significant puzzle element because you have to build your own short course to best achieve the objectives you've been given. This setup isn't used much but works well when it is, providing a welcome change of pace from the generally hectic and lightning-fast gameplay present in the more normal levels. Some of these involve moving around objects you're given, while others require you to delve into the game's object library to pick out the most appropriate tools for the job.
One interesting touch has to do with the fact that none of the stars needed to progress are tied to the scores you get. The main point of the scoring system is one-upmanship among friends, with leaderboards displayed at the end of every level along with your progress toward the starred goals. The scoring system is tied into the combos, as with the aforementioned skating game. You gain multipliers for every trick you successfully string together, with more points awarded for more complicated aerial tricks and diminishing returns applied to tricks you repeat over in any given level. Pulling off aerial tricks is a matter of hitting combinations of the two shoulder buttons, and you're never forced into pulling off any one trick to achieve a set goal. The range of tricks is fairly extensive, with up to four button presses being required for some of the more complex tricks. Some of the tricks can also be rather challenging to land perfectly.
This system is both fun and rewarding because you're never penalised for not pulling off a specific trick. However, pulling off specific complex stunts can be satisfying, as well as exceptionally profitable. This serves to encourage you to try to pull out outlandish stunts to outdo your PSN buddies but never makes the process punishing by tying in-game objectives to particularly outlandish antics. The social side of Joe Danger doesn't stop with bragging rights over high-scores, though. The game's full-featured level editor gives you the entire library of items, levels, and challenges that are found in the main game. It also lets you build single-player and multiplayer courses with real ease. You can test sections on the fly or just build tracks as you go--pressing the triangle button while flying through the air pulls you directly into the editor. This takes all the guesswork out of item placement because you can (for example) place targets where you land after having just done a backflip off your new ramp without needing to worry about it being impossible to hit.
You can send tracks to anyone whose PSN ID you know, but there's no interface to search public uploads or to make your tracks generally visible. This is a significant and unfortunate oversight because the creation tools are robust and intuitive--but there is little incentive to make a track that almost no one else is going to see. The local multiplayer is limited to two-player split-screen racing over six courses--excepting any that you build yourself. Unlike the rest of the game, they're all simply races, which is a great shame. Generally, the lack of options makes the mode feel really stripped. What's there is fun, but more options, such as score challenges and reasons to bust out the more ridiculous tricks, would have been very welcome.
Joe Danger's single-player action is enormous fun, and it's not just the big things that make it a great experience. Little touches, such as the comic-book visual kaboom when you hit a bomb, the noises made by the crowd as you wow them, or the level name's myriad obscure '80s cartoon references add to the game's already abundant charm. Joe's personality comes through too--his little waves, cheers, and grins as he pulls off outlandish stunts really can't help but make you smile. His crowning glory, though, comes when trying to escape from the game's many shark tanks. The lack of sharing and multiplayer options stop Joe Danger from quite reaching its potential, but the single-player career is brilliantly done. Joe may not be the fastest, the bravest, or the best, but after a few hours with the world's most determined stuntman, you'll be converted to his ways, wowing the crowds and racing toward that coveted Master of Disaster title.