Review by darthjulian

"The first true Jump and Run gem for the PlayStation 2"

In the days of the PSOne, developer Naughty Dog has been most famous for the Crash Bandicoot franchise, the only Jump and Run series on Sony`s 32-Bit console that was able to compare to Nintendo`s brilliant efforts with their Super Mario series. However, with the advent of the PlayStation 2, Naughty Dog said good bye to the mascot that made them a distinguished developer in the first place and began to concentrate on a whole new Jump and Run franchise: "Jak and Daxter". And looking back at this risky step (creating something new instead of milking an old cash-cow), one can only say that it truly was a golden decision by Naughty Dog.

I know that this might come off as a shock, but beyond all probability and against all cliches, "Jak and Daxter" actually has an interesting story. Yes, that`s right: a Jump & Run with a coherent story that might be rather humorous per se, but not completely silly and unnecessary like in the countless Mario games. The game starts with our young (and silent) hero Jak and his friend (and future mascot-sidekick) Daxter sailing to the shores of a spooky island the elder of their village (named Samos) has declared to be a forbidden place - but like so often, their youthfulness and curiosity causes them to completely ignore this advice. Unfortunately, things go terribly wrong for the duo: after secretly witnessing a meeting of strange creatures called "Lurkers", Daxter falls into a vat of Dark Eco, and once he gets out again, he`s no longer a human (-like) being, but rather a small, furry creature that appears like a mix between an otter and a weasel. In order to change Daxter back to his original form, he and Jak, with the help of Samos and his daughter Keira, have to find Gol Acheron, the sage of the Dark Eco. Of course, you can expect a few twists within the storyline, which is quite amazing for a title of this particular genre. Sure, the story is not exactly groundbreaking or complex, but it goes far beyond the usual fare in Jump and Run games, and the storyline actually is entertaining to follow.

Nevertheless, the most important aspect in a platform game still is the gameplay, and in that regard, Naughty Dog hit the nail on the head. Being a 3D Jump and Run, you can expect several similarities to the grandfather of the genre, namely "Super Mario 64", especially as far as the control schemes go. The difference here are the jumps and attacks, though, since Jak can only perform a double jump instead of a triple-jump extravaganza like in SM64. You also have to defeat your enemies differently, since you can`t just jump onto them in order to take them out. Instead, you can use a move reminiscent of Crash Bandicoot`s trademark move or charge at your enemies directly, even though you have to be careful when using this attack, especially when you`re doing so on a higher place. The third attack you can use is the "dive jump" with which you can charge at your foes after a jump. A new aspect of the gameplay is the use of Eco substance. Throughout the game, you can find several kinds of Eco, and collecting each of them enables you to perform certain moves for a limited amount of time. Blue Eco, for example, allows you to activate certain machines or to open doors, while the green Eco can restore your energy. In any case, Eco plays an important role within the game, and a lot of the puzzles revolve around this premise. The other important aspect is being represented by the power cells, Jak and Daxter`s equivalent to Mario`s stars. Only by finding these power cells will you be able to proceed through the game, since there are several devices essential for your progress that need a certain amount of cells. Just like in "Super Mario 64", you have to accomplish several tasks in each area in order to acquire these cells, like defeating a boss enemy (even though there are VERY few of them...) or reaching a certain spot within an area. Sometimes, you can also get your hands at power cells via the precursor orbs. They are practically the currency in Jak`s world, and some persons you encounter will give you a power cell if you provide them with a certain amount of precursor orbs in return - but don`t worry, there are plenty of precursor orbs in each area, so finding them won`t be a problem. Last but not least, you can also gather power cells by finding seven scout flies within each area, which brings me to the biggest plus of "Jak and Daxter": the exploration factor. Each area you are going to visit is quite considerable in its size and leaves you a lot of freedom to explore at your own free will, since you`re not forced to solve the tasks in a particular order, and you can sometimes even decide what area you wish to visit first - it`s all up to you.

In its entirety, there is little reason for me to criticize "Jak and Daxter" for its gameplay. The controls are nearly perfect, with the sole exceptions of the (double) jumps, since they are not really effective and require you to perform flawless jumps quite often in order to reach a higher platform, for example. This can also be faulted on Jak`s somewhat slow movements at times, even though they are not exactly bothersome, especially if you happen to be an expert on Jump and Runs. If you are such, then you will also notice that "Jak and Daxter" is rather short since you are not required to find all power cells, and you can easily beat the game withing a single weekend. Nevertheless, these slight flaws are clearly overshadowed by the sheer variety the gameplay has to offer and the immense size of the entire world, but more on that later.

I think that most of you can still remember the early days of the PlayStation 2, when quite a lot of games were being criticised for being unable to make proper use of the capabilities of the then-new system or to clearly surpass the Sega Dreamcast (as the former no. 1 competitor of the PS2) in that regard. And there were only few games to elude this kind of criticism, like "ICO", "Zone of the Enders" or "Gran Turismo 3". But the new pinnacle of graphics came near the end of 2001 with "Jak and Daxter". Developer Naughty Dog managed to push the system further to its limits than any other PS2 title before it in so many ways that you can`t praise them enough for this achievement. First of all, you can`t help but notice how far you can actually see within the game. No matter where you are at the moment, you never have to bother with nasty fog-effects or pop-ups - you can always look far into the horizon, enabling you to see important places or buildings from a completely different area. This adds a lot to the already astounding coherence of the entire world within the game, making it seem like each "level" you visit really is just a part of this huge world rather than just a separate area that seems out of context.

And then we have the overall look of the game, including the character and world designs. Just one word: wow. The art direction already is a big plus when you see the likable and charming characters and all the fascinating places you`ll visit, but it`s the utter beauty with which these places and characters have been visualized that makes "Jak and Daxter" such a treat for the eyes. The amount of detail every single model - be it a character or an object - features is simply amazing and makes "Jak and Daxter" appear like a playable cartoon at times. The same goes for the special effects, of course, with some of the most spectacular ones being the lighting effects inside a volcano. All in all, the visuals are amazing for their time, and even so many years later, the graphics still look great on the good, old PlayStation 2.

Okay, so the graphics might have been revolutionary for a PlayStation 2 game of 2001, but what about the music and sound in "Jak and Daxter"? First of all, they`re not as impressive or outstanding as the visuals, but that`s not necessarily a bad thing, on the contrary. While the music is not really memorable in the least bit, most of the tracks still do a good job underlining the atmosphere of each level by taking a back seat, so to speak, and mostly remaining in the background. This means that "Jak and Daxter" does not have the kind of upbeat tunes of a, say, Mario game that really do stand out, but rather an atmospheric soundtrack that neither annoys nor bores you - in other words, it`s a good mix and very pleasant to listen to. The same goes for the sound effects, even though I have to admit that most of the times, I did not exactly pay any attention to them, perhaps because they mostly remain rather quiet as well, except for the explosions, of course.

However, the voice acting is, without a doubt, excellent to say the least. Considering the more lighthearted nature of the game`s setting and its characters, every single voice actor is spot on and manages to entertain the player and develop the story at the same time. Especially Daxter`s comments throughout the entire game are extremely witty and amusing, adding a lot more charm to this already likable character, and I am sure that his wisecracking during the cutscenes and of course after having lost a life will make gamers with a sense of humor smile. Fortunately, that`s not only valid for the English version, but for the other European language versions of the game as well, particularly the German one.

It has been over 5 years since the initial release of "Jak and Daxter", and the game still is as much fun to play as it used to, virtually outclassing most of its competitors on all consoles apart from the Ratchet & Clank series and its own successors. I think that fact alone already underlines the overall quality of "Jak and Daxter". The game could have ended up as a forgotten one-time Jump and Run, but instead, Naughty Dog created a true milestone in the platform genre as well as on the PlayStation 2 in general. It`s far from being perfect, but it`s one of the few Jump and Runs that can rival the Super Mario series, and that`s saying a lot for a genre that is overpopulated with cheap, charmless and uninspired rip-offs.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/11/07

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