Ah, Joe Danger, the nearly man of the download services. Too often dismissed - and unfairly so - as Trials Lite, the diminutive stuntman's PS3 debut was loudly heralded by critics but never quite became the smash hit it deserved to be. And if the leaderboards for Joe Danger: The Movie are anything to go by, it might even be a little generous to label its sequel a cult favourite.
In truth, the little fella always seemed rather dwarfed by the big screen. Like Burnout Crash!, this is a series that makes more sense on iOS - there's something about its cheery presentation and simple arcade mechanics that feels right in the palm of your hand. Like a TV star that never quite made it in the movies, Joe Danger is more at home on the smaller screen. He's the Nathan Fillion of games, basically.
Unlike Criterion's sparky spin-off, which subtly tweaked the console game to accommodate touch controls, Joe Danger Touch is a very different beast from the original. Sure, it's still as much Mario and Sonic as it is ExciteBike and Trials, but there's a dash of the auto-runner in there, too, the bike's momentum now under computer control. Instead, you're responsible for Joe's ducks, leaps, flips, and wheelies, all executed with simple taps and swipes. It's as intuitive a control scheme as you could wish for, though it feels a little alien at first if you're familiar with the console games. But after a brief period of acclimatisation you're away.
In fact, you won't always be focused on Joe any more. You'll need to keep one eye on the road ahead and another on what's whizzing by as the helmeted hero zips down the track. A tap pops bubbles to free the coins within, while obstacles need a sharp jab to get them out of Joe's way. Quick reactions are required to nab floating D-A-N-G-E-R letters, golden stars or the often well-hidden Hello Games logos. There are three objectives which vary from stage to stage: you might be asked to hit all jumps with perfect timing, for example, or to cross the finishing line ahead of a giant cupcake. Finishing a stage is enough to advance to the next, but later level groups will only unlock when you've earned a certain number of medals.
Not that such roadblocks delay you for long. Indeed, there's a constant sense of progression: you earn money even for failing, while restarts take no more than a couple of seconds, encouraging you to stick with a stage until you've properly beaten rather than merely finished it. The difficulty curve is perfectly judged, levels steadily increasing in complexity until your fingers are a blur, tapping and swiping in a frenzy to change lanes, duck under barriers, wheelie through mud patches and somersault over shark-infested pools.
There's never quite the same rhythm to mastering a stage as there is in, say, Rayman Jungle Run. Here, there's more room to express yourself - if you fancy pulling an endo as you cross the finish line, you can. But beyond that, it's the abundance of things to tap and flick that makes even the most immaculate run feel frantic rather than fluid. You're always just one errant tap or swipe away from failure.
But isn't that exactly how it should be in a game about a stuntman? You're careening through stages at breakneck speed, missing bumps, spikes and sharks by the skin of your teeth: the game's tone may be light-hearted, but its star is called Joe Danger, after all. The most exciting stunts are the ones where there's a genuine chance of something going wrong, and the later stages see you constantly, thrillingly, teetering on that knife-edge between joy and disaster, success and failure.
Still, the inherent slapstick in screwing up makes even the most difficult levels easier to persevere with. It helps, of course, that's it's such a wonderfully happy game, with its characterful cartoonish looks and jaunty musical themes. There's only really one potential misstep: the final entry in the character roster is a seemingly overpowered Golden Joe available for a terrifying 150,000 in-game coins. He's no doubt designed to test the willpower of score-chasers, as he comes with a whopping 50x combo maximum, as well as boosting your score and coin tally by 200%. That might ruin the game as a high-score challenge, but I'd be surprised if Hello Games didn't have some kind of solution for any potential imbalance.
The million dollar question, of course is this: can Joe Danger Touch avoid the fate that befell its predecessors, and become a success on a new platform? The App Store is such an unpredictable beast that it's difficult to tell, but it certainly deserves to. This is an iOS game of rare depth and substance, a bouncy, fun game split into moreish chunks that are easy to gobble down entirely in just a few sittings. Whether the wider market agrees is another matter, but for my money, this indomitable hero has finally found the right format on which to showcase his stuntman skills. Welcome home, Joe.
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