Review by MaxH
"Haven't I loved all of this somewhere else before?"
If you don't want to waste your time playing through rehashes of established ideas, then Jak and Daxter is not for you. But if you enjoy finely crafted, superbly presented and effortlessly enjoyable games, and don't mind putting up with the familiarities, Jak and Daxter should definitely be on your list. Platformer fans especially should not be without a copy.
The story isn't exactly original, but the odd characters and polished cut scenes (Which are impressively succinct) make you quite intrigued to know the final outcome. Jak and Daxter (Both elf like characters) travel to misty Island despite the fact they were given express instructions not do do so from Samos, the green sage. They spot an evil blue man and woman giving orders to an army of lurkers (The bulky, purple enemies seen throughout your quest). One of the lurkers catches the two eavesdropping and attacks them, leading to Daxter being thrown into a big pool of Dark Eco.
Soon after sucking him in, the pool shoots Daxter back out, but now he appears to be a furry creature (I'm not sure whether exact details on his species are given, but I think he's a meercat). Jak and Daxter rush back to their home (Sandover village) to see samos the green sage, maybe he can fix this mess. But he can't. Only Gol Acheron the Blue sage could remedy such a problem. So they must travel all the way to the other end of the island to see him and get Daxter turned back, with the help of samos and his budding technician of a daughter, Kiera (Who Daxter has a crush on). Of course, when the surprise identity of the evil blue man and woman is revealed, along with what their plans are, Jak and Daxter have a lot more resting on their shoulders than they first thought.
Before we go any further, you need to know the game's gimmick, which is Eco. You see, the Precursors (Mysterious beings who lived thousands of years ago) have left many vents that emit Eco (different coloured jets of sparkly mist) and balls of it just lying around. Red Eco can make your attack stronger, green Eco increases your health, yellow Eco gives you the ability to shoot energy balls and blue Eco activates things like moving platforms and also makes you move faster.
Yes, you heard me right, moving platforms. If there's one thing wrong with Jak and Daxter, it has to be it's refusal to the evolve the genre in any way. It's never boring, quite the opposite, but sometimes the platforming sections are so traditional and familiar (A few of the set pieces you may even have seen in other games) that it becomes depressingly clear that this is strictly a greatest hits album rather than new material.
But it's non-linear structure and smooth design make for a stunning, atmospheric and (at times) incredibly enjoyable experience. Don't believe those who say this game is about exploration, as most of the levels are technically linear, and there aren't any huge worlds to get lost in. Think multi-route rather than epic. But this slightly closed in structure allows for some pleasingly exciting platforming moments. You'd expect nothing less than expertly laid out challenges of timing and reactions from the creators of Crash Bandicoot, and that's exactly what you get, nothing less. But a little more would have been good too.
There are a bundle of items to collect everywhere you go and this task seems to be the main theme of the game. Precursor orbs must be collected to pay villagers or oracles (Big statues) for power cells, there are lots of these orbs lkaying around the levels. The aforementioned power Cells are at the center of your quest. They act much like the stars in Mario 64 or the jiggies in Banjo Kazooie in that you must complete tasks to gain them. There are generally about six or seven of these in a level, but it varies.
By now, everyone who's played a platformer should be familiar with the 'collect items to progress further' structure, but this game is a little relaxed with minimum requirements. You can miss out entire levels if you do well enough in others, and can complete the game in any order you please. This is quite satisfying as it lends a nice (if limited) sense of freedom to the proceedings, and if you get stuck (unlikely) or bored, then you can always come back later. I've established my doubts about the unoriginality of the title, but there's another problem, a lack of variety.
Aside from one or two mini-games that crop up, the tasks you are given to gain power cells are pretty much limited to two things: 'get through this platforming challenge' and 'Kill all the enemies in this room'. There IS more (the A-Grav Zoomer sections where you can fly about on a hover-bike are well thought out) but not enough of it. The game has unique enough style and decent enough design to make sure J&D never gets repetitive but the basic ideas make almost no memorable moments at all, and none your likely to recall a year from now.
While games like Banjo Tooie have many unique missions like using stealth to steal items and a plethora of mini-games, Jak and Daxter has almost nothing to equal it in that area. But it does flow a lot better, it's a fast-paced action-packed experience and it's a joy to play. It's just that while this is simply 'great fun' you feel it could be a truly excellent game, it has the design and the aesthetics, it just needs to sort out some content issues.
Visual grandeur plays a big part in J&D's appeal. Turning the corner to find a huge village dotted below a cliff (Or, alternatively, a huge cliff looming over a huge village) is a breathtaking experience. And sweeping vistas and picturesque waterfalls that litter the plains are drawn with such solidity and vastness that you can't help but stand back and be impressed. Everything (with occasional exceptions) runs at a great speed and the animation id impossibly fluid and detailed. The characters are so wonderfully designed (With help from members of Disney) that you wouldn't be at all surprised to see them in a big budget CG film. There's just one problem I have though, this game could be taking place in a lot of other games, it's visual style is just not as distinctive as it should be. Everything is colourful and very nice-looking, but it's just a tad generic, the game needs a style of it's own. The stereotypical level settings (Ice, jungle, fire etc) don't help this.
Sound is mostly very good. The tunes are thoughtful and calm and often add to the atmosphere of the more explorative levels. Yes, this is often very impressive, but it's sometimes just too restrained. The people at Naughty dog could learn a thing or two from Insomniac games (Developers of the Spyro series) on how to create mood-inspiring music while still being tuneful and rousing. Some of the efforts at dark-style evil music are embarrassing and make the game sound like a tacky SNES game. Voices are hit and miss. Most of the voices in this game are acceptable, nothing more, you'll forget most of them in a hurry. The only ones you'll need to remember are the three main ones: Samos the green sage (Who has some truly excellent voice acting), Kiera his daughter (Who is a little irritating at times but is charismatic and likable) and Daxter. Daxter's voice is awful. It doesn't help that his dialogue is terrible (Although he has one choice line spoken when you die which I won't spoil) but his over the top 'I'm a crazy person with a stereotypical Jewish accent!' acting is infuriatingly irritating.
Another place where this game falls down is on length. It can be completed easily in about ten hours (Allow one more for collecting EVERYTHING). It's not that there isn't a lot to do in this game, there are a dizzying 101 Power Cells to collect along with all the orbs (And the jury is still out on whether 101% can be achieved, so perhaps there is a hidden challenge). The problem is that it's so easy. Aside from a couple of initially tricky Z-Grav Zoomer levels, the game poses almost no actual challenge. And the fact that about 25% of the orbs are collected simply because you find them by accident or are in plain view doesn't help either. Some good platforming moves and quick thinking will be needed to get everything, but it would have been nice for something genuinely difficult. The final boss is so pathetically easy I wouldn't be surprised to see it as a first boss in some other platformers.
But in the end, none of this really matters. The short length, unoriginal ideas and lack of variety can't take away from the fact that this is a slick, immensely enjoyable challenge that is exciting and compelling until all 100 (or 101?) per cent is completed. Naughty Dog may have put Banjo Kazooie and Crash Bandicoot in a blender, but the result proves more than sweet enough to swallow.
Take it to the Dax.......ter! *Shoots self*
+ Pleasant non-linear structure
+ Loads of fun to play
+ Energetic design
+ Good controls and wide range of attacks
+ Lots to do
+ Visually staggering
+ The best platformer currently available on the PS2
+ Excellent pacing
+ Good cut scenes
+ Occasionally brilliant voice acting and music
+ Quite addictive
Lack of Jak
- Too unoriginal
- Too short
- Not enough variety
- Some dodgy music and voice acting
If you like this....
Banjo Kazooie - N64: A magnificent platformer and superior to this, one of my favourite games ever
Crash Bandicoot: Warped - PS: With platforming similar to this (But better) this is Naughty Dog's finest hour.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/12/02, Updated 02/12/02
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