Back in 2011 Hello Games released a small gem called Joe Danger. It was based on a bike riding daredevil who travelled across crazy courses, racking in points and doing stunts. Joe Danger’s fresh, cool visuals and fun gameplay took many by surprise. Now Joe is back with Joe Danger 2: The Movie, and this time he has gone Hollywood. Is this sequel a blockbuster smash or an utter flop? Keep reading to find out.
When Hello Games was working on the sequel they had a ton of ideas in terms of what to include. It appears as though they used every one given the several modes of play. The main game is “Movie Mode”, which is broken down into 6 themed worlds ranging from an Indiana Jones styled course with minecarts you control, a winter-themed downhill skier with James Bond overtones, to a Cop Chase action flick area. All the areas are set up like an elaborate movie set, with lights and the odd camera in the background. As you go through the challenges in each area, there are various vehicles you may be driving. It could range from minecarts, snowmobiles, motorcycles, skis to even jetpacks.
Despite the variety with the vehicles, most control the same. You use the triggers to accelerate and reverse, while the shoulder buttons allow you to do tricks by holding it down and pressing various ways on the analog stick. You also have a nitro button. Nitro is refilled by doing wild tricks, and is also good for racking up high scores. For some reason the developers tied the crouch and jump actions to the same button. So if you want to crouch you need to hold down the button. To jump you need to quickly tap the button; however, if you are crouching you will jump when you release the button whether you want to or not. I often found myself dying because I hit something after letting go. Plus there isn’t a way to remap the keys for the game which I found disappointing. A bright spot is how the jetpacks handle. They bring something new and fresh to the game by adding platforming elements. Levels using the jetpack have you exploring maze-like area while avoiding death traps, while collecting items.
Most of the goals in the game are to collect various items, beat the level within a time limit, or take out enemies. I doubt most people will find all the items the first time through, so there is some replayability. You also earn stars by passing stages and completing goals, which allow you to unlock the next stage to progress. What bugged me the most was that a lot of what made the first game fun seemed to be diluted this time around. Instead the bulk of the experience had me running for my life from various threats while the directory barked directions at me. Granted they still included the stages where you travel across courses at your own pace performing stunts as you try to get the best score possible, but they are few and far between. Most of the stages have a commentator yelling out to you what to do whether it be jumping, ducking, using your nitro or switching lanes. I wanted to find a mute button for this guy as his voice granted me. Some levels involve doing what he says in time or you will fail, but I found it just not possible to do it in time because the object I needed to avoid came up too quickly or something in the foreground was obscuring my view. Most of this game design seems to be patterned around the idea that you need to memorize the courses first before you can make any real progress on them. That’s not my idea of fun, especially when random objects from the game get in the way.
Another irritation is that when you complete all the levels in the area, you are shown a mini movie of clips showing some of your gameplay footage as the commentator prattles on about how awesome and cool you look. I just wanted to skip these segments and continue with the game, but alas you are forced to sit and watch.
After some extended playtime, I decided to take a break from Movie Mode to try out the Multiplayer section of the game. The goal of Multiplayer is to do the most stunts and beat your opponents score. It is offline only which was a bit of let down but otherwise there is some potential here and some fun to be had.
If you were not frustrated enough by some of the levels in Movie Mode, why not try the “Deleted Scenes” area. This is a collection of levels which don’t seem to fit in any specific area in the game but the developers still wanted to keep them in for those looking for a more extreme challenge. I have to admit that I could not beat the first level in it which had Joe on a unicycle on a minecart path travelling at high speeds, ducking and jumping all the while trying to keep his balance. Check-points are few and far between, and if you fail you can be sent back quite far in the gauntlet. I think I gave up after the 38th try. I don’t like giving up on a game, but this was way too frustrating to be fun at all. Sure, watching your little rider wipe out and go all ragdoll is fun but it’s tough to keep enjoying it after the 25th time. Trials Evolution pulls off this trick in that you feel one more try will get you through, and the check-points are frequent enough that you feel you can eventually proceed. By contrast, Joe Danger 2 sometimes feels more punishing than rewarding.
The game also offers a level creator mode, but before you can start creating levels similar to the ones in the first game, you have to go through several tutorial levels teaching you how to manipulate objects and the environment. Once you finally get past these levels, the creator is pretty easy to use and it is quite fun to make your own levels to play on and share online.
One shining part of the game is the overall look and presentation. They really went for a movie studio look for the main menus and level selection. Each level is presented with a great tongue-in-cheek style, parodying famous movies. Level designs are bright and colorful with a lot going on in the background and foreground at times which sometimes hurts the gameplay because it can obscure obstacles and you end up crashing. The character designs are nicely done and very cute. Everything is well animated in the game, from the movements of the vehicles, to the characters themselves as they pull off stunts. Crashes are very amusing at times, watching poor Joe bouncing around, but there were a number of times when his body would get stuck in the background or completely disappear into an object, which was weird.
The audio in the game is a mixed bag. Overall I felt the level music fits nicely with the fast pace of the game, and the same can be said about the music in the menu screens too. What gets old real fast is the Director’s voice as he shouts things at you during the game. It just doesn’t work, and for some reason the way he barked the words “up” and “down” during lane changes sounded way too much the same to me, which threw me off a lot. The rest of the voices in the game work, but they are overshadowed by the Director.
Overall Joe Danger 2: The Movie for XBLA simply failed to live up to my expectations. Clearly the developers went in with a lot of new and ambitious ideas but the execution of such in some ways fell short. What made the first Joe Danger game enjoyable is simply not found this time around. I wanted to enjoy Joe Danger 2 but at the end of the day the sequel does not hit the same heights as the original.