November 6, 2009 12:51 PM | Michael Rose
Ask anyone who visited the Indie Game Arcade at the Eurogamer Expo last week which games caught their eye the most, and more likely than not they'll mention Hello Games' Joe Danger. The game has been receiving a lot of attention on both indie gaming blogs and mainstream news sites alike, and with good reason.
At first glance, Joe Danger appears to be a more casual take on RedLynx's Trials series. Motorbiking along a single plane in a fixed straight line, players launch themselves off jumps, duck under obstacles and pull off outrageous stunts along the way. The controls are incredibly simple - you've got an accelerate trigger, brake, boost, duck and tricks button. Each level is no more than a minute or two long, but it's what you do during the run that counts.
After getting the basics down, realisation begins to sink in that there is a lot more to it if you're going to grab those high scores and bonuses. Where Trials is all about trying to get to the end of the course with bones still intact, Hello Games have taken a less frustrating approach to the idea, basing gameplay on bonuses and combo-scoring rather than tricky obstacles. It's easy as anything to reach the end of a track, but getting that gold trophy is going to take some Dangerous skills.
It's all about stringing together an almighty combo of tricks, flips and jumps to earn maximum points. In between jumps, pulling back on the stick will cause Joe to wheelie, keeping the combo going but potentially resulting in the loss of all the points as Joe topples backwards and ends up sprawled on the floor. Players also receive power to their boost bar as they pull off tricks, which can be used to make insane jumps and stay in the air just that little bit longer. It's technically possible to single combo each entire level if you can keep focused and keep Joe balanced.
Now and again there are also green markings on the floor which indicate that Joe can switch to one of the other tracks. As is evident from the screenshots, each track has three different paths to ride down, and finding the perfect route through each level is bound to become an obsession for many come release day. Some routes will have tons of potential for racking up serious points, but at the cost of being that little bit more difficult to master.
What I have described up to this point is but one gameplay mode available to budding daredevils - the game also features a range of brilliant gameplay types to keep you on your toes. There's a race mode, in which players battle to claim first place against AI-controlled opponents (it's all about maximizing the boost!). Then there's the puzzle mode, where the key is to leave Joe at the starting line, check out the level ahead, then grab and shift all the pieces of the track around in order to allow Joe to collect the letters of the word DANGER. Pieces include the likes of ramps, springs and conveyor belts, which will either be useful or a hinderance, depending on where you place them!
But the mode in which bikers may find themselves spending many an hour is the sandbox-style option. Given a blank track, players can spawn a range of objects and potentially create their own levels, or simply just have a bit of a mess around. Want to see how many buses you can jump? Stick down a ramp, spam the track with buses and see Joe fly. If you've ever wanted to create your own Evil Knievel style stunts, this is where you want to be.
All this wouldn't matter a jolt, however, if the look and feel of Joe Danger's world wasn't much cop, right? No worries there - it all controls wonderfully and so smoothly. I was easily able to pick it up and bag some seriously high scores within minutes of play (on the easier tracks, of course!) and it wasn't at all fiddly like you'd expect a game of this genre to be. It looks and sounds great too - I didn't believe I'd ever think 'Best Sound Effect Ever!' whilst playing a game, but just wait until you hear the noise that emanates when Joe grabs one of the DANGER letters. Classic.
Hello Games are still mysteriously sitting on the fence when it comes to which digital download service you'll be grabbing it from early next year - their site says 'most likely one of XBLA/PSN/PC', but I reckon it felt like an Xbox Live Arcade game, and would definitely fit in with the other titles on offer from that service.