Joe Danger 2 - The Movie review: High-ish voltage

Joe Danger 2 The Movie review Highish voltage
Like a lot of film sequels, Joe Danger 2 sounds good on paper, in a bigger-better-more-explosions kind of way. Promoted from stuntman to star, Danger's garage and scenery are now fuller and more diverse. One minute he's skiing away from an avalanche, the next he's jetpacking through a jungle and breaking dinosaur eggs. With an action-packed variety of backdrops and vehicles, the 2D puzzle-racer never looks the same from one level to the next. This is a quality not to be sniffed at; many games would do well to break out of their beloved grey corridors and empty brown plains.

Nonetheless, like a lot of film sequels, Joe Danger 2 proves that it's hard to expand on a winning formula without breaking it. Thankfully, rather than break the formula, the game simply garbs itself in a pretty new veil. The sceneries and vehicles are bright and beautiful diversions, when in fact the game plays much the same as before. What tempers this is that what came before is still a bit special. As are many sequels, Joe Danger 2 is a strong pretender to its predecessor, but no more than that.%Gallery-162157% That winning formula is the sweet spot somewhere between the sheer hostility of Trials HD and the reactive flow of Mirror's Edge. While the game ambles through pedestrian opening levels – a 'Jump!' here and a 'Duck!' there – soon enough it's throwing spikes, barriers, and bombs at you in quick succession. Like Trials, it's as much a puzzle game as it is a 2D racer. While Trials emphasizes the need for unerring precision, at its hardest Joe Danger 2 demands pace, memory, reflexes, and grace across the board. It's not quite as hard as Trials, but it demands on a number of levels – and all at the same time if you want total completion.

The stunts side of it is take-it-or-leave-it. Fans of the first game will trick as much as before while fighting for leaderboard rankings, but I find it a little fiddly. It's more about furiously tapping the shoulder buttons alongside unwieldy spins than truly showing off, and it lacks the finesse of a Tony Hawk or an SSX.

Joe Danger 2 The Movie review Highish voltage
Not that it matters much, because collecting all the starred objectives is more than satisfying on its own. In the later levels, individual objectives like finding all the floating letters in 'DANGER' or getting to the end in time are hard enough. But trying to get the PRO star for all of a level's objectives in one run, that's something else. Each PRO star is like finding an overstuffed cuddly toy at the bottom of an oversized nettle bush.

With that winning formula intact, along with its cartoony charm and a pun-tacular sense of humor, Joe Danger 2 is never a chore. Still, by sticking so rigidly to the first game's blueprints outside of showy touches like avalanches and dinosaur eggs, the sequel puts pressure on its new vehicles to shine. The problem is that, as a whole, Joe's new rides don't feel all that different either. In fact, like the different backdrops, they feel more aesthetically significant than anything else, something to tie 'The Movie' theme together in absence of a real story. Rides like the mine cart and the skis are fine, but overall they play like any other level. Other vehicles offer subtler differences, but with the vehicles being pre-selected the levels are customized to those subtleties, and vice-versa. Apart from a couple of exceptions, the vehicle range is charming to discover but easy to forget.

Those two exceptions are the jetpack, which you see lots of, and the unicycle, which you see very little of. That's all with good reason; the unicycle is a horrible little thing, and has made me even surer in the sanity of two wheels. The jetpack, though, is a sheer propulsion of fun. As with the trusty bike, the sensitivity is dialed in just right to make it both pick-up-and-fly and something to master. The jetpack also allows for the height of levels to truly be explored at comfort, and for secret stars and other goodies to be hidden in cannier spots. Meanwhile, holding down B to tailspin and crash into objects below, particularly springy ones, is as satisfying at it is simple. For all the 'safe' rides bestowed upon Joe in his sequel, the one that actually changes up the play is the one that really pays off.

Otherwise, both the multiplayer (still offline) and level editor don't stray far either. The multiplayer allows up to four players to race, and incorporates the Road Rash punching of the single-player levels. Punching bikers as they try to ride past you is as fun as it sounds, but sadly it's an aspect underused in the single-player. Meanwhile, the level editor is still classy and clever, and its use by the community over the coming weeks is something to look forward to.

The main thrust for most, though, will be the single-player levels. For all their familiarity, they still do the two most important things puzzle-racers like Joe Danger 2 can do; tug at your need to beat them, and then tug at your need to beat them better. Maybe Joe Danger 2 doesn't stretch out of its comfort zone as much as it could, but its comfort zone is still a danger zone worth riding into, and easy to recommend.

This review is based on the final version of Joe Danger 2: The Movie, provided by Hello Games and available for 1200 MSP ($15) on Xbox Live Marketplace.

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