Review: Dan The Man – Halfbrick Goes Large

Dan The Man the web series is the second partnering of Australian animation house Studiojoho with Halfbrick, having also created the short animation Shirt Sleeves for the developer’s iOS classic, Jetpack Joyride. While Dan The Man is certainly playable without having watched the web series, fans of games and animation (or just any fans of joy and fun) should put the seven short episodes on their must-watch list now. They’re brilliant.

Dan The Man the video game picks up where episode seven ends (the first level is cleverly titled 8-1-1), and sees accidental hero Dan leading a revolution against an evil tyrant known only as The King.

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Pixel art 2D action-platformers have been a go-to genre for indie developers in the last few years, for reasons of cost-effectiveness, and the hopes of igniting a sense of nostalgia. Halfbrick’s contribution to this crowded pool however, manages to stand out with a fresh humour that both satirises our beloved gaming tropes, and pays them respect at the same time. It’s a fine line that is balanced perfectly, so that gamers will end up laughing while still feeling acknowledged and included.

Dan The Man is Halfbrick’s most traditional video game since 2010’s dual-stick shooter, Age of Zombies. Since then the studio has focused on styles and mechanics that have suited mobile touchscreens, and of course it’s had some mega-hits in doing so – readers may have heard of Fruit Ninja and the aforementioned Jetpack Joyride?

It’s great to see Halfbrick move away from small mobile titles after all these years and pull it off with such style. With secret areas, upgradeable attack combos and weapons, coin collecting and shops to spend them in its easy to get lost in Dan The Man to the point where it almost feels like the developer has unearthed a lost Nintendo gem, and remastered it with some modern polish. And of course that overarching humour ties it all together, helping it all feel very complete.

It’s certainly not short on content either. Once you’ve completed the main campaign, there’s also Battle Mode – a series of increasingly difficult arena fights, Survival Mode, and weekly challenges that vary between minigames, time trials, and arcade brawls. Different playable characters add even more replay value (an in-app-purchase unlocks Jetpack Joyride’s Barry Steakfries), as does the option to spend coins you collect in-game on clothing and accessories to create a custom character.

One of the most encouraging screens you’ll come across in Dan The Man is the very first one you’ll see, and yet you’ll only see it if you load up the game without your MFi controller connected. Check this out:

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It’s a great sign that Halfbrick is taking playability seriously with Dan. While shoehorning a workable scheme onto the Siri Remote would’ve reached a far wider audience on Apple TV, Halfbrick obviously wasn’t willing to sacrifice the experience to do so, which is commendable.

Dan The Man is also available on mobile devices, but a big screen and a controller are where it really shines, and so I feel that Apple TV is Dan’s spiritual home. Who knows? Maybe Apple TV has its gaming mascot?

In a nutshell:

Halfbrick’s Dan The Man is an excellent 2D action-platformer that respects the genre with its style and humour, rather than exploiting it for the sake of a nostalgic cash-in. A must-have Apple TV title for owners of MFi controllers.

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