Review by Sprock
"All Jakked up."
Jak attack! Oh, and Daxter, too.
The ottsel is a mysterious creature. It's not quite an otter, it's not quite a weasel, and all I know is that my computer's spell check refuses to recognize its existence. Every dictionary, encyclopedia, and glossary I have checked contains nothing about this mysterious creature. In all honesty, what horrible misdeed has the ottsel done over the years that has angered intelligence sources so much that they repudiate to even acknowledge its being? A fictional species, you say? Nonsense. The answer is quite simple, actually. In reality, the ottsel is an obnoxious gimp monkey with zero helpfulness whatsoever that randomly spouts off pointless crap which serves as nothing more than cheeky comic relief. You know, I almost do not blame the information gurus for the creature's absence. The thing is Naughty Dog's equivalent of Tatl, a sidekick that is the epitome of uselessness. Does Jak really need him to tag along? I mean, I'm sure he could benefit from dropping ten pounds or so off his shoulder. Nevertheless, Jak & Daxter is a welcoming surprise. In all honesty, I was never fond of Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot series in the least bit, which came off as mediocre in every sense of the platform genre. However, this duo is not only a delight to play with, but they star in a solid platform title that has become a dying breed in the gaming industry.
At the beginning, Jak & Daxter are two rambunctious-yet-technologically-genius teenagers with flashy DBZ-style hair. The opening scene involves the duo cruising on their hydrofoil against house rules to some strange island that lays who-knows-where. Upon arriving, the duo stumbles upon an ancient series of evils that can be traced to the Lurkers, the race of monsters residing there. Apparently, the island conceals various types of eco, the driving force of the game. There is good eco and bad eco (specifically called Dark Eco) which can be used to preserve the world or destroy it. Daxter clumsily falls into a pit of the dark stuff, changing him into the aforementioned creature for no explainable reason, rendering him useless. In the meantime, Jak learns the secrets of the island from some old coot that acts as his sensei throughout parts of the game. He tells the heroes something really confusing involving sages and precursors, and how Jak must seek the help of the other sages to assist him in his effort to stop the dark eco and save his friend. (In all honesty, I still did not understand it by the end of the game.)
Seeing as how Daxter is simply dead weight, you will be controlling Jak for the entirety of the adventure. The spiky-haired hero has a wide array of moves at his immediate disposal. Rather than relying on weapons, Jak is all about brawns, threatening the Lurkers with fierce blows from his fists and strikes from his feet. Using dives and uppercuts, the young hero can streamline attacks toward both aerial and low-lying enemies. Precursor Orbs are perhaps the most common collectible trinket in the game. Not only are these scattered about each area in multitudes, but they pose as currency. Fortunately, the game contains an excess supply of these orbs, so missing one or two won't be the death of you, as opposed to some other infamous platform titles. In order to reach new locales of the island, Jak must find sources of power to energize his machinery, which is where the power cells come in handy. Cells can be obtained through other methods, as well, such as defeating a large foe or competing in a minigame. Throughout most of the stages, you will be required to earn one of these power cells in order to progress or bypass a certain obstacle. Since exploration is a large focus of this game, however, the collecting prevents itself from becoming needlessly tedious, which is an accomplishment in itself.
While I've already covered the Eco that drives the game's storyline, there are a few other types which you will encounter that will affect the gameplay itself. At each time and place, you can hold a certain amount of each color of Eco in supply. Green Eco is perhaps the most vital, as it basically poses as your health meter. Receiving damage will drain your supply of Green Eco, and in order to regenerate yourself, you must collect more of it. Blue Eco grants Jak various temporary status upgrades like increased agility or the ability to open certain doors that could not by accessed through normal methods. Yellow Eco gives you weaponry. With it, Jak can fire rapid shots of energy toward enemies, which proves much more effective than simply punches or kicks. Lastly, Red Eco is a rare find which makes Jak nearly invincible. He basically gains Super Saiyan abilities (hence the hair) which increases his strength exponentially, making even major enemies seem like a minor threat. Obviously, the game uses this type of Eco rather conservatively, however. Aside from the main adventure, the game also throws a few unique minigames your way, primarily racing in one of Jak's bulky off-road wheelers (which later expanded to a full-blown game). Most of the other minigames are unmemorable, however.
One of the various non-playable characters in the game will generally tell you to collect something elsewhere in the stage, then return to receive a prize. Usually, the directions are straightforward, such as finding a certain amount of Precursor Orbs, reaching a certain landmark, or defeating an enemy that is causing havoc around the area. Other quests might involve you herding mutant cows into a pen, reeling in 200 pounds of fish, or my personal favorite, tormenting seagulls. Many of these tasks are typical for what you would expect to find in a 3-D platform game. However, a few of these are either downright obnoxious or needlessly frustrating. Catching the flying Lurkers in the Precursor Basin can take hours on end, guarding a nest of freaking mushrooms is stupidly annoying, and finding seven Scout Flies in every single bloody stage can get old real fast. While most of these missions do not feel like a chore, a good number of them border on types of annoyance that really should not be present in a platform title. The boss battles are also somewhat of a disappointment, mainly due to the fact that there are only three of them in the entire game! The ones that do exist are fun and challenging, but the experience feels somewhat empty and rather short-changed without seeing many of them.
If you're simply playing the game for the sole purpose of trumping the final boss, Jak & Daxter will not last you long at all. The game highly encourages you to seek out additional rewards and explore new locales, which will extend the longevity tenfold. While the FMV scenes are obviously the most visually-impressive aspects of the game, seeing the play in motion feels smooth and well-animated. The characters are meant to look fictional, and most of the designs are exceptionally creative. The environments are colorful and vibrant, flowing with mobility. The audio is a little less impressive. Most of the voice acting is adequate, and while Daxter can be obnoxious and all, his voice is not so irritable that you will want to hit the Mute button. The music is nothing memorable whatsoever, though. While most of the tracks fit their respective environments rather appropriately, it's not like an official soundtrack needed to be recorded for this game or anything.
Jack & Daxter is undoubtedly one of the finer platform titles I have played. While it may get ragged on for adopting many features from the overrated Super Mario 64, I actually think the exploration value is much greater. In addition, not only is the original probably the best installment in the trilogy, but those players who wish to continue on to its sequels will no doubt benefit from an understanding of the storyline and basic gameplay mechanics introduced here. The utter lack of boss fights is disappointing, and gamers looking to breeze through the game within a day could probably do so with relative ease, but those who wish to suck every possible moment out of a game will find lots to enjoy here. The style of play is far more refined than Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot series, and even though Daxter may be an obnoxious jerk at times, he has as many charming moments as the rest of the cast. The game can be picked up by anyone regardless of age, unless they are somehow offended by the use of the word crap. This is definitely a title worthy of being stationed in your undoubtedly humongous PS2 library.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 11/21/06
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