Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Nintendo has Mario. Sega has Sonic. Sony has Crash. Well, up until about a year ago, Sony had Crash. Due to the tangled web of licensing, Sony can no longer lay claims to Crash Bandicoot, their lovable unofficial mascot. So why is this relevant? Because, while Sony may no longer own exclusive rights to the Crash Bandicoot franchise, they do have exclusive rights to the development team that created Crash and all of his games (excluding the current PS2 version). This development team goes by the name Naughty Dog andis their first foray into the gaming world sans Crash Bandicoot. I guess they don't need a bandicoot to be successful after all.
The story begins with two ordinary fellas out poking around on an island of ruins when the careless Daxter falls into a pit of dark Eco. Once he drags himself out of the pit, he has been transformed into a cross between an otter and a ferret. It is up to Jak to brave the dangers of the world in an attempt to see his wisecracking buddy returned to his human form. While it is not an easy task, it is one that most gamers will accomplish and have a good time doing so.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
You know the old saying 'do one thing and do it well' Naughty Dog has taken this saying to heart because Jak and Daxter is a platform/adventure game in the same vein as the Crash Bandicoot series. Before you groan, understand that this game is much more than a Crash offshoot. While it does have a very familiar and comfortable feel to it, it also has some unique features and ideas that give the game a personality all of its own.
You play the game as Jak. He has a number of moves that are easily executed with only a small amount of practice. Jak can jump, kick spin (okay, this was a Crash rip-off), punch, crouch, roll, dive attack, aerial attack and pull of a couple of different uppercut punches. Jak also has a first person camera that you are able to access by holding down a button. This will help you spot objectives, items in the distance or just plain help you get your bearings. Overall, he is a pretty well-stocked, yet somewhat clichéd platform character.
Daxter on the other hand, takes cliché to a whole new level. He is the comic relief that ended up losing humor after a short amount of time. Hey, I am all for the wise-cracking sidekick but if it is overused, we all know that the sidekick can start to grate on the nerves. Every time you die, good old Daxter has some witty comment to make. Okay, maybe I am being a little harsh and I bet the younger kids will love him but about 20 minutes into the game I was asking myself the question: Why the hell am I wasting my time trying to help this annoying thing out?
Anyway, moving on, the basics of the game have Jak seeking out Power Cells. These Power Cells have a number of uses but they are primarily used to open new areas of the game. The Power Cells can be obtained a number of ways. Sometimes they are simply floating around and you just need to walk up to them and pick them up; other times you will kill an enemy and they will drop one. Each area of the world has seven special boxes that if all seven are collected, you will receive a Power Cell.
When you are not collecting Power Cells, you will be collecting Precursor Orbs. These orbs are found floating around all locations of the world. The unique thing about the Orbs is that they are generally considered currency. People will trade a number of Orbs for a Power Cell. This brings me to one of the more innovative features of the game. There are a number of NPCs (Non-Player Characters) who will gladly give up their Power Cell to you for the right number of Precursor Orbs. For example, one of the first people you meet is the Mayor. He tells you that if you will contribute 90 Orbs to his re-election fund, he will give you a Power Cell. This type of bartering kept the game fun and fresh.
Another innovative addition to the game was Eco. Eco is a shimmering colored substance that will enhance Jaks abilities for a short period of time. There are four main types of Eco that you will come across. Green Eco, the most common, helps you recover energy or life. If you collect 50 small units of green Eco, it will replenish one unit of your life (you have a total of three life units). You can also find a large green Eco, which replenishes one unit instantly, and a Green Eco vent, which replenishes you to 100% health. There is also red Eco, which increases the power of your attacks, blue Eco, which expands your abilities and affects the environment (it allows you to open doors or use platforms otherwise not available) and finally yellow Eco, which allows you to shoot enemies. All Eco aside from the green has limited time duration in which the special ability is active so you must act quickly when you have Eco active on you.
Finally, the world in which you play is huge. You can see great distances and everything you see, you will have access to at some point. It was very refreshing to play a game like this that really provides little direction and leaves things up to you. There are a number of mini-quests and mini-games that you can play but it is totally up to you to decide when you want to complete them. That being said, there are also a number of times where you are following a predetermined path, more along the lines of a traditional platform game and there is not a lot you can do about it. Overall, there was a good balance of free exploration and pre-set paths.
This is the most difficult section for me to write. On one hand, this game sports some of the best graphics I have seen on any console but, on the other hand, there are a few negatives that need to be mentioned. Let's start with the good since they outweigh the bad. First, the overall look of this game is amazing. The colors are bright and vivid and run in beautiful high resolution. The fire particularly had a bright, realistic look including distortion directly above the flame resembling heat rising off actual fire. All of the animations are perfectly executed and the cast of characters is well done. This is what I was expecting when I forked over my $300 for the PS2.
The downside to such a beautiful game is the hardware just can't take all of the action that is getting pumped through it. There were numerous occasions where the game would slow and it was almost negligible and there were other times where it would slow and it could really be seen. One particularly bad instance was about 20 percent of the way through the game, I found myself in an arena, somewhat akin to the sort used by gladiators. All of a sudden, fast moving enemies rushed me from multiple directions while birds are dropping bombs from the sky. I could almost hear my PS2 screaming uncle and, in this example, gameplay was affected.
The audio is well done. The sound effects fit what you would expect out of a game like this and the voice acting was also what you would expect -- a bit over the top, but fun. Considering Dee Snider from Twisted Sister is one of the voices, you know it has to be over the top. Then there is Daxter. I already expressed my annoyance with him earlier so I won't rehash it here, but suffice it to say, he is one sore spot on the audio section.
If you are looking for a great action/platform game, look no further. Jak and Daxter fulfilled my expectations. I am glad Naughty Dog did not try and make this the next Crash Bandicoot game with a new name slapped on it, which would have been the easy thing to do. While this game borrows some elements from Crash, it borrows elements from a number of other platform games out there as well. I was a tad disappointed in the slowdowns but, given the beauty of the game, it was forgivable. Overall, this game is good fun for the whole family and will make you proud to own a PS2.