Review: Joe Danger Infinity13 Jan 2014 0
I'm a little cupcake driving a rubber duck through soup. There's a helicopter shooting missiles at the dining room table, you see. Now I'm a ninja behind the wheel of a WWII-era army jeep, and I have to get the donuts because... because there are donuts in front of me, you see? Pretty soon I might be an evil motocross gang leader piloting a biplane, a greaser zombie operating a tank without the proper licenses, maybe even a certain Evel Knievel-style daredevil by the name of Joe Danger.
I will also be concussed. Or at least as much as any of the plastic toy stunt persons (and stunt confections) in Joe Danger Infinity can be concussed. The latest entry in the Danger series is, in line with its predecessors, a reflex-testing, reaction-time-shortening, on-rails racing/score-attack mashup with the schmaltzy 70s CMYK veneer of an old Knievel comic. It's also been designed specifically and exclusively for iOS, which means... well, no, you're still going to crash and burn a bunch. You'll just know it was your fault.
Disclaimer: I've not played any of the Joe Danger games before (despite their being somewhat of an institution at this point), though I know of them well enough to say that Infinity isn't shaking things up too much. This time 'round, a magic mustachioed gumball machine and supposed regent (really) has brought all of Mr. Danger's toys to life, including the toy version of Joe Danger, and all the little buggers are presumably vying for royal favor by stuntin' around Joe's house. Where prior games in the series aimed for a sense of high-flying childlike wonder, Joe Danger Infinity literally has you playing with toys--RC vehicles and matchbox cars driven by action figures.
Aside from the change in scenery, now popping with color and molded plastic loop-de-loops (all of which, gods be damned, can't help but remind me of the friggin' 3DO Army Men games), Joe Danger Infinity largely concerns itself with the same brand of coccyx-shattering antics the series is known for. Players can tap to jump with any one racer (and again, in midair, for double-jump); swipe backwards to speed up with a wheelie; tap and hold to duck, keeping their avatar's noggin from hitting any low-hanging obstacles; swipe in the air to execute flips and spins for score; and employ a handful of other odd, more situational tricks. It's as slick and responsive as one could hope for, and only rarely will you find yourself cursing some over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity of the control scheme in relation to a failed run at bus-jumping stardom.
Levels are equally chockablock with obstacles to either impede or derail your progress (the latter splattering you limp on the cold, unforgiving pavement carpet) and collectibles to entice you with delusions of nailing the fabled perfect run. Even a mediocre stuntperson could probably manage to finish many of Joe Danger Infinity's levels, but true daredevil status only comes with collecting every gently curving arc of glittery coins... and every floating star... and every one of the collectibles in the background you can snag with a tap... oh, and there are the bonus gumball tokens (worth it just because you get to hear the King yell “GUM-BALL”) which can be traded in for coin chests or new characters or... oh... oh jeez there's so much...
Joe Danger Infinity does a fantastic job of mixing up its objectives as you progress. Any one level will only have three, and, yeah, sometimes one goal will be to simply finish the course. But it could just as easily be to, say, collect all the "DANGER" letters scattered through a level, or to hit every one of the bulls-eyes Infinity tends to have after ramps, or a score goal, or even something as straightforward as finishing before an opponent does (this would be a "race"). Complete any one goal, and you get a token. Get enough tokens, and you'll be able to unlock the next tour of levels. Fail to get enough tokens, and you'll have to go back and try for two goals in a level, maybe even all three, the perfectionist core of replay value at the center of the game.
There are a bunch of different whips to tool around in as well (“whips” also loosely applying to, like, small planes), and while a few do seem like slightly modified or boosted versions of others, overall these rides are different enough in terms of handling and special abilities that choosing between them is meaningful. There's an army jeep which can plow through certain obstacles that would total other vehicles, various planes with extended jump length or hang time, and speedy racers—to name a few—and all are options on the table when you can't nail that pro medal for a particularly ball-busting level, and you hope that tweaking things on the garage end can help.
What's odd--at least for a newcomer to the series--is that Joe Danger Infinity isn't just a game of assessing when there's an obstacle or achievable in your path and what move you need to use to deal with it. Rather, sometimes you don't need to do anything, and doing something, like, oh, executing a jump at the tail-end of a ramp (which, come on, you're always going to want to do) can cause you to overshoot the coins the game intended you to hit--though not always. Often you need to figure out when it's safe to let the game drive itself, for a bit, and often the best way to figure that out is to first make a mistake and restart, and that's... fine, I suppose. Joe Danger Infinity's levels are brief enough and delightful enough that they stay fresh, even in the bitter milk of serial cock-ups, but there's an inherent frustration in not being able to really go 110% wild on certain stages.
And then there's the IAP stuff. Joe Danger Infinity is a for-pay game, but it does have what can safely be called optional in-app purchases. In my time with it, I've never felt the need to purchase coins to buy the vehicles the game requires for certain stages: I've always earned enough just by playing. Additionally, I've never felt the need to purchase a booster which can turn you invincible for a level, or the one that automatically attract coins and pops bonus collectibles for you. The latter is in part because Joe Danger's levels have never come off as cheap, only challenging; and in part because paying for the privilege to not play a game is ridiculous, especially when it's a good game like Infinity.
That said, the game can be pushy when it comes to letting you know this crap is available. Hitting that first major difficulty spike around tour three or four (when Joe Danger Infinity starts mixing in fans, bulls-eye jumps, and lethal variants on obstacles which were, formerly, only time-wasting nuisances), I started crashing my racers. Often. And King Gumball started reminding me that I could buy my way out of tough levels. Often. Immediately after my first abortive run, actually. Again, I can't see any additional purchases being integral to getting your play's worth out of the game unless you absolutely need some of the pricey character models and cars (and even those seem somewhat attainable), but it is damn annoying.
But while we're at it... is it a good idea to have those (sometimes 4 USD-expensive) character models tied to score, with some characters being objectively better when it comes to netting points, as well as the medals and progress associated with those points? Couldn't that have just been a vanity thing, nothing more? And what about the game's nasty habit of automatically starting the next level in a series moments after you finish the one prior, like you're some whale of a gambler who's considering getting up from the blackjack table. Don't push, Joe Danger! I already like you.
The point is, for all its many strengths, Joe Danger Infinity is burdened—framed, really—by the sort of troublesome design elements that other, lesser, more blatant time-wasters all but flaunt. To say that it never succumbs to these elements is an out, partially, and to say that in this case the game itself rocks is another but, still: did all this need to be here at all? It dampens the experience some.
I like that Joe Danger Infinity is the sort of game I can prop up in my iPad's standalone case, on the couch or in bed, and comfortably while away a few playing the whole shebang with just one hand. It's high-skill, with a low barrier to entry. I'm also aware that it's 90% clicky, 10% thinky, and as such qualifies as digital junk food—but of the best kind. It's also worryingly festooned with the trappings (but not the cold, cold heart) of a freemium junk app. So... I think quite a few things about Joe Danger Infinity when I'm not playing it. But, when I am, I'm not thinking about anything but nailing the next monster ramp over some bowls of gazpacho, and letting my disillusioned cupcake son know his cupcake dad isn't a coward, not today. That's probably the most telling.
The game was played on a 3rd generation iPad for this review.