Evel Knievel’s incredible motorcycle stunt work helped shape the image many have of what a daredevil is, and while the man has a few video games under his belt, another game aims to capture the thrills and spills of death defying motorcycle stunts and adjust it into an enjoyable game form. Here is where we find Joe Danger, a fictional stuntman who is willing to embrace the impossibility of video game designs in his daredevil career.
Our story begins well after Joe’s prime though. Joe Danger was very much the famed motorcycle sportsman of his world, but his failure on a huge stunt lead to his retirement, a retirement that didn’t stick. However, now that Joe Danger is trying to get back into the game late in life, people are wondering if he’s a washed up has-been, it being on the player to make Joe look just as good if not better than he did back in his early days. The structure of the main game follows this gradual build-up, Joe’s challenges growing more difficult and flashy as he gains more and more renown. Levels in Joe Danger: Special Edition are sidescrolling sequences of various jumps, hazards, and collectibles, the player having a lot of control over Joe and his bike even when they’re in the air. Forward and backward motion work both in the ground and while airborne, allowing Joe to adjust his landings or move around taller areas more easily, and he even packs a double jump to help him get more height. It’s not as powerful as some video game double jumps though, it more of a hop unless you get springs involved, and timing your jump with a spring takes some getting used to in order to get the maximum height one can give you.
Joe Danger also has a boost meter he can call on to get a surge of speed, but it can only be used when completely full, although it does not have to be totally drained if you only want a short burst. Building up this meter relies on Joe Danger, appropriately enough, being a bit more dangerous, pulling off tricks to build up energy for it. The simplest trick is no doubt the wheelie, where you can quite easily tip Joe while he’s moving and barely see any impact on your movement, but while he’s got some air, Joe can rotate his bike or perform special stunts with LB or RB. It’s actually pretty easy to pull these off as well as long as you don’t get greedy, meaning it’s not too hard to keep building up your meter and spending it in levels that aren’t too long themselves. If you do crash, the game will reset you to a checkpoint to let you keep going, but while this kindness is appreciated, depending on your goals, you may just angle for a whole level restart instead. While Joe Danger: Special Edition’s levels do value completion, that goal is actually pretty simple, very few of them standing in your way as challenges on their own. However, if you continue through the game only aiming to beat levels, you’ll hit road blocks pretty quickly, as to unlock some levels, you must spend stars.
Stars in Joe Danger: Special Edition are earned through completing special objectives in levels, and here, this simple side-scrolling motorcycle game really finds its energy. There are plenty of different tasks you can complete for stars, which does mean that you can skip some if you don’t fancy them, but you will have to complete some of these challenges to beat the game, and they certainly push the game into more interesting territory. One goal involves completing a level while consistently in a combo, meaning that as soon as the level kicks off, you must enter a wheelie and keep it going any time you hit the ground, doing tricks as you jump as well. Some areas ask you to get a certain score, where chaining these stunts together is also important as it multiplies their point value. Time challenges in Joe Danger: Special Edition can be incredibly strict, meaning to get their star you have to really learn a course and how to handle Joe’s movement. Some stars are just hidden somewhere on the track, while others will require collecting all the level coins or hitting all the targets properly. A level may only have a few challenges or a lot, and some even ask you to do all the challenges in one run to earn special medals. You can beat the regular game without getting all the stars thankfully, but the Special Edition of the game adds in extra levels that require them all to unlock, meaning a completionist will have plenty to engage with.
The individual level design for a game that’s asking you to perfect your skills and speed is incredibly important, and while Joe Danger: Special Edition makes sure it’s levels are up to the task, it comes at the cost of things feeling more like obstacle courses than having a true identity. It’s easy to see reused level pieces, and as mentioned earlier, without the challenges, the task of beating a level isn’t too difficult. The levels that will leave an impression are usually the ones that require incredible reflexes or have annoying hazards that force many restarts, although the game has a Lab area that gives you even more extra levels to play and collect stars in that goes for more unusual designs. Most Joe Danger levels are about knowing when to jump to keep moving, the collectibles or optional goals making the specifics of the area design more important. Jumping at the exact right time to hit all the stars in an arc and land on a target without ending a combo will require you to learn the level layout through repetition, but the game does get more creative with its ideas as things move on. Things begin with hurdles, ramps, cars to jump over and deadly hazards to clear, but Joe eventually can use devices to move between three layers of track, he can ride up walls with conveyor belts on them, and the more the game embraces video game objects like springs to launch Joe around, the more potential a stage has for interesting movement challenges. Levels ultimately fulfill their role of setting up the star challenges well, it’s just a case of function over form, although the cartoony look keeps things colorful and makes even Joe’s crashes more silly than serious.
Levels outside the experimental Lab area can have a few interesting quirks to them as well. Most segments of the story culminate in a race against Team Nasty, where level completion is now both the goal and more difficult than usual as you have to do it faster than the other racers, Joe even able to punch them off their bike if they get too close. While most levels are designed more around their challenges, these races are focused and only hand out stars if you can manage to combo through the whole of them, meaning that you can now face obstacles meant to slow you down or knock you off your bike. Some areas also integrate a level editor mode. The game offers players the ability to create their own tracks, and in single player, some levels are intentionally designed poorly to begin with, the player needing to adjust them to be not only possible, but also find the optimal layout to succeed at that level’s star requirements. It’s hard to say whether these would enhance the game if they were present more or if they might get annoying, but their small presence instead makes them a nice change of play. This also allows you to make courses for the game’s multiplayer mode, meaning that there’s even more to do outside the many objectives the single player modes offer.
THE VERDICT: Joe Danger: Special Edition is the kind of game that heavily encourages mastery through its many objectives that value precision and level knowledge, meaning that engaging with it can be fairly subjective. If you want to push yourself to get all the stars, it will require plenty of repetition in levels with similar feels, but if you are just aiming to clear the game, the stages don’t put up too much of a fight. The middle ground achieved by requiring some stars but not all of them does mean the downsides of those two approaches are covered by the strengths of the other, the player able to pick which optional objectives they feel they can complete and thus get a challenging experience that can avoid the frustrations of perfection. For those looking for a game with a lot of depth, Joe Danger: Special Edition has oodles of it, the Lab and the level editor even offering it for those who don’t want to grind the same level to get the stars for the Special Edition stages. Most importantly, the solid physics ensure that things do work properly and make shooting for the stars a challenge worth tackling.
And so, I give Joe Danger: Special Edition for Xbox 360…
A GOOD rating. For a player looking to get lost in a challenging title for a long time, I can see Joe Danger: Special Edition scratching that itch with its star challenges that require expert performance to acquire, but there are plenty of them achievable enough to keep a regular player on board as well and keep them engaging at least somewhat with that important layer of the title. So much of the game is dependent on that layer though, meaning that level design can vary wildly based on how much they dip into it. A level with few challenges will have a stronger design identity to compensate, while the ones with many strict challenges might encourage a player to skip over those requirements and miss the complexity of its design to instead go for easier stars in simpler stages. Even though the design mentality isn’t perfectly integrated, the game can still be approached in a way that makes getting better at the game enjoyable and interesting without having to dip into the push for perfection.
Joe Danger: Special Edition does actually mesh the daredevil motorcycle stunts well with the video game world. While the basic tricks aren’t so hard to pull off, the more absurd challenges Joe faces push him to be even more skillful, their failure safely in the realm of the virtual world so the player can repeat them until they’ve pulled them off successfully. While not an accurate mirror of Evel Knievel’s tier of stunts, the goals of Joe Danger’s career push him to do crazy things in a crazier context, making total completion of the game impressive in its own right.