At first glance, Joe Danger might look a bit like the younger, quirkier brother of RedLynx’s Trials games. After all, it’s another fast-paced physics gauntlet that’s filled with jumps, traps and instant restarts, where a bold approach might shave vital seconds off your time, but a single mistake can lead to your doom. In reality, however, Hello Games is aiming for something a little different. Put a few hours in, and Joe Danger reveals itself as an oddball blend of Mario and an early Sonic game, offering a chunky, high-colour world in which nothing is to be taken too seriously, where secrets are hidden everywhere you might choose to look for them, and where open-ended playfulness never goes unrewarded.
It’s an assured blend of influences. From Sonic, Joe Danger takes a fascination with speed and momentum, along with some curving, loop-heavy levels that feel like 2D Scalextric tracks put together by racing savants. From Mario, it borrows a scattershot, almost throwaway approach to new ideas, and a structure that ensures a wide series of objectives are always within reach in each and every stage. Using individual pieces that are rarely more complex than time trials, stunt runs and collectathons, Hello Games somehow manages to build a multitiered framework of fun. And it’s one where even if you miss a key objective, it’s still worth the race to the finish line to try to grab some of the rest.
This template was laid down in the first game, perhaps, but Joe Danger 2: The Movie truly delivers on the premise. The vivid, glossy plastic world is as colourful and cheery as ever, and the same glorious cycle of boosting and tricking still drives the game forward while encouraging endless replays. Everywhere you look, you’ll see a design made dense with invention and split-second asides, where you’re a monkey in a fez collecting bananas one moment, and a bear on a tricycle chasing after doughnuts the next.
The justification for all this creativity is Joe’s latest role as a stuntman for some of the world’s weirdest action movies, and it’s a conceit that Hello Games really puts to work. Stages have become scenes here, while attempts have become takes, and the bellowing yelps that emanate from your increasingly deranged director achieve delightful heights of exasperation as the scraps on the cutting room floor mount up, threatening to reach truly Kubrickian levels.
Roping in Hollywood has allowed the designers to trigger avalanches and landslides at will, as well as to send in robot armadas and bank robbers to dress its sets, but the new vehicles are the real focus here. Danger’s trusty stunt bike has been joined in the garage by everything from four-wheelers and ramshackle mine carts to skis and skidoos, all of which come with their own handling quirks, trick opportunities and flailing animations. The unicycle and the jetpack are probably the most pleasing of the bunch, because they’re also the most clearly differentiated: the former’s a wonderfully ceaseless micromanagement nightmare as you shift your weight back and forth to survive each treacherous jump, while the latter is pure pinwheeling freedom as you boost, trick and hover across a range of stages that tend to be a little too intricate to be classed as mere tracks any more.
There’s plenty of opportunity for strange asides among the secret agent missions, car chases and tomb raids of the main story mode, and the same goes for the separate Deleted Scenes campaign. There are levels that behave like bowling alleys, right down to their glossy arrays of skittles, and there’s a hectic BMX-powered stage that works as a prolonged riff on Paperboy. The Deleted Scenes are arguably the true heart of the game. A devious blend of advanced tutorial and showboating gauntlet, they’re where the stunt system converges with more complex scenarios and high-level controls to reveal a trick racer with some frightening depths.
The Deleted Scenes benefit the most from the expanded array of vehicles, too, since the more competent players out there will be looking for something new to master by now. The whole thing’s also enlivened by a Ghost mode that offers a far more tangible sense of how your own skills match up to the rest of the community than gameable leaderboards ever have done. With typical Joe Danger showiness, other players’ ghosts appear on your screen as shimmering multicoloured comets, and as they streak through your level, they’re both an impulse to improve and a nuts-and-bolts guide to some of the most unlikely tactics available. In short, they’re a great addition to the chummy atmosphere that Hello Games has already done so much to create in the series.
Elsewhere, multiplayer has grown to incorporate four players, striking a neat balance between carnage and precision as you battle your way to the finish line. Meanwhile, Hello Games has transformed the original game’s sandbox mode into a full-blown map editor that blends playing, creating and sharing with an easy kind of elegance.
With its toy box of spare track pieces and its randomly generated level names, the editor is emblematic of a sequel that has layered on the polish without losing the scrappy small-team charm that makes the entire thing worth playing in the first place. Joe Danger was always a generous and rather personable affair, and now it’s varied and surprisingly sociable as well. Whether you’re serious about climbing the leaderboards or just looking to race a teetering cupcake monster around on a pushbike, Hello Games’ victory lap has you covered. May the instant restarts never falter. May the boosting never cease.