Review by Wolfvie
Straight off the success of Crash Bandicoot, Naughty Dog have been at it once again, this time with an entirely new franchise under their belt; Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy a 3D platforming collect-a-thon in the vein of Spyro/Banjo-Kazooie. While all this may be very well, the question I'm sure you're asking is, will it reach the critical acclaim of it's Bandicoot forefather, or perhaps more importantly is it the system seller it's been made out to be? I'll tell you my dear readers, read more and find out...
The game starts by introducing us to the precursors; mystical beings responsible for the creation of the game's universe and all life associated to it, as well as a powerful substance known as eco (which as well as being an important story element, also plays a major role in gameplay, which I'll talk about a little later in the review).
We are then introduced to the mischievous self-titled dynamic duo themselves as they venture off to the forbidden isle of mist just off the coast of their home on the mainland. Upon reaching their destination disaster strikes, as the two discover that the island is being used as a home base for none over than the Lurkers (an evil army of ape-like creatures). Somewhat predictably they are discovered spying upon a group of them and chased down by a particularly large lurker. After Jak disposes of him, Daxter is accidently knocked into a large pool of dark eco.
As a result of this Daxter is transformed into an ottsel (the game's bizarre hybrid of weasel and otter). Returning to their village of Sandover, the two confront Samos the sage of green eco, it is then discovered that Daxter can be returned to his former self, only with the help of the four other sages scattered throughout the land; and that's exactly what they set out to do.
What keeps the story from achieving a throw-away status is it's characterisations. Jak is the mostly silent protagonist (who utters the occasional grunt from time to time) and Daxter is the talkative, happy-go-lucky side kick. Whereas Jak is adventurous, intelligent and loyal, Daxter is wisecracking, annoying and ultimately a bit of a coward; virtually polar opposites. This kind of contrast is the kind you wouldn't expect it to work- but it does, and on that note, Jak & Daxter is a success.
Popping Jak & Daxter into my Playstation 2 and playing it for the first time, I must admit, I found myself awe-inspired. The environments are beautifully rendered; both highly detailed and crisp, full of life and color. The variation that separates their designs makes it feel like a totally different experience from the last when entering the beginning of a new one. One minute you'll be strolling through a lively fishing village... and soon after you'll find yourself wading through the canopy of a thick jungle, complete with swinging rope bridges leading to the ruins of an ancient temple.
It's the unpredictability of these environments that makes this all so enjoyable and during my time playing the game, I found myself constantly guessing what exactly would be thrown at me next. The game's general art design is undoubtedly great and definitely reminiscent of Naughty Dog's previous works with the Crash Bandicoot series. The draw distance is astounding; just look down from the peak of a tall structure, cliff or plateau just to get an idea of the massive scale of the game. Probably most impressive of all though; the frame rate is almost always consistently smooth with no noticeable dips or dives.
Like it's art design it's definitely easy to draw comparisons between this and Naughty Dog's Crash when it comes to the game's soundtrack. It's combination light-hearted and joyful tracks mixed with darker more ambient and sometimes rather enchanting pieces guarantees you'll be humming the game's tunes, long after you've returned the disc to it's respective case. The voice acting is unsurprisingly A grade and when it comes to the general use of sound effects, Jak & Daxter outclasses most of the competition.
Jak & Daxter plays out like any other platformer collect-a-thon ever made and in that aspect, it's overly simplistic. Nothing that's really innovative to be found here, just straight up platforming from start to finish; no gimmicks.
Maybe that's why Jak & Daxter is so good, it doesn't try anything new or particularly risky, it just sticks to what it knows and emphasises and builds on that. So perhaps this simplistic take on design isn't so simple after all, considering the amount of questions it raises.
The whole game revolves around the idea of collecting power cells, a powerful source of energy essential for Daxter's return to his normal state. You'll start off in a small village-like hub world with multiple branching paths leading to the game's different levels and areas, each of which with their own set of unique goals that must be completed.
These goals can be as simple as collecting a predetermined number of precursor orbs (the game's currency) to trade with the villagers in exchange for a precious power cell, or perhaps completing various vehicle oriented challenges with the Zoomer (a supercharged hoverbike), but eventually these goals scale up to getting to the end of the level and possibly finding and defeating an end boss. Completion of many of these objectives will of course, grant you the award of a power cell, gather enough power cells and boom, hey-presto it's on to the next hub for a completely new set of tasks and levels.
These tasks while in premise might seem quite similar are varied enough to keep things fresh and even upon reaching the near end of the game you'll find that the objectives the game is constantly throwing at you are still significantly different from the last; it's almost as if Naughty Dog have an endless fountain of ideas.
Naughty Dog have employed a simple two-button combat system to help break up sections of constant platforming or other sometimes menial tasks that the game has you do. Jak can pull off a lunging knockout punch with a touch of the square button or a spinning roundhouse kick with circle, but if that's not enough, he can also be directed to perform a powerful jumping aerial dive to break through even the toughest of enemy defences.
Combat could get repetitive, though thankfully it takes a backseat to the much more refined platforming sections when it appears to begin to outstay it's welcome; and I honestly couldn't have it any other way. Speaking of the platforming; you'd be hard pressed to find better on the Playstation 2. Jak can run, jump, crawl, climb and roll through environments all with relative ease, the fluidity of these mechanics when in full swing is something that has to be seen to believe.
The use of eco plays a vital role in gameplay. Green eco restores any lost health, whereas blue, red and yellow eco momentarily increase Jak's movement speed, strength and allow him to shoot fireballs, respectively. You'll also find yourself solving puzzles throughout the game that utilize Jak's ability to use eco in several unique, albeit rather simple ways.
Jak & Daxter's world is completely seamless. That's right, proceeding the mandatory loading sequence prior to starting the game, the game features no additional loading times to speak of. This of course does wonders to the game's level of immersion, neutralizing any chances of the games level's feeling disconjointed, loose ended or terms of that nature.
In terms of the actual level design though, it's nice and varied and often colossal in scale, especially for that of a platformer. Some of the later levels in particular have a great sense of verticality in them, reminiscent of the likes Spyro, Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 (among many other older platformer collect-a-thons).
Length-wise the game could take you anywhere from ten (or possibly less, if you're planning to rush through it) to fifthteen hours which is pretty decent for a platformer- especially by today's standards. The difficulty level (while a little light for my liking early on), serves as a perfect introduction to the genre for newcomers. Rest assured though, it does start to ramp up considerably during the last couple of hours so don't expect a complete cake-walk.
When it comes to controls, the game is highly playable. There are a few niggles with the camera controls here and there (being that the game came out fairly early in the PS2's life cycle and developers were still experimenting with dual analogue stick controls), but otherwise if you're no stranger to the genre, control-wise the game will be a breeze right off the bat.
Now for a quick revision
+ Combination of platforming and light combat makes for joyously entertaining gameplay indeed.
+ Astounding overall design.
+ Beautifully colorful visuals.
+ Generally great use of sound.
+ Story, while not exactly original, remains never-the-less entertaining until the very end (with some great characterisations ensured).
- Some problems with camera control.
- A little easy at times.
In my eyes Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was a game that supplied an experience that was unparalleled (as a platformer) at the time of it's release. Even now it's easy to see why that is so, almost ten years after it's initial release. Definitely worth a look if you managed to miss it back in the day, particularly for fans of the genre.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 10/13/10
Game Release: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (US, 12/03/01)
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