It's hard not to love the gleefully saccharine world pudgy stuntman Joe Danger inhabits, mainly because it's a land of fluffy cotton wool clouds and beaming grins, the kind of place where everything is served up with a charming wink and a friendly cheer, and even the advertisement posters offer slogans like "Grenades, now available in RED!"
Released in 2010 on PlayStation Network (and then re-released and remixed on Xbox Live Arcade at the end of 2011), Joe Danger was an immensely lovable game that used its bouncy bright aesthetic to mask a system of intricate traps, criss-crossing routes and perilous jumps. The upcoming sequel, Joe Danger: The Movie, is looking to refine all that sprawling chaos into something more approachable, guided and understandable.
At first glance much is the same as before. Joe still spends most of his time darting around tracks hoovering up scattered D-A-N-G-E-R letters, popping sweet wheelies and letting off a few tricks with a mix of shoulder-button and cartwheeley spins in the air. Levels feature multiple objectives, such as never breaking a combo or finding hidden stars, and Hello Games' original quartet of developers each brings their own splash of colour and influence, so you've got a sense of everything from Excitebike to Sonic the Hedgehog via a flourish of Tony Hawks Pro Skater.
It's chaotic, then, but it's an entertaining and surprisingly cohesive jumble of multiple ideals. But Joe Danger: The Movie is looking to chisel its focus in a way that the original did not, and provide a much clearer sense of victory and success - with so may different things to do in the original, it was sometimes hard to get a feel that you'd actually accomplished anything at all.
Hello Games' first new trick is in the title. Now taking his stunt craft to the silver screen, Joe's on-screen antics are framed by the game's various wacky contexts. As a cop, for instance, Joe gives chase to an armoured getaway van in the first vehicle he comes across - a child's bike. It's endearingly daft, and I can't imagine a world where people don't want to be playing a game where you dispatch your foes by throwing newspapers at them - another cheeky nod to Paperboy, of course, an arcade classic that anyone under a certain age probably won't even remember.
In another set of stages, where you're taking on the role of a secret agent, you're tasked with infiltrating a snowy hideout on a dinky little set of skis. Set off an alarm and you'll hear a riff heavily inspired from Metal Gear Solid that causes the level to wake up and the traps to become more perilous, and a few stages down the line you'll end up in a battle with a helicopter where you'll have to use the environment to dodge barrages of oncoming rockets. For the record, that level is hard as hell.
The first game bucketed its levels into sections, but these clumps of levels are now presented as the acts of various films, each loosely connected by an overall sense of progression. Going to the movies gives Joe a certain amount of show and setpiece, and the framework helps guide players from stage to stage before encouraging them to dip back in multiple times for more medals and better scores.
There's also a new renewed focus on having players learn the ins-and-outs of each course from your friends and the global leaderboards, with a clever ghost system that can be toggled on and off as you race. These are proper ghosts, too, in the form of brightly coloured wisps floating in the air.
Under the hood Joe's also experienced some more mechanical changes, with slight alterations to the basic controls and world physics to ensure a more meticulously technical approach for savvy players - certain ramps have been designed to always be fastest for the player if you double jump and boost off them, for instance. With the game featuring multiple vehicles, including a minecart and a jetpack, it will likely help to have its core fundamentals spruced up.
Joe Danger: The Movie is set to be a cheery follow-up to the original, but its tricky gauntlets and criss-crossing levels still require an amount of decidedly un-breezy technical proficiency. Joe Danger's sugary highs ensure you'll be going through those cycles of pauses and restarts with a grin on your face, however.