Version tested: PlayStation 3
Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel once said of his promoters, "they thought my bike had wings". Motorcycle daredevil Joe Danger's bike does not have wings, but it does technically have a jetpack thanks to its boost meter, and you can refill that meter by pulling wheelies and performing death-defying stunts while flying through the air.
Evel Knievel also used to blame his regular injuries on the fact that "I did everything by the seat of my pants". I blame Joe Danger's regular injuries on my failing to land those death-defying stunts properly. Fortunately the little man has an instant-restart button that zaps him back to the last checkpoint, alive and well and smiling.
Joe Danger, the first release from indie startup Hello Games, quickly settles into a rhythm that will be familiar to players of games like TrackMania and Trials HD, where progress is made through surprisingly delightful trial-and-error. You blast along side-scrolling stunt tracks until you come unstuck, and then hit a button to begin again before you've had time to consciously react.
What sets Joe Danger apart is the variety of objectives you're being invited to complete on each run. Before you start you're given an indication of what kind of event it is: on top of driving from start to finish, some levels involve landing on targets, others collecting coins, some locating hidden stars, many by sustaining a combo, a few by collecting D-A-N-G-E-R letters, and others still by other means. Simply finishing may entitle you to post a score online, but you need to complete those extra objectives to earn stars, which unlock new tracks.
Initially the range of controls and number of things to do can be confusing. You can accelerate and brake, jump, double-jump, bash an opponent, pull tricks with both bumpers and do wheelies, and there are also air controls for rotation and lateral movement, while some levels invite you to switch lanes at certain junctions. All the while, you're racing past different-coloured stars, over bull's-eyes, under dangling letters and all sorts.
Even after a dozen hours of focused play, it can take a few too many split-seconds in mid air to remember that you need to brake and manoeuvre with the triggers, hold tricks to sustain your combo and fill your boost bar, and then orientate yourself with the left stick to land, while also considering what to do once you have.
Fortunately, it's never bad enough to put you off, only to hold you up. Joe Danger always remains a game where it's easy to have fun within seconds.
One of the main reasons for that is the way the objectives work. When you start to require additional stars to progress, you revisit older levels to try for different objectives. Each goal is distinctive enough to require a different approach, and once you become proficient it's tempting to go after multiple objectives in one run - something the game encourages with goals that combine speed and hitting targets, among other examples.