Review by AK_the_Twilight

"When Jumping and Collecting Were King"

The 3-D platformer is one of modern gaming's rarest of creatures. You just don't find them much anymore. Before games were about how much ammunition you have or how fast your weapon can reload, games were about jumping: jumping and collecting, to be precise. Navigating platforms, leaping over gaps, just trying to avoid the common bottomless pit; it was what gaming was all about. Look back at the Playstation 2; in 2001, the 3-D platformer was alive and well for Sony's second console, and developers knew it. One developer was Naughty Dog, best known for their Crash Bandicoot series. After leaving Crash behind, Naughty Dog set their eyes on a new franchise. Out of the blue came Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, a brand new IP featuring a quiet young hero and his loud-mouthed companion. As one of the PS2's most famous of properties, are Jak and Daxter the kings of the modern 3-D platformer?

Jak and Daxter picks up with, who else? Jak and Daxter. Eager for adventure, Jak drags his buddy Daxter to Misty Island, a base for the malicious army of the Lurkers. After a while of spying on the bad guys, Jak is confronted by their leader, only to accidently push Daxter into a vat of the mystical Dark Eco substance. The result is Daxter being transformed into a short, furry creature called an Ottsel. After escaping from the island, it's up to Jak to restore Daxter to his former self, all while dealing with the Lurkers and investigating the power of Eco. The story is very simplistic, and the bad guys really don't make a hardened mark until a considerable part of the game is complete. The characters themselves are expressive enough. While Jak is the typical silent protagonist, Daxter plays the role of the wise-cracking sidekick throughout. Other characters like Jak's female friend Keira and her father Samos the Green Sage make decent marks in giving the story some style, but the entire plot is loose and inconveniently paced. The scope never feels fleshed out and the whole “becoming-a-hero” theme is simple and derivative. It's a shame, too, because the main cast has plenty of character; sadly, it all feels like wasted potential.

There's nothing complex about Jak and Daxter. It's a platformer, true and true, and it doesn't try to be anything else. Jak can jump, double-jump, high-jump, long-jump, along with a shove and spin attack. Many of the challenges in the game focus on jumping on platforms with precision and speed; reflexes are the name of the game in Jak and Daxter. Occasionally you'll encounter a surprisingly rare boss fight or have to ride Jak's Zoomer through hazardous terrain (like a motorcycle), but a majority of the game will have you controlling Jak on foot. Controlling Jak is easy, but the camera poses a minor problem. It has its tendencies to be uncooperative in close quarters, and missing a jump courtesy of the imperfect camera angles is annoying. Overall, however, this is a rock-solid platformer. The controls feel tight and Jak's repertoire of techniques is very easy to master. When doing what it does best, being a platformer, it truly shines.

Jak and Daxter's main goal is collecting Power Cells, the “Stars” or “Jiggies” of The Precursor Legacy. These are used to progress and open up new worlds to get more Power Cells and open more levels. Also, Jak and his Ottsel buddy can gather Precursor Orbs to purchase Power Cells. It's a very basic formula, and for what it's worth, it works great. Jak and Daxter can also collect seven Flybots per area to earn a Power Cell. Aside from that, there are very few collectibles in Jak and Daxter (not counting the many Green Eco health pickups scattered about). The main twist to the collectibles is Eco, powerful energy that lets Jak do crazy stunts. Blue Eco increases speed, powers platforms, and widens collecting range. Yellow Eco lets Jak shoot fireballs, Red Eco increases Jak's attack strength. The Eco techniques can be pretty inventive, especially the versatile Blue Eco, but they don't feel fleshed out. They feel simple and unrefined.

And that's the biggest problem with Jak and Daxter: it's simple. It's simply collecting items, simply using Eco, simply following the simple story. The challenges are mostly jumping puzzles, for better or for worse. To its credit, the game has some interesting puzzles and some require some thought, but it never really defines itself. It feels very vanilla. Levels are surprisingly small for a platformer and while the different challenges have some variety, they mostly come down to jumping from platform to platform until you get to the Power Cell. Even the levels feel simple: snow level, jungle level, cave level, it's all been seen and done before. The game clocks in around 15 hours, which is pretty expectable for a platformer, but collecting all of the Power Cells extends the game's lifespan a decent amount. Naughty Dog's first step for the franchise is a completely competent and challenging one, but you're bound to find the gameplay to be pretty by-the-book and derivative after the first few levels.

Jak and Daxter's presentation isn't the best on the Playstation 2, but it definitely has some great qualities. The graphics, despite looking a bit rough around the edges, are good. The animations specifically are very well done. The different characters' expressive actions are shown in full form. Seeing Jak and Daxter's animations when earning a Power Cell just doesn't get old. The worlds aren't overflowing with variety, but the different environment designs are clean and generally expressive. The visual effects of the Eco are bright and shimmering. The graphical style feels unoriginal at times, but there's plenty of expression in the characters and worlds. The voice acting, something that's pretty rare for a platformer, is remarkably great. Jak doesn't say much aside from the occasional grunt and some characters like Keira could've been performed better, but Max Casella's performance as Daxter is simply superb. Hearing Daxter's wise-cracks even after Jak's death is entertaining to say the least. Daxter's crazy and egotistic personality is expressed phenomenally; he pretty much steals the show. The presentation in Jak and Daxter isn't the most technically proficient on the console, but the good animations and excellent voice acting round out a strong PS2 package.

Pros
+ Old-school platforming is solid
+ Plenty of challenges and things to collect
+ Excellent voice acting

Cons
- Camera can be uncooperative
- Story lacks scope and pacing
- Gameplay feels basic and simplistic

With 3-D platformers beginning to fade from their high-jumping, gap-leaping roots, it really is good to see a platformer stay true to what the genre is all about. Jak and Daxter nails the mechanics and keeps tradition in mind, but when it comes to making the world compelling and unique, it falls critically short. The camera controls can feel loose and unfocused, the story is confined and lacks serious scope, but worst of all, the design feels so generic and unimaginative. You can't help but wonder where all the potential had gone. But despite these nagging issues, Naughty Dog's first venture into the full 3-D platformer realm still has enough clever writing and rock-solid mechanics to be worth a look. If you're looking for a journey back in time to when gaming was about jumping and reflex-based puzzles, Jak and Daxter is a worthy candidate. If you're a hardcore platforming fan, Jak and Daxter isn't the best example of the 3-D platformer, but its traditionally strong mechanics and entertaining characters make it one of the better platformers on the Playstation 2.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/28/09

Game Release: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (US, 12/03/01)


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