Video games try to be so many things. Artistic, cinematic, realistic; the list goes on. Take a look at a few seconds of gameplay from any game and you can usually guess what its aspirations are. Occasionally, there are games that are happy just being games. Take one look at one frame and you immediately know its a video game. There is nothing else it could be. There is nothing else it wants to be. Joe Danger 2: The Movie is a video game in the purest sense of the word.
In case you didn’t play the first one, Joe Danger is kind of a mixture of Excitebike and Tony Hawk Pro Skater. You race your bike (or other “vehicles”) along a 2-dimensional track, while attempting to do stunts, collect items and other shenanigans as the game demands. Joe Danger 2 ups the ante a little bit by adding more things into the mix. The idea this time is that you are shooting stunts for a movie and have to accomplish certain tasks on the race track in order to succeed. If you are thinking Stuntman: Ignition, you are not alone.
The big difference is that whereas Stuntman: Ignition was very much Michael bay, Joe Danger 2 leans towards Pixar. The art style (carried over from the first game) is cheery and cartoon-y and the levels themselves are a constant explosion of colour and cuteness. But don’t let the childish appearance fool you; Joe Danger can be punishingly difficult. The good thing is most of the really tough objectives are entirely optional. Like Tony Hawk, you don’t have to do everything in every stage to progress. But that doesn’t mean the main objectives in the game are a cakewalk either.
Which kind of brings me to my biggest complaint about the game – the difficulty. I am used to games that are brutally tough, but a lot of the difficulty in Joe Danger simply comes from trial and error. The speed at which you move is so fast that by the time you see the traps you are supposed to avoid or the jumps you are supposed to nail, you have already messed it up. To do it flawlessly in the first run requires spider-like reflexes. It also doesn’t help that sometimes there is way too much going on on-screen to fully process. So the only way to do some parts of the game perfectly is to actually play it so often that you can predict what is coming up.
Still, the trial and error nature of the gameplay does give the game a unique hook. The idea that your next run through the track might be better because you already know how it plays will keep you coming back for more. That’s where the game shines. There are collectibles, side challenges and hidden items within the tracks that you probably won’t even notice the first time you play through it. So there is always an added incentive to go back and try again, especially when you are armed with the knowledge of how the track plays out.
Your willingness to go for optional objectives will also determine how much mileage you get out of the game. The main campaign is split across five different scenes (or movies, if you will) and each scene has multiple tracks within it. If you just want to race through all of them, you could mop up the game in 3-4 hours, but to do so would grossly miss the point of the game. In addition to the five scenes, there are also additional tracks in Deleted Scenes (which unlock if you complete some specific tasks) and Directors Cut. The Directors Cut contains some of the tougher challenges in the game.
The game also comes with its own level editor, and much like Trials Evolution, you can create and share your own tracks as well as download tracks other people make. Even though it lacks the immense depth the Trials editor has, it’s still good enough to create some fantastic tracks from. And again, like Trials Evolution, the best community made tracks are highlighted by the developers so you can check them out. It’s a great tool that can potentially add tons of new content to your game for no extra charge.
Lastly, the game also features four-player multiplayer, but sadly, it’s limited to offline only. It has a lot of potential, but most people won’t have four controllers with them, and without the full quota of four players, the multiplayer just isn’t quite what it should be. The online aspect of the game is limited to viewing ghosts, leaderboards, and sharing tracks. So while the game does have some online functionality, mulitplayer being limited to local feels like a missed opportunity.
Then again, local multiplayer does add some retro charm to the game, and Joe Danger 2 is all about retro charm. It feels like a game out of a different time, when games being games was enough and you didn’t really need anything more. Even with its minor flaws, it’s a game that’s impossible to dislike. It’s like an overly exuberant puppy that will occasionally chew up your shoes. Its not perfect but it’s lovable because of that very reason.