Hello Games’ hobby project gets to stretch its legs.. Or in this case, its tyres…
It was 8 months ago that I sat down with the fine folks from Hello games at E3, chowing down on a cooked breakfast, beneath the sunshine of downtown Los Angeles. As good as the bacon was, it was an early build of Joe Danger Touch they had brought to show me, that distracted me away from this delicious feast.
It wasn’t just the fun twitch-reaction gameplay that caught my attention, or the close to console quality visuals. No, it was the fact that this was thrown together originally as a hobby project, a testbed for developing on iOS. It was only because Hello’s Sean Murray used assets from the Joe Danger console game, that this iOS version even saw the light of day. Well, I’m glad it did, because roll on to present day and Joe Danger Touch is here.
For those not familiar with Joe Danger on consoles, its primarily an arcade style game of the platforming/racing hybrid variety. It sees you taking control of Joe, a stunt bike star, as you duck, jump and somersault over and under obstacles in your path, in a bid to collect stars and unlock the next set of levels.
The console version had the ability to control your speed, as well as move in reverse to collect pickups out of reach. So, with a self-imposed mission to create a game built for touch without the need for virtual D-pads and action buttons, Hello Games made the decision to remove this dynamic from the iOS game. By doing this it does change the gameplay somewhat. Without direct control of Joe’s speed, it makes for more of a fast paced reaction game, rather than skillfully having to master each course.
Die-hard fans of the console version might find this dumbed down, particularly the early levels. But, I think it’s more a case of unlearning the controller and how that game played, and embracing the simplified touch and gesture system and enjoying this as a wholly new experience. Particularly when the touch controls work this well.
Launching Joe from the start gate is done with a simple touch. Time it right and you’ll earn a boost (Mario-kart style). From here the track will charge towards you from the right of the screen. Early levels have you navigating simple jumps, performed by tapping the screen and tapping again for a double jump. Holding the screen puts Joe in the duck position; this allows him to drive through low pipes, or under gates. Releasing from duck will cause him to jump, adding a level of precision timing to proceedings. Release to early and you could miss clearing an obstacle.
Eventually, you’ll find that obstacles to jump do come at such a rate that you’ll need to slow down. When you are in the air you can hold the screen for a duck, causing Joe to ignore his current trajectory and speed, and dive downwards, giving you the ability to time the next jump. This move also comes into play with ground targets which you must hit from the air, and for clearing upward fans that make Joe float.
For speed boosts you can put Joe into a wheelie position by swiping left on the screen. It’s limited, so you can’t play through the whole level in this position, but it’s useful for quick boosts of speed, and for getting through mud slicks which would otherwise slow you down.
Another gesture is up and down swiping, this causes Joe to change track. While the game is on a flat 2D plain, you can move in and out of the course to access other platforms and collect coins. This can only be done at special turning checkpoints (think the points on a rail track). They generally send you in one direction, but later levels give you more options, with only one of them leading to coins or pickups.
Hitting any obstacle – such as spikes, circular saws, or shark tanks – you will instantly fail the course, and will automatically restart the level. Later levels become so intricate with the merging of multiple obstacles of different types, that you will need to memorise them, despite the speed making it hard to do so. It’s testament to the great level design on display.
While the game is designed with one finger control in mind, I found that using a two thumb approach worked best. My left thumb performed the majority of actions, while my right took care of taking out obstacles, changing lanes and collecting pickups.
Like many games on the Appstore – particularly puzzle games like Angry Birds – Joe Danger Touch utilises the three point (or star) reward system for each level. These vary from level-to-level but include: collecting all coins, executing all stunts perfectly (by performing them at the right time as instructed), completing the course, the collection of hidden stars, spelling D-A-N-G-E-R, and coming first in a boss-battle/race. Earn a perfect three in any given level and you’ll score maximum points, allowing you to unlock new levels, characters (required for some bonus levels) and new – and more difficult – collections of levels (called tours). As is customary in many iOS games you can of course purchase more points in exchange for real cash as In App Purchases (IAP), but it is possible to complete the game without spending a dime on IAP, by simply mastering a level and passing the three challenges.
Beyond besting the levels of each tour there are no other modes, nor a multiplayer option. This is very much a single player game… For now at least. However, there is Game Center integration, and its very well implemented.
On completing a level – in particular completing all three challenges in a level – you can challenge your Game Center buddies. This not only gives you bragging rights, but also gives them the opportunity to try and match, or better, your attempt. On receiving a challenge invitation (even if you are not in the game) it will launch the game and take you directly to that level to begin. It will even allow you to play it if you have yet to reach and unlock that level yourself. I’ve already been backwards and forwards with challenges a few times with AppAddict’s Brett Nolan, and it works very well.
Complimenting the great gameplay is equally great presentation. The visuals perfectly recreate the look and feel of the original game’s environments and characters. It even rivals that of the PS3 version when viewed on a retina iPhone screen. The game runs super smooth, giving a great sense of speed without the headache inducing blurring that many other auto-runner and endless runnner games out there show when dealing with lots of on-screen detail. The music is great fun too. It’s got a 70s porno-funk feel to it (much like the film Nacho Libre). It fits well with the visual style, and harkens back to a time when stuntmen were gods.
Joe Danger Touch equals Rayman Jungle Run in offering a fantastic touch screen alternative to the console version of a game. The only difference being that I think that this touch version is better than the PSN and XBLA original. Its more engaging and very addictive. That ‘one more go’ urge cost me my dinner this evening! No one likes overcooked pasta. Or indeed, cold bacon!
Joe Danger Touch is out now for $2.99.