Danger: Freak was a hurtful note that was once pinned to my high school locker, and it's only a colon away from being the title of today's game: Rainbow Arts' 1998 Commodore 64 stuntman-em-up Danger Freak! Okay, so that first bit's not true, I never received such a note, although some towering intellect once drew a crude swastika on the locker next to mine, where it stayed for several months. Infer from that what you will about the state of the school I attended, although if you've been reading VGJunk for any length of time you'll already have your doubts about my educational credentials.
Another day, another title screen depicting someone flipping me the bird. I hope this isn't going to become a theme. That would be a terrible theme. Maybe I'll play a Mario game next, just to be sure that the first thing I see when I start up the game isn't an obscene hand gesture. Honestly, if I was this guy and my minuscule elfin hands were so grossly out of proportion with the rest of my body, I'd be trying to draw as little attention to them as possible.
I assume this man is the Danger Freak of the title. Not so much of a devotee of danger that he won't wear both sunglasses and a sun visor to keep the glare out of his eye, though, is he? Why don't you just squint like the rest of us tough guys, pal? It worked out all right for Clint Eastwood.
I think I'm ready to dare my first stunt. That's why I'm called the Daredevil, after all. No, wait, I'm the Danger Freak. Shit. Oh well, I'm already sitting on the motorcycle now, I might as well make the most of it.
Of course this stuntman simulator starts with a motorcycle section. Motorcycle stunts are one of the very first things you learn at Stuntman Polytechnic, just after "falling into piles of cardboard boxes" and "learning how to deal with taking all the risks while some big-shot Hollywood star takes all the credit." Riding the bike is simple, with the joystick controling your speed and up-and-down movement, while holding the fire button and pressing down makes the stuntman duck. This is handy when you need to ride under low-hanging obstacles, like the trestle pictured above.
Or, these redneck-looking types who try to clobber you with a baseball bat as you pass by. I don't think they know that this is a scene being filmed for a movie. If they do know, they don't care. They want the stuntman - I'd call him Hunk Studbuckle but that name's already taken - dead, and they're not worried about witnesses.
Just look at the height and distance he managed to get off that ramp! This movie, which I have already mentally titled The Adventures of Johnny Toughguy, Agent of T.H.R.U.S.T., is going to be the most explosive cocktail of thrills, spills and nerve-shredding action ever committed to celluloid! Assuming I can get to the end of this first stage, that is, and that's proving more difficult that I'd hoped it would. The aim of Danger Freak is to pull off as many stunts - launching off ramps, ducking under trestles and baseball bats - as you can, without crashing too often thanks to the cracked road surfaces and puddles of water that litter the highway. Each mistake causes the "CUT" counter to increase, although the director doesn't actually call cut or anything, he just lets you keep going until either you run out of time or health, or the crew runs out of patience.
This confused me, though, because the failure screen implies that the shoot became "too expensive" and you went bankrupt. Is that because I did too many awesome stunts? Because doing stunts makes the "DOLLAR" meter go up, and maybe that means the cost of the shoot is rising? I'm not sure, but failure is definitely linked to crashing so as long as you pull off stunts and don't mess up too badly you should be able to reach the end of the stage.
At the end of the stage, someone has thoughtfully placed a row of unavoidable oil drums across the road to help slow down your nitro-fuelled charge down the open highway. Don't worry, this stuntman is a highly trained professional and this is all part of the plan. I'm sure he will be totally fine!
See? He's okay, folk! As we all know, a person's spine is one of the few parts of their anatomy that can regrow after terrible, agonising trauma. The human body is truly a remarkable thing.
I haven't edited the animation in that GIF, either - the stuntman really does lay in the road for a while, flapping around like a freshly-landed salmon and no doubt making a mental note of all the crew members who rushed to his aid so he can thank them later, after he's scraped himself off the hot desert tarmac. Which he does, because he's dedicated to his job if nothing else, and not only does he finish the scene but he finishes it in style.
There he goes, surfing atop a sports car before leaping onto a ladder being dangled by a passing helicopter. Few things could make OutRun cooler, but I think being able to stand up on the back of the car while it drives might be one of them. You do control the car, too, moving it into position under the ladder before making your jump. Unfortunately the stuntman will only attempt the jump if he know he can make it, so we are cruelly robbed of the hilarious sight of the stuntman missing the jump and landing face-first on the asphalt. It's not too much of a loss, though, because thank to that previous GIF I have a good idea of what that would look like.
"Well, you seem to be a stuntman!" says Danger Freak during its post-stage analysis. "That's a stoke of luck, we thought you were just some passing vagrant who we stuck on a motorcycle! What an incredible coincidence!"
Hang on, what? Interlude Game? I've only had one stage of this game and it was hardly pushing the boundaries of excitement or duration, maybe you should concentrate on improving that experience before you start throwing Interlude Games at me.
Oh, it's just a Super Sprint clone. That's fair enough, and it's a perfectly acceptable take on the format aside from some extremely unforgiving collision detection, especially at the apex of corners. You don't just slow down if you crash, either - your bike stops completely for a couple of seconds while a "Warner Bros. cartoon character having a fight" style dust-cloud envelopes you. It also says CRASH right over your bike, just in case you hadn't realised you'd crashed and you thought the stuntman had stopped because he'd seen a rare butterfly at trackside and he wanted to cross it off in his I-Spy book.
There are a couple of shortcuts you can take, if you're feeling particularly adventurous: the white gate near the starting line can be ridden under, and the black rectangle in front of the cars is a ramp. The shortcuts are tricky to negotiate, however, with almost pixel-perfect position required to use the ramp especially, so in the end I just ignored them. I'm just not much of a Danger Freak, I'm afraid. I'm a Safety Freak, a Comfort Fanatic. I'm not cut out for this line of work, although somehow I did manage to win this race.
The second scene in Danger Freak is an aquatic adventure, with our hero negotiating various water-borne hazards while riding a jet ski. Unfortunately whoever did the art for this had never seen a jet ski before, so this upside-down angle-poise lamp that we're riding will have to do. This stage works the same as the first, except instead of ducking under things you have to jump over them, timing your leaps to avoid colliding with such common maritime menaces as sharks, naval mines and old men enjoying a relaxing day's fishing.
Hold on, I recognise that hat: that's the same guy from the first stage, the one who was trying to knock me out with a baseball bat. Well, I had felt a little guilty about driving my "jet ski" close enough to his boat that it rocked around violently in the water, but now I wish I'd managed to tip him overboard into the shark-infested sea. Revenge is a dish best served cold, after all. As cold as a shark. You might be thinking "but this is being filmed for a movie, that's probably just a remote-control shark's fin chasing you around," but don't forget that our hero is a danger freak. He's not a danger dabbler, no mere danger dilettante - he refuses to film a stunt unless the ammo is live, the sharks are real and hungry and the every container on set is packed with high explosives.
Logs do nothing for him. Just look at that expression, he has the face of a man waiting in line at the supermarket, not the face of a man in constant mortal danger. He also has the face of a videogame Lemming that's dyed its hair black during an ill-advised goth phase, but that's by the by.
So, jet skiing is fun, sorta. Like the motorcycling, your movements are smooth, but there's a bit of a delay on your jumps so the first few times you attempt this stage you'll likely be jumping too late and bumping into everything during your ascent. Thankfully the delay always seems to be the same, and eventually you'll learn to compensate for it.
At the end of the stage, the stuntmant takes his car-riding antics from the highway to the next level by surfing atop a submarine as he tries to grab the dangling ladder. Like the car, you can also control the submarine, which leads to the question how is he controlling the submarine? With the car you can imagine that he's shouting down to the driver, but a submarine? Is he banging out instructions with his feet like a trained horse or something?
Never mind that, let's enjoy a part of Danger Freak that's genuinely impressive, and that's the graphics. Aside from the stuntman himself, a scrawny fellow with the budding hunch of a young mad scientist's assistant on his back, it's a nice-looking game that features some really excellent parallax scrolling, especially in the first stage where the effect alone is worth loading up the game for.
Another between-stages break, and other top-down motorcycle race. Looking at the layout of the track, it's obvious that the developers want you to cheat by taking shortcuts. So I did. Then when I reached the end my bike didn't stop at the finish line and trundled off the screen completely. I couldn't get it back. The green CPU biker sat at the finish line, waiting for me to return and end the race, but I was forever lost in whatever writhing chaos lurks just outside the boundaries of the screen and so I had to start the whole game again. That was fun.
I'm not sure about wanting to see The Adventures of Johnny Toughguy, Agent of T.H.R.U.S.T. now, you know. A movie where the hero flies around in a baby bath with rockets glued to the side is hardly likely to be the action-adventure extravaganza I had hoped for. And what am I up against in this aerial stage? Birds? C'mon, I was just avoiding sharks and naval mines, what's a bird going to do?
OH JESUS GOD GET IT OFF IT'S EATING MY EYYYYEEES!!
Okay, no, I do want to see this movie if only to find out where Ridley from Super Metroid fits into all of this.
There are only three "proper" stages in Danger Freak, and this final one is the weakest of the bunch. You fly around avoiding things. It's like a shoot-em-up except you don't have guns. A dodge-em-up. A hope-the-collision-detection-works-well-em-up, because you're a big target and the obstacles take up a lot of space (the collision detection is quite good, as it happens). It doesn't make for the most thrilling gameplay experience, and our hero looks like a tit tootling around in his flying machine made from a cardboard box and some empty washing-up liquid bottles.
Okay, two things: is that Mary Poppins, and is our hero trying to look up her skirts? I think the answer to both those questions is yes. Mary Poppins and Ridley, together in the same game. Amazing. It's the greatest crossover event since Top Fighter 2000.
After a few minutes of aerobatic hijinks, the stuntman comes under threat from a missile attack. Oh no! Is this the end of our hero?
No, of course not, assuming you manage to press the fire button in time. If you do, he's launched from the ejector seat and parachutes down to safety with a grin of pure, gormless simplicity stretched across his sunburn-pink mug. He touches down, the scene fades to black, and that's it. Danger Freak is over. The stuntman will return in The Adventures of Johnny Toughguy 2: Johnny T.H.R.U.S.T.s Again.
What else can I say about Danger Freak that I haven't already covered, or that isn't immediately obvious from looking at the screenshots? Erm, nothing, really. It's a nice idea for a game but it's undercooked and extremely short. It controls fairly well, except in the specific situations where it doesn't. All the human characters look like they're wearing a crude mask carved from ham over their faces. It is, in short, an average Commodore 64 game.
That also means it's really hard, and I struggled to make much progress until I discovered a cheat code for invincibility. The code is a date, and when this specific date is entered while you're setting up the game, defining the number of players and the player's name and such, the cheat will be activated. The date is pictured in the screenshot above. It also happens to be my birthday, which I took as a sign that Danger Freak was suggesting - no, demanding - that I cheat my way through it, and who am I to argue with a twenty-six year-old-computer game?