Joe Danger Infinity review
Bigger, better, more Battenberg.
Spookily, it's a year almost to the day since I wrote about Joe Danger Touch for this very site, and much of what I said then still applies to this follow-up. Like its predecessor, Infinity is a giddy, colourful joy of a game, a collection of brilliantly designed, hazard-strewn gauntlets which the eponymous stuntman - along with a collection of unlockable characters - automatically speeds through, as you tap and swipe to prompt him into endos, wheelies, backflips and several other tricks. If you liked that game a lot, as I did, I'm confident you will get on with this famously.
But why exactly is Joe Danger such a joy to play on a touchscreen format? I've been pondering this for a little while, and I think the best way I can explain it is thus:
Touch controls can be pretty great for certain types of games. Games like Device 6, The Room 2 and Ridiculous Fishing benefit enormously from being developed primarily for such devices. But when I play certain other types of games on my iPad mini or my Android phone, I wish I was playing them with a proper d-pad - or analogue stick, in some cases - and buttons. This may be because I'm awful and old, and I've grown so accustomed to traditional controls that the very concept of virtual thumbsticks and circular tap points as a replacement feels horribly wrong somehow. The very highest praise I can offer to Joe Danger Infinity, then, is that it makes me miss buttons less than almost any other touchscreen game.
It achieves this in two ways. For one, it's reliably responsive; predictable in the very best sense of the word. You tap the screen and something will happen with barely perceptible delay. And secondly, the visual and audio feedback is immaculately judged. You'll hear a noisy clatter as a barrier collapses under your index finger, collectable items chime loudly as you grab them, while Joe and pals whoop and shout during stunts, with different soundbites for each one. Close your eyes and you'll know instinctively whether you nailed that double front flip as you touch down. Nintendo has often discussed the idea of 'sound effects you can feel'; perhaps the next kindest thing I can say about Joe Danger Infinity is that its sound design has a similar impact to some of the best games from the House of Mario.
What's more, it moves at a rollicking pace. A lovely touch sees the game automatically select the next stage unless you tap the screen; factor in the moreish nature of these snack-sized stages and Infinity becomes increasingly difficult to put down. Each stage brings a trio of fresh challenges - Pop bubbles! Collect D-A-N-G-E-R letters! Beat a monkey to the finish line! - and given the slightly steeper difficulty curve, it feels even more frantic than before. You'll be keeping one eye on your rider and another on the track, while somehow attempting to watch for pickups in the background - or even incoming missiles from an attack helicopter that need deflecting before they reach your bike, or tank, or rubber duck on wheels. You may have to pause every few levels to catch your breath.
If you're not almost constantly tapping or swiping, you're doing it wrong. Not least because stunts are the only way to keep your score multiplier going, whether it's wheelies and endos or mid-air donuts. There are mid-air donuts of the edible variety, actually, and floating pieces of Battenberg cake, which go straight in at number two on my list of the most delicious-looking game collectables just behind Pikmin 3's luscious, juicy fruit (and marginally ahead of Condemned's dead crows, natch).
There is, sadly, a fly in the ointment - or two. The stages may be precision-crafted for maximum fun, but they can, at times, be much of a muchness. Perhaps that's down to the sheer speed at which they zip by, but it's fair to say no one is going to phone a friend and discuss how wonderful stage 9-2 is. And while few can begrudge Hello Games' desire to make a few quid from a game that's otherwise generous to a fault - particularly in light of recent events - there's one aspect of the way it's monetised that sits uneasily with me.
I'm not concerned that certain unlockable characters offer score boosts that are all but impossible to match with earlier heroes, particularly when it's more fun to chase every medal rather than top the leaderboards. But the appearance of three boosters - offering invincibility, a coin magnet and the ability to perform stunts automatically when airborne - is more intrusive. These single-use power-ups are 69p each, and show up before each repeat attempt at a level, putting you an extra tap away from an instant restart.
You could argue that it's not so far removed from Mario's White Tanooki suit, a way to help less skilled players reach the finish or get a higher score, but here they arrive after a single failure and with a price tag. I'd happily pay a one-off fee for the prompt to disappear entirely and allow me as many goes as it takes to perfect a stage without being nagged to take the easy way out.
And yet all that is forgiven when you're given the green light, and you send a cupcake in a muscle car careening through the happiest, busiest, noisiest obstacle courses on iOS. As Hello Games looks to more distant horizons, it's unlikely we'll see Joe again - at least not for a while. Perhaps, then, it's worth taking the time to raise a glass to this unlikely hero, and what might well be his best game to date. To Infinity, and beyond!