One of the nicest things that happened last year was that Joe Danger was really successful. Built by four guys in a room in Guildford after they quit their studio jobs to make something they would want to play, it was a cartoon stunt bike game inspired by Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Sonic the Hedgehog, and beneath its breezy, cheerful exterior thumped the heart of a wonderful high-scores game. We gave it an 8/10 and said, "If you like collecting things, going fast, beating times, posting scores... If you like video games, basically, you ought to like this."
Joe Danger: The Movie, which may yet end up on multiple formats (the original was a PSN exclusive largely because Sony was the friendliest option for developer Hello Games), finds tubby stuntman Joe on the set of a new film.
"The idea is that Joe's making a film," Hello MD Sean Murray tells Eurogamer. "It's one big film that you're making, and you're recording scenes from it. You record them out of sequence, but when you see them played back they start to make sense, and you start to see things that give away what's going on in the overall movie."
The film's mysterious director also plays an active role in the game after approaching Joe in the intro movie to offer him the job.
"We've yet to make that cut-scene, but it's in our heads. If only you could see it in our heads - it's Pixar quality!" says an ever-breathless Murray. "He finds Joe and pitches this idea of the greatest film that's ever been made, because it's going to have everything."
We ask if this means Joe has found fame and fortune and Murray looks skeptical. "He's still got a bit of a gut and looks a little out of place," he says doubtfully.
What it does mean is that Joe gets to drive more than just his trademark stuntbike. Depending on the scene you're recording, you could end up on a police motorcycle, in a mine cart, racing downhill on skis or even driving a tank. We don't get to see the tank (or the robot suits, or some of the other contraptions on the promo poster released prior to Gamescom), but we do get to play with a few.
"We have a load of vehicles we're not showing, but these are the ones that roughly work, and that we're happy with," Murray explains. "Ish."
Most of the original game's fundamentals are still in place. It's still about moving left to right on a 2D plane, occasionally moving in or out of the screen at set junctions, collecting coins and D-A-N-G-E-R letters, and performing stunts using combinations of midair rotations and bumper-button grabs. The idea is to get to the end but also to build a high-score combo as you go.
With the addition of the film director in the background barking into a megaphone, you also need to do things related to the story of the film. As the motorcycle cop, for example, you have to bash a series of robbers off their bikes, Road Rash style.
The different vehicles have different handling models and some can bash through an obstacle or two before crashing outright, but you still control them all in the same way - accelerating and reversing with the triggers, even in midair, tricking with the bumpers and boosting, crouching and jumping with the face buttons. (And you still hit the level-reset button a lot to jump back to the start and have another crack.)
You also switch vehicles halfway through certain levels. In the spy movie pastiche level "Dr. Snow", you have to ski down a hill and prevent a missile launch, then hop into a skidoo and dodge grenades thrown by evil henchmen. You don't control this transition though - it's down to the level design.
Of the new vehicles, probably our favourite so far is the jetpack. Joe could always temporarily boost himself through the air to keep his wheels from touching the ground - it was often the key to keeping elaborate combos alive - but the jetpack means he is permanently hovering a few feet off the ground and can zip in any direction almost weightlessly. Mastering it feels like a very different skill to the bike.
Back on the skis, one thing we notice is that you can also perform basic ground tricks (a bit like 'manuals' in Tony Hawk's, but without having to worry about remaining balanced) to keep combos alive. The trick system also pays more attention to the specific grabs you hold, rather than encouraging you to twist and spam bumper buttons in the air to increase the number of tricks performed. Picking a trick and sticking to it is now more beneficial to your score.
The levels we've seen suggest that it's all going to end up just as fiendishly addictive as the first game, with plenty of new obstacles to master in addition to all the old spikes, hurdles and bounce pads. Certain junctions for switching lanes now involve dodging oncoming traffic, so you have to time your button-press carefully, and there are more collectibles too, like fruit, with special bonus levels related to them.
Visually it's more bright and boisterous than ever - the palette is broader and levels more diverse, with snow-covered mountains, bright city streets and dusty underground caverns. The background detail is as noisy as the foreground gameplay, too, with cute incidental touches like dancing robots and flashes of programming flair that belie the game's indie roots, like translucent loop-the-loops on the snow level that refract light through their icy curves.
Hello Games isn't saying when it will be finished yet, and certain things, like multiplayer, are up in the air until the platforms are confirmed, although a return for the level editor from the first game seems likely.
It's still a little chaotic for your hands, too, based on a few minutes hammering away at some of the demo levels, with lots of competing and overlapping controls and increasingly complicated and sadistic level designs. But that's the fun of it really - running gauntlets of horrendously unpleasant interconnected routes and contraptions designed to saw you in half or decapitate you, and resetting to the start repeatedly until you've perfected the route. It's what made Joe Danger so successful last time out, and it's easy to imagine him repeating the trick.