Publisher: Xbox LIVE Arcade / Developer: Hello Games / Platform: XBLA

The first time I saw a preview for Joe Danger I was instantly transported back to 1988, to memories of discovering Excitebike for the first time. But would this homage by the people at Hello Games bring the same level of enjoyment?

This was a silly question to ask, of course. Because despite my nostalgia for the NES Excitebike, I’ll be the first to tell you that it was actually a rather crap game, especially by modern standards. What Joe Danger does is take the core concept of racing bikes on an obstacle course (plus a track editor!), and throws in various new gameplay elements to make it actually fun. The result is a game that isn’t so much a racer (except when it is), so much as a platformer-on-bike.

Like any other platformer, you’ll find yourself collecting “coins,” and perhaps searching for a few hidden “special coins.” And that’s part of the game’s almost-brilliance. Levels often include multiple objectives—which don’t necessarily all have to be completed in the same run—that allow almost every type of gamer to find something to do that they enjoy. Speed-runners can focus on trying to beat the clock, collectors can focus on collecting “coins,” explorers can focus on trying to find the hidden “special coins,” people who enjoy skill-based runs can try and combo the level 100%, etc.

This could have resulted in one of those magical games that appeals to almost everyone. Except for one problem: stars are required to unlock further levels, and you won’t have enough stars unless you do a little bit of everything. In order to progress, you’ll essentially have to play some game modes that you don’t like as much, or even some that you hate.

Further keeping the game from appealing to a wider audience, the difficulty ramps up pretty dramatically by the end, to a point where all but the masocore might give up entirely. Each “chapter” of Career Mode involves a race against AI players, and the later races will require you to memorize the track, as well as which spots to boost, and which spots to do tricks (which refills your boost).

Even the more tutorial-esque side mode called The Lab (which I highly recommend people start before Career, because it does a better job of teaching you many concepts than Career Modes does) has a few straight-up masocore levels that require dying-and-retrying until you’ve memorized the level and have learned to time your jumps (and ducking) perfectly.

So while gamers who enjoy overcoming a good frustrating challenge will find plenty to enjoy here, others might be disappointed at never being able to fully complete the game. It’s unfortunate that they didn’t even include a difficulty setting.

My only other complaint is lack of an option to remap the controls. Joe Danger: Special Edition has a control scheme loosely based on Trials HD, with the triggers being use to move the bike forward or backward, and the thumbstick used to control tilt. But pulling off advanced mid-air tricks involves using both shoulder buttons, which means using your middle fingers for the triggers and pointer fingers for the shoulder buttons, a set-up I’ve never found particularly comfortable. Similarly, boost is assigned to A and duck/jump assigned to X, which means your thumb will be doing some tricky maneuvers at times where you want to duck or jump while boosting (not to mention if you want to press B to punch a biker next to you while boosting and/or ducking).

But I don’t want to go out on a negative note, so let me mention one of Joe Danger‘s features that I wish was included in more games: the track editor! Almost every piece of track you find in any of the regular levels is also accessible in the editor, allowing you to make tracks as simple or as complex as you like, and send them to your friends. You can even place targets and both varieties of “coins,” in order to give your friends some additional objectives to attempt. Back when I had more free time, I might’ve spent a lot of it in here.

Joe Danger: Special Edition is a fantastic platform/racing game that starts with the basic Excitebike formula and expands on it greatly. It contains a little something for everyone…but more for some than others.