I write this in pain. My hands are gnarled; permanently warped into the shape of my Xbox 360 controller. Each letter typed is a bolt of hot lava through my joints… and I could not be happier. Joe Danger 2: The Movie is a harsh mistress, but every attempt to improve my time, score or simply collect all the pesky stars was worth it. Even at their most maniacal, Hello Games has outdone themselves. Even if you’ve never played the original (shame on you!) or the Trials games, this is one experience you should not miss.

The story is fairly simple, after making his comeback as a stuntman in the original Joe Danger, our hero has been cast in a movie… well… a series of movies. Each riffs on popular themes and films. You’ll race in a minecart like Indiana Jones, take to the skies with a jetpack strapped to your back like James Bond and ride a police motorcycle like Erik Estrada in CHiPs. Each of the 30 scenes features a variety of objectives to accomplish in addition to simply finishing the race.

Joe Poncherello, you are so damn sexy.

While you’ll occasionally be tasked with beating the par time, more often you’ll have to collect the scattered stars, spell the word DANGER, nab hard to reach bananas or explore a bit for hidden objects. Each earns you a star, and you’ll cash those in to access new scenes. This means that if you ignore the tasks, you’ll have to double back in order to progress. It’s not a problem I ever ran into though. This barriers seem to be in place to ensure that you’ve got some measure of skill before throwing the next surprise at you. The most devilish of the objectives is to start a combo and continue it thorough the entire stage. It’s possible, but it requires a great deal of memorization, especially if you are trying to nab an elusive Pro Medal.

These rare trinkets are only dispensed when you accomplish every objective in a single run. I spent hours on one last night that only required two things of me: pull off a 100% combo (the entire stage in one ongoing end-to-end trick) and finish under par. I refused to give up, and that’s what makes Joe Danger 2: The Movie great.

Each and every time I failed, it was because of something that I did. The stages are predictable. There are very few curveballs thrown, which means it’s about honing your brain and hands to anticipate rapid successions of ducks and jumps, lane switches and evil lasers that set of alarms and make you restart because lasers are evil… [deep breath]. Sorry. I’m better now.

Evil lasers!

The controls aren’t exactly what I’d call “compatible with the laws of physics,” but that’s ok. Reversing in mid-air to nab that one star that was almost out of reach or practically riding on your face because of a flip gone awry works because the game doesn’t take itself too seriously. Playing fast and loose with the natural order makes for some impressive displays, especially when bouncing off one of the game’s many springs.

The settings are gorgeous in a cartoony way. Whereas Trials HD went for a more realistic (and painful-looking) approach, Joe Danger’s aesthetic is inviting and goofy. Whether running from an avalanche, bashing brightly-colored baddies or pulling off intense tricks in the air to earn yourself more boost, the game just looks good.

Once you’ve managed to overcome the core game, there’s still more to do. Deleted Scenes are available for the hardest of the hardcore racers. These will test your skill and, likely, your patience. I’m not man enough for them yet, though I can already detect the improvement in my skills. There are two different multiplayer options. There is a local option that works well, but it’s a shame that online multiplayer was left out.

Also, there are anthropomorphized cupcakes.

Thankfully, there is an asynchronous feature that shows ghost runs of your friends (and what I presume are the fastest times). In a brilliant stroke, these only appear after you complete the level yourself. They can be a bit distracting, but easily disabled in the menu. It’s nice to know that occasionally, I can actually make my friends hate me (instead of vice versa).

If you’ve exhausted the enjoyment out of the content that Hello Games has prepared for you, it’s time to delve into the track creator. For the most part the tutorial is easy to follow, but it leaves out a couple of key things. Nowhere does the game instruct you on how to actually finish your track. It was only through trial and error that I realized that I had to quit out of my creation after saving.  The game will automatically place the finish line and set the par time. It’s convenient… once you know how it works.

Placing items and creating insane spring-loaded, high-flying courses is a cinch. The toolbox isn’t well organized, but once you get a feel for where everything is, dropping in just about anything you see in one of the stages created by Hello Games is easy. You’ve got a choice of all of the different settings from the official scenes, along with all of the vehicles. My first creation, War Hop (italics are necessary because it’s a movie) features a unicycle and giant spring pads. I didn’t name it (the game assigns a title), but it definitely helped shape my design.

In Joe Danger 2: The Movie, Hello Games has crafted an experience that encourages improvement without being overbearing or punishing. The game is absolutely challenging, requiring pinpoint accuracy in order to obtain many of the Pro Medals. Instead of giving up after the tenth, twentieth or even fiftieth attempt, I just wanted to try one more time. That’s a hallmark of good game design. The difficulty arc is reasonable, giving players all the tools they need for success before cranking the dial up (and, in the deleted scenes most definitely ripping off the knob).

A real jetpack joyride.

The opportunity for endless content through the track creator and the presence of your friends’ runs taunting you is incentive enough to give those seemingly impossible scenes just one more try. Even if you’ve never played Trials HD, the original Joe Danger or, for that matter, Excitebike, there is a lot to love here. Even those that typically shy away from racing games should give this a look. The demo’s free, but I’d wager you’ll want to fork over your Microsoft spacebucks after giving it try.

 

Here’s the Rundown:

+ A great evolution of the series that doesn’t abandon what made the first great
+ The movie motif keeps things fresh
+ The director never chides you for restarting
+ Natural skill development is both noticeable and rewarding
- No online multiplayer
- Scene creator tutorial is missing some important information
- My hands hurt from constant replays
- Some difficulty unevenness 

 

9 and 9.5 represent the pinnacle of the genre, a game that defines what that genre should be about. These scores are for games that you not only feel would be worth your purchase, but you would actually try to convince your friends to buy them as well.

Joe Danger 2: The Movie was developed and published by Hello Games. It was released on September 14, 2012 at the MSRP of 1200 msp. A copy was provided by the publisher to RipTen for the purposes of review.