Review: Joe Danger Special Edition

I love chainsawing anthropomorphic killer insects, decapitating bandits and poking around bloody crime scenes as much as the next man, I really do. But as 2011 draws to a close, I’ve started to get all introspective about my gaming habits. I’ve drawn the grim conclusion that the stench of death and destruction hangs heavy over nearly all of my digital indulgences this year. Thank God then for Hello Games and their PSN downloadable hit Joe Danger: now spruced up and gift wrapped in a timely fashion for the 1% of XBOX 360 owners that were craving something colourful.

As Joe — a retired stuntman and professional daredevil on the comeback circuit- you are tasked with rounding up collectables, performing stunts and winning races in a series of increasingly challenging arenas. Alongside that, they’ve also seen fit to throw in a multiplayer mode, level creation tools that double-up as puzzle solvers and a wealth of alluring collectables that range between XBOX avatar gear and new characters.

Before you even manage to get stuck into its gameplay though, Joe Danger assaults your senses — no doubt dulled by Unreal Engine rendered greys and browns- with an onslaught of cheer. Characters bulge and threaten to burst at the seams as if they are vessels filled to the brim with a glittering molten candy solution. The soundtrack roots into your brain and takes over your body, sort of like The Thing. Only it’s not interested in assimilating other hosts or biting off people’s hands, no, it simply wants to control your brain’s whistle centre and get you to replicate it with such frequency that you begin to annoy even yourself.

Beneath its Pixar-rivalling sense of character, and disarming theme song, Joe Danger hides a cunning, challenging and deeply rewarding experience. It’s almost pitch-perfect game design: constantly rewarding you for challenging yourself and urging you to push through and learn new skills. Whilst Joe’s repertoire of abilities is far from vast, as you progress you will learn and eventually come to master the subtleties of the superb control scheme: allowing you to re-try earlier levels and make them swear fealty to you and cry in the corner. Yes, I’ll take that SE medal. Fuck you.

Sorry. I had an outburst there, because of the SE medals. I need them, I want them and I will curse and cry and throw tantrums until I have them all. Each level has a set amount of challenges, be it collecting all the stars, hitting targets or just making a time limit. Certain levels will offer up a shiny, sometimes sexually arousing, SE medal as a reward for completing all of its challenges in a single run. Nightmare time. As I’ve said, the game is massively rewarding, largely due to these medals and the spoils that they bring. Perhaps it’s something I never dealt with as a child, or perhaps I’m a certifiable klepto, but I NEED that Chicken Suit. I really do. Acquiring the SE medals will either make or break you.

Amidst the frustration though is a great sense of accomplishment and discovery. For example, I have discovered a swearing meta-game within Joe Danger. Tired of hearing myself utter the same curse words upon multiple failures, I tasked myself with creating new and interesting combinations. Afterwards I score myself for creativity and hilarity and reward myself accordingly: usually with masturbation and/or sugary snacks and coffee. I must stress that this mode is optional.

Cactus Fucker: that was a good one.

Joe Danger Special Editon is a superbly designed game in every sense. It values persistence, precision and charm and these elements shine through every one of its perfect pores. Compulsive, addictive and vast: Joe Danger is the kind of game that reminds me of the importance of fun and the depth of gameplay that comes from a true challenge. Also, it kind of reminds me of Excitebike. That game was rad.