I have exceedingly fond memories of the original Joe Danger.
My friend Sam had come over for the evening, and we'd been gradually working our way through some rather strong, expensive and tasty alcoholic cider as time had proceeded on. We'd been idly chatting and playing a few games when I remembered that Sam had recently discovered the rather addictive joys of Trials-style motorbike racers on the Web. I figured Joe Danger -- a game which I owned but hadn't played all that much -- would be something he'd enjoy.
We started playing, we had fun and the cider continued to flow. And yet we felt we were missing something; looking at the leaderboard scores for my online friends who'd been playing the game for a while, we were clearly well behind in terms of score, and unsure of exactly why.
Then Sam went to the bathroom -- cider in that quantity tends to go straight through gentlemen of our age -- and I decided to try something in my semi-drunken stupor. I started a new level, flung the titular hero into the air and then proceeded to mash the stunt buttons as quickly as possible. When I landed, I scored something in the region of twenty-seven million points which I'm sure I don't have to tell you was considerably larger than our previous scores by a considerable margin. When Sam returned from the bathroom, he was briefly speechless... until I demonstrated my "technique," at which point a stupid in-joke we still enjoy today -- miming mashing controller buttons and bellowing "I'm playing Joe Danger!" at one another -- was officially born.
There is a point to this story, and it's this: the original Joe Danger was an excellent piece of design that managed to be easy to get into but tough to master. While you could get decent high scores by mashing buttons, you could get even better high scores if you had a somewhat better idea about what you were doing -- and this is something that continues to a certain degree in Joe Danger's newest adventure on iOS: Joe Danger Infinity.
I must confess to being somewhat skeptical of the idea of playing Joe Danger on a touchscreen. The PS3 original was, after all, rather dependent on buttons and we all know how unpleasant virtual on-screen buttons are to use -- particularly when you're required to do so with any accuracy. It's fortunate, then, that Joe Danger Infinity dispenses with all that and instead makes use of an eminently sensible, simplified control scheme in which all you have to do is tap to jump and hold to duck. This doesn't mean it's easy or simple, however; on the contrary, the simplicity of the basic control scheme frees you up to tap on all manner of other things in each course -- bubbles, slices of Battenberg cake, coins -- and swipe like crazy to perform stunts and rack up those high scores.
It works really well, in short. It's straightforward and intuitive; a simple and elegant control scheme that proves Hello Games has thought carefully about how to make a game such as Joe Danger work effectively on touchscreen devices, and then done a good job of implementing that idea. Not only that, but some superb sound design allows you to make use of your ears as well as your eyes to quickly respond to incoming threats and obstacles -- something a lot of games don't think to do.
So... why don't I feel like it's very, you know, fun?
Well, there's a big catch to all this. One of the defining characteristics of iOS games is that they're played on a touchscreen, sure, but another is that they're played on mobile platforms -- tablets and smartphones. Mobile platforms have a different set of "norms" than console and handheld games, and it's in this regard that Joe Danger Infinity sometimes leaves me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
There's a strong focus on earning "coins" to buy upgrades, new characters and new vehicles, for example, and while you earn coins at a very healthy rate through normal play, it's difficult not to notice that "add coins" button underneath the readout of how many you have. Or the prompt to purchase "super boosts" when you retry levels in order to make acquiring medals easier. No skill needed here, folks; just pay up for an invincibility or score booster powerup -- and to make matters worse, the game doesn't tell you what the price of these "super boosts" is on the main screen -- you have to sign in to your iTunes account first, and it's not made at all clear whether or not you'll have the option to cancel the purchase after you've entered your password.
Then there's the fact I felt somewhat like the game was treating me like an idiot. The introduction of even the basic controls and techniques is spread out over an agonizingly long set of levels rather than front-loading with optional tutorials, and a number of times, the game prevented me from choosing anything from the menu, instead automatically advancing me on to the next challenge instead of allowing me the option to choose a new character or vehicle. Many mobile gamers may be new to video games in general, yes, but that's no reason to treat the entire player base like dribbling morons who can only handle a single, carefully explained game mechanic at once. Compare and contrast with something like Super Mario 3D World, for example, which gradually introduces you to all of its available techniques through nothing but excellent level design -- and all without ever putting a line of tutorial text on screen. That's how you do it.
Oh, and the outright bribery -- albeit with in-game currency -- to write a positive review on iTunes may be common practice for iOS titles, but that doesn't make it any less obnoxious each time it comes up. (Fun fact, incidentally; any time you get one of these prompts, all you have to do is agree to do it, then switch straight back to the game to receive the reward without having to actually write a review.)
None of these aspects are game-breaking by any means, but they just provide frequent and unwelcome reminders that you are, in fact, playing a mobile game rather than a console or handheld title. It's sad that we still have to make this distinction, but if anything it's become more pronounced over the last few years, not less. Joe Danger Infinity would be a much more pleasant experience if its initial cost of admission -- an, if anything, underpriced $2.99 -- was a little higher, and all the microtransactions and other mobile game guff were thrown out of the window. There's a great touchscreen adaptation of Joe Danger's gameplay hiding here; it's just sometimes difficult to see underneath all the other nonsense.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: You'd be hard-pushed to distinguish this from the original HD console versions, and the Micro Machines-style miniaturized aesthetic gives it a distinctive look and feel from its predecessors.
- Music and Sound: Some catchy background music and quality, genuinely useful sound design make this a game you'll want to pump up the volume for.
- Interface: Cluttered and inconsistent; sometimes you have downtime in the menus to select or buy new characters and vehicles; other times you're rudely forced into the next level before you can do anything.
- Lasting Appeal: There's certainly no shortage of content here, and there's plenty of replayability as you attempt to beat your Game Center friends' high scores -- it's just a shame that replays come with the option to "cheat" through super boosts, effectively negating the usefulness of the leaderboards in the process.
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