Amongst my university class, I am known for yelling “Evel Knievel” extremely loudly at a seminar leader when I got thoroughly bored in a Scottish literature seminar. I can’t really remember why I did that, though it probably has something to do with the fact that the seminar in question was the last one of the year, I was really annoyed with the arguments on Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, and I had brought two bottles of wine to the class and promptly started drinking them.
Well Evel Knievel had an alcoholic afternoon in a Scottish literature seminar, and PC gamers now get to have a whole summer with Knievelesque joy-machine bundle Joe Danger and Joe Danger 2. This is several million times better than two hours in a windowless room with a man who is fixated on how all the women in Trainspotting are on their period. That is because both Joe Dangers are really really good, and any interpretation of Trainspotting being anything other than a very particular symbol of Scottish nihilism is really really well honestly what I want to say is that man was a jerk.
For the uninitiated, Joe Danger is essentially a stuntbike platformer, a gorgeous little plaything where you fling your wee man off stuff, through stuff, and boost and trick the shit out of everything as often as you possibly can. Joe Danger is a grinning crazed man who wastes no time having his middle name be ‘Danger’, because his last name is already ‘Danger’. Maybe Joe’s middle name is ‘Danger’ and we don’t really know. Maybe he’s Joe ‘Danger’ Danger. But he’s very hardy, never has his head blown off, and even when he gets stuck in a strategically placed bear trap he doesn’t bleed, which is something I applaud.
This means that Joe Danger and its equally excellent sequel Joe Danger 2 are both things you can play with your children, and not just because of the bloodlessness of the eternally rubbery Joe. It’s rare to find a game where the level design is so deliciously multi-tier. If you’re looking for difficult challenges, such as hard-to-get-to collectables, avoiding high-speed collisions with gates and spikes that are suspiciously close together, ducking bombs being flung at Joe’s face, and boosting past giant buzzsaws all in super-quick time, then of course you can have them. There are even speed challenges throughout levels and several different types of trinkets to monger on your way. Hello Games have crammed everything fun imaginable into each perfectly formed level. And yet, for those who find all the tiers of the level difficult to navigate, for those who aren’t completionist, and those wee ones you have raring to try the bombastic stylings of this paintball assault of a game, there’s the pure reward of merely finishing the level with the minimum of requirements. Even then you still feel like the Torvill and Dean of videogames.
(Torvill and Dean were heroic shut up.)
This game is structured so that you unlock tracks by completing them, earning more points the more flips, wheelies and mid-air flails you do (you can wave at the crowd has you ping through the air like some sort of spangly, drunk seagull). Each track has countless stars and increasing shiny things to collect. But the real joy of Joe Danger is how close Hello Games put you to the game itself.
Allow me to sing hallelujah to the way Joe Danger’s jump function works. HALLELUJAH. HALLELUJAH. HALLEEEELUUUUUUUJAH. Jumping in Joe Danger is the apex of player-game interaction. Jumping in Joe Danger is this sliver of sugar-thick tablet your grandma used to make, half second dissolved in your mouth. The wait is the best part: press down the button and Joe ducks down over the handlebars, holding. As soon as you release that button, Joe pings into the air in the most wonderful way. It’s the most responsive, utterly enjoyable pinball-like thing. Imagine if everything in the world was like the jump button in Joe Danger: you press the elevator button, doors immediately open. You press the button at the traffic lights, it beeps for you to cross. You press a doorbell, the door IMMEDIATELY opens and you ping around inside the house, ecstatic. Jumping in this game is a technical masterpiece. If only all games relinquished such dizzying highs from only one tiny input.
What is a downside is on-screen instructions: if you are using keyboard and mouse input, which I know is an accessibility issue for some gamers, it’s hard to know which keys do what. At the time of playing, the on-screen prompts used only 360 controller references, and I had to duck into the menu system more than once to look up exactly which keys correspond to X and LB and so forth, and in the beginning it takes some getting used to. This is doubly confusing when you’re creating a track in the level editor as the keys are given a new set of functions. I ended up clicking about like a maniac, but I made the level I wanted to: it was essentially a really long Minecraft-themed road leading to a totally impenetrable series of pain-inflicting entities. Just like life. (NEVER let me do level design; it will come out all Scottish nihilist.) The prospect of sharing and downloading user-made levels on Steam is good though, and doubtless the community will flourish into brainstorming spectacular ways to abuse poor Joe’s capacity to behave like a rubber dildo in a spin-dry.
The first Joe Danger is a simple stuntbike ride through colourful bouncy levels, but Joe Danger 2 ups the stunts by pulling on some movie-themed leggings and giving you minecarts, jetpacks, skis, quadbikes, jetskis, a ludicrous amount of content supplemented by outlandish film set art, James Bond-esque situations, dinosaur eggs, robots, all sorts. Both of the games also come with extra content made for the PC version. Assuming that us PC-going crowd are HARDCORE (flexes muscles), Hello Games have brought us Ultra Hard mode, which are levels specifically designed to mash-up the hardest parts of the game tracks and condense them into one insanely hard catastrophe. As hard as these are, they still manage to be really fun to navigate – more of a puzzle in themselves than a ride to soar through, and a good demonstration of how skilled Hello Games’ level design is, and how varied their obstacles are.
By far my biggest laughs were at Team Fortress 2’s Medic on a unicycle stunt level in Joe Danger 2, all flopping around. The entirety of the cast of TF2 are playable characters in the PC version of these games, and they are adorable.
To round this shenanigan up: these two games are so well made and are so packed with content that it’s likely that this will be a buy you’ll never ever regret. At the end of each level, you can see how fast your time was against the majority of other players, and getting in the top 20% made me smug, as did looking at my friend list scoreboard and being the top-scorer on some levels. You can see the ghosts of friends who have navigated the tracks before appear as you race, and the ‘punch’ function is perfect for multiplayer squabbles. The only reservations I had were about the slight awkwardness of the 360 to keyboard translations, and though you can give up and plug in a controller, I did persevere and managed to get some really great stunts in with keyboard input. This isn’t as perfect a port as it could be, but the game’s sheer earnestgaminessshines through, and overrides any sort of jerk comment I could possibly think of saying about keyboard mapping. It works the way it needs to.
Essentially, you’re buying this game for the sheer pleasure of jumping on things, over things, and around things. But this game also has so much stuff to jump on, over and around that you’ll never be finished. You may as well get some wine and start yelling “Evel Knievel” at everyone until Joe Danger appears in your Steam account, because life was much more boring and filled with comments on Scottish literature before Joe Danger came along.