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Joe Danger

Danger nous.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Sean Murray and Grant Duncan are patient men. They have waited a long time. Not just to start up their own studio with friends Ryan Doyle and David Ream - the friendly sounding and reassuringly friendly Hello Games. Not just to get people in front of their first game - Joe Danger, a charming mixture of platforming, trial biking and seventies hand-organs. And not just for a publisher to help them settle on a distribution mechanism for their dream game.

On top of all that, they've had to wait a very, very long time for me to give up trying to complete this one level of theirs in less than 30 seconds, getting all the coins and without breaking my combo. In fact they are still waiting, because I didn't manage it, and they should be very wary about bringing playable code back to the Eurogamer office. Because I will do it. I actually will. And they will have to watch and smile and be polite to me while I'm doing it. I'm not even joking.

It's tempting to bundle Joe Danger into the same box as a lot of retro remakes - and it would fit very nicely in there, too, with its SEGA blue skies, Sonic the Hedgehog level design and pinball attitude to high scores and reward - but it's also dashingly contemporary in other respects. There's a level editor that's about as hard to use as air, where you can pause the game mid-jump and insert something to land on. There are friends leaderboards while you play. And there are solid lessons learned while building up a collective CV that includes stints at Criterion, Kuju and Sumo Digital.

And while Joe Danger is a game made by people who love their gaming past - while I play, Murray tells me a story about his co-op obsession with Ruff 'n' Tumble on the Amiga and how sad he was when his brother went to uni, "an empty joystick where he used to be" - the lessons it takes from the past belie the simplicity of the colourful graphics, boost bars and collectables.

Whenever you collect all the letters in D-A-N-G-E-R, the game sings "Daaaaaangeeeer!" at you. So now I do that in the office.

"I joke that it's like a love letter to us when we were kids," says Murray, his choice of phrase probably increasing our Google PageRank for all the wrong things in the process. "This is a game I would have got excited about. And still would now! You know when you would get one game and it had to last all year. We wanted to create something like that, even though it's only a download title... Download games have that thing that games had that I remember, which was replayability. They won't provide 30 hours of content, but they will provide 30 hours of replayability."

Murray isn't explicitly stating that Joe Danger will provide 30 hours of replayability, of course, but it's already managed about an hour and a half from me, largely off the back of one level. Not a bad start.

For the most part in Joe Danger you proceed through left-to-right 2D tracks, many of which have three planes of depth that you can navigate between at junctions. You collect coins and D-A-N-G-E-R letters and hunt for secrets, all the while trying to avoid whacking your head on hurdles, impaling yourself on spikes or landing in a shark pit.

At the end, you're rated and awarded stars based on several criteria - whether you beat a certain time (no), whether you got all the pickups (yes!), if you strung a continuous combo together (nearly), and others depending on the stage. For your efforts you're rewarded with stars, which you can use to buy access to new levels.

The emphasis changes to keep things fresh. "For me [at the high end] it's Sonic but with the combo," says Murray. "You'll cane through a level like that and hit all the targets, and you're doing it without knowing you're doing it, and then get all the rewards. You slowly build up this repertoire, and any one of them on their own isn't hard, but when you come to doing them all together it's quite an intense experience. You feel like you've been through something when you finish a level."