Joe Danger: The Movie (Hands-on Preview)

2011 can just end already. First, it was Bioshock Infinite making the wait pure agony, now I can add Joe Danger: The Movie to my most wanted list. Hello Games are well on their way to creating another classic. Seeing as I gave the first game 9/10, I was damn keen to play the sequel at Gamescom 2011. And I did. Every time I passed the stand. By the time I officially met up with Sean Murray and Grant Duncan of Hello Games I thought I had it all worked out. Then they showed me some of the tougher but doubly awesome levels. Now I really hate 2011.

Before I carry on with the platitudes, I’ll quickly re-cap the first game for newcomers: a mainly 2D motorcycle stunt platformer that encouraged linking tricks while getting to the finish line as fast as possible. Gold stars could be won for each event by collecting all the icons, landing on all landing pads and comboing 100% of the level. The controls were simple as you could jump high and perform multiple flips in the air and land doing endos and wheelies to chain stunts; you could even adjust your trajectory in mid-air forwards and backwards.

Rather than just bash out Joe Danger 2, with a few new tracks and unlockable hats, the team has decided to add different vehicles and make sure they all handle differently enough to avoid accusations of being merely skin changes. There’s an ambitious feeling to it that is rarely seen today in sequels.

The original game only featured Joe’s stunt motorcycle, but now he’s branching out into a strong variety of action movie favourites. Skis, jetpacks, snowmobiles, police bikes and mine carts are what we’ve been able to try out so far and Hello Games say we can look forward to even more. I’m thinking speedboats, wakeboarding or water-skis with lots of ramps must surely be on the agenda, I couldn’t get a confirmation of this, but they admitted they are still looking at introducing new ideas and seeing what works.

What’s surprising is that the game is only halfway completed and development has been underway since the first game was released in July 2010. It’s surprising because the game looks so polished and the new vehicles handle fantastically already. Hello Games consist of a very small team and while part of me wishes they’d hire a small army of backup devs to help finish the game as soon as possible, you know doing it their own way with the team they have is going to work out best.

Fans of the original Joe Danger will be right at home with the controls, but newcomers will soon be smitten too. Watching other people play it for the first time on the show floor showed just how soon you can get into it. Apparently, some people have stayed playing the game for over three hours, which certainly sounds better than queuing up for the same amount of time to play Arkham City or Battlefield 3 for the ten minutes, good thing we managed to skip all that mania for our hand-on previews.

Grant and Murray were unable to confirm any multiplayer details, mainly because it hasn’t yet been decided what platforms the game will be released on, even though the first game is a PS3 exclusive. Fingers crossed it will be expanded from last year’s game which only featured races rather than any sort of score-based challenges.

Hello Games did confirmed that they’re putting a lot of work into the create mode and they’re aiming to make it even more user-friendly and a lot more accessible than the creation tools found in games like Little Big Planet, which can be very daunting from a starting point.

Some extra depth will be there if you want it though, as you’ll be able to play around with some AI triggers, which have also been added to the single-player game. Background AI now have a role to play as one of the movie events has Joe disarming missile silos by landing on them as he skis downhill, which in turn angers the villains into chucking grenades which he has to duck or jump over.

The tracks themselves display the new settings for the Movie. The skiing level has a Bond film downhill escape feel to it while the mine cart tracks include spike traps and barriers to duck under, and include many rollercoaster loop-de-loops, but sadly no giant boulders rolling after Joe (there’s plenty of time for that yet though). The jetpack level features the biggest departure to the way you move around and is full of large blocks and jelly walls to bounce off while colleting slushy drinks. Some levels even involve a quick change of vehicle mid-event, skis to snowmobile for instance. Check out the video I recorded to see these things in action.

The police-bike level acts like a race against the brightly dressed criminals, with you able to backhand them off their rides as you go past; you still need to come in first too. The way you move from one of three parallel tracks towards and away from the screen feels much smoother now and it’s easier to keep your combo-pumping wheelie going at the same time. It’s a good thing the transitions are in top form because the tougher levels need you to time your lane changes perfectly to avoid the heavy oncoming traffic.

Playing can still feel a little cruel when you hit a sudden set of spikes just before the finish line, but you can still restart an event before Joe’s endearingly-animated broken self has finished sliding down the road on his glorious Bruce Campbell chin. There are checkpoints during the longer levels, but most are so short you’ll just want to restart so you can get a better score.

With less than ten levels played and potentially almost another year of development to go, Joe Danger: The Movie is already on the path to surpass the first game. With a few more surprises to surely come over the coming months, this should have everyone keeping their fingers crossed that their platform will see it.

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