They say video games are addictive. What they call “Addiction,” I call “Fun.” Addictions are to needles and bottles and caramelized slurries on the end of warm spoons.
Joe Danger: The Movie is a slurry of its own. It’s a thick mixture of score-based solutes poured into the console and inked with vibrant dyes from what looks like Nintendo’s well-stocked cupboard. Those solutes – the Time Trial, Trick Attack, and Coin Collection hybrids that provide goals for each level – make up each obstacle course. And each obstacle within each course is a hidden point value waiting to be tapped.
I started the first level by learning how to boost myself forward with “Nitro.” The charged sprint sent me careening forward, over a few bumps, loops, and toward a finish line. Along those bumps bounced bright blue stars. I needed to collect those stars, and I needed to boost to do it. So I was instructed to “Press A” to use my Nitro.
Easy enough. First try – all but 8 blue stars. My point total clanged on the review screen, and I sat near the top of the leaderboards. I could do better.
Restart level. 3…2…1… GO! “Press A.”
The second time through, I missed a jump and landed upside down with a bone-cracking smack, forcing a Checkpoint restart.
“Checkpoint? Nah, I got this.” And I clicked “Yes” when the start menu questioned my decision to erase my progress with a skeptical, “Are you sure?”
Restart level from beginning. 3..2..1.. GO! “Press A.” Just like the first time. But this try, I aligned tires of my cart with the cut of each hill and careened through every star on the level.
Perfect. See, I was sure.
Soon, I was taught how to duck beneath low hurdles with a “Press X!” and bunny-hop with a “Tap X!” Easy enough – just keep my balance, crouch low when prompted, and loft myself over the traps that dotted each level. Each level took only three or four tries to complete, and I was glutton for collectables. Each bone-cracking smack or death-by-clothesline-hurdle shot me back to the last Checkpoint. Even a single missed blue star would prompt me to sigh and pull up the menu to start over.
“Nah, fuck that. Yes, I’m sure.” Restart. Back to the beginning and off on my race to the leaderboards.
As new facets of each race were added to my repertoire, the levels began asking a whole lot of me. Each skill was fresh only momentarily. Two levels out from learning to Combo, I was a bonafide hot dog. But quadruple backflips weren’t so easy as I was asked to dodge projectiles, engage Nitro at the key angle to hit a ledge, and hit my landing while crouching to miss a potential neckbreaker. Layer on needing to keep my ridiculous combo going by doing street-level tricks to hit the objective, and my time with Joe Danger: The Movie became a circus of button-jamming and constant momentum.
And each time I failed, and I was kicked back to that Checkpoint restart, my latent internal competitor would get fiery.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I am, God damn it.” Restart, back to the beginning. 3…2…1… Go!
Soon, I was restarting levels thirty, forty, fifty times, just to chase a high score that was only 30 seconds away. 30 seconds, but only if my execution was perfect. And when I managed to complete each trial, I was in a mad dash to hit the next one. Bruised thumbs and cramped fingers, tired from the crippling trigger-pulls and stick-rotations, longed for me to hit that Start screen menu and land on ‘Quit to Main Menu.”
You see, I review games all the time, and often I’ll only find the time to play through them once before they get filed away and I’m obligated to peel off the shrinkwrap of whatever’s next. I always play shooters and sports games on an elevated difficulty setting – typically “Hardcore,” or its equivalent, to maximize my Achievement Point intake and get the full challenge I might miss otherwise. And all these years of playing let me beat those with considerable ease, partly because of volume of experience, but also because I know I must play them more carefully.
The game looked harmless – it was goofy, almost toy-like, and the level requirements always felt achievable. I felt that I could make my mark, and if I never got back to it, I’d at least feel competent. But there I was, sweating on my couch, furiously starting and restarting the deceptive levels, a purple bleed coming from beneath the raw-pink of my thumbs. Every increasingly-complicated level was a gateway to the next. Each digit had memorized its role, but the abject exhaustion of repetition made them move slowly, sorely. My mouth spilled curses, and I let my controller drop to the floor at each failure when I was oh so close.
As I crossed the final finish line, packed up my electronics, and went to bed, I got real nervous. One particularly trying level, I had landed at the #1 in the world on the leaderboards. Now, only other reviewers and a select few hundred early-access players were populating those boards, but that slot was mine, and each minute that went by could allow for someone to topple me, stealing my crown on their ascension. I sat back down on my couch, and fired up my Xbox 360. Scrolling to that level, I saw that I still had a 100,000 point lead over the second closest player.
I was still king of the world in that small space.
How I got there? I wouldn’t call it “Fun.” I do long for the sensation, whatever it is. What you would call it, I’m not sure. But I’ve never felt it much before.
Joe Danger: The Movie is a notable title in its genre.
About the Author:
James Hawkins is the founder of Bit Creature. He's a published poet, dabbling sportswriter, and former Senior Editor of Village Voice Media's Joystick Division.
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