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Mr. Danger won himself a big fanbase when he burst onto PSN back in 2010, offering an inventive racing/platformer hybrid made from Trials HD’s stunt courses, LittleBigPlanet’s physics and boyhood fantasies of lunatic daring.
Somehow the debut from teeny tiny indie team Hello Games proved much more than the sum of its parts, and now Joe’s returned, he’s gone all Hollywood on us and brought movie-inspired levels, a shouty director and ten hours of PlayStation-exclusive (and hard as nails forged from Helm’s Deep) Director’s Cut content.
These levels are initially a bit confusing to traverse, because it’s not clear whether you should be blazing over ramps and ducking under obstacles endeavouring to record the fastest time, or performing triple superman backflips over jumps to clock the highest combo, or collecting the various stars, bananas and clocks like an OCD hedgehog. Turns out, Joe’s after all of the above.
Completing a certain objective in one of Joe’s anarchic day-glo levels (which appear to have been syringed from the imagination of the kid from Toy Story) earns you a star. Once you’ve nailed the time objective, you’re free to restart and take the course at a more exploratory pace, looking for secret stars and hoovering up all the pickup items.
When you’ve done that, there’s another star available for keeping a stunt combo running the whole level – wheelying, flipping and going sans hands from start to finish. Do all that in a single run and you’ll unlock a pro medal, briefly silencing the shrieking wraiths in your head telling you you’ll never complete it.
By its very nature, Joe’s second adventure is, like the first game, repetitive. You’ll be able to squeeze past most levels with one or two playthroughs, but those pro medals require fanatical replaying. There’s certainly more variety of vehicles this time though – you’ll need to master motorbike, Jeep, unicycle and jetpack to progress through each act, earning stars to unlock stages as you go.
The idea that you’re making a movie feels like a slightly squandered premise though – it amounts to themed levels making each act, and a shouty director telling you when to duck and jump – actual homages to the silver screen are either too sparse or too light-handed. Toward the latter half of Joe’s five-act solo campaign the jungles, motorways and ski runs begin to turn from endearingly cheery to irritatingly saccharine.
Brave that period though, and there’s a kind of Zen on the other side. First, the level editor; crafted with the same simplicity as LittleBigPlanet’s and easing you in with that rarest of things, an enjoyable tutorial. Second – that ten hours of bonus content, challenging every skill you learned from each act and the deleted scenes bonus levels, and shift the game’s play style from reactive (waiting for the director to holler “jump!” or “duck!” at you) to the kind of memory-bashing rehearsal last seen in 16-bit torture device Battletoads.
It’s equal parts exhilarating and massively frustrating. If my thumbs didn’t hurt so much, I’d try to make some argument that the Gaiden levels are too difficult, but the fact that I’m prepared to endure physical pain to keep playing effectively negates that.
Joe Danger’s return is as thoroughly enjoyable as his debut – a combination of predictable physics, challenging level design and varied tasks make it more than a “play once, discard” downloadable. Perhaps it doesn’t quite leave the safety of the original’s blueprint enough, or capitalise on the excellent concept of making a stunt-heavy movie, but it remains a chirpy, robust platformer with surprising depth.