Review by The Manx
"Don't forget to find the sculptor's muse and bring back 90 Precusor orbs on your way home, honey!"
Jak and Daxter is a weird sort of game. It looks great, it got all kinds of press when it came out, and it has a weird little squirrelly thing as your guy's sidekick. It's about one of those post-disaster worlds where the people live on relics and power sources from a time and civilization before their own, usually known as "the Ancients," or "the Ones who Came Before," or, in Jak and Daxter's case, "the Precursors."
The game starts off with not quite a bang, but not quite a whimper, either. As a pair of big-haired teenagers take a hydrofoil out to an aptly-named Misty Island, we hear an overlay of an old man grumbling about how nobody listens to him. This is Samos, an immortal and all-knowing sage type being who serves as the teens', Jak and Daxter, mentor of sorts. Anyway, the two disobedient punks stumble upon a gathering of monsters (Lurkers) and Daxter accidentally falls into a vat of evil primordial goo called Dark Eco which for some reason changes him into a talking ferret-type creature. Samos reveals that he does not in fact know everything since he cannot change Daxter back, but the other sages might. Getting to them will present a bit of a problem, however (of course), because the only way to them is to fly through a lava-filled canyon. Potential love interest Keira has an invention that could fix that, but Jak and Daxter need to run a series of errands to get the ancient relics to make it work.
Which actually is the summation of the entire rest of the game, pretty much. Jak and Daxter (or more appropriately Jak, since the only thing Daxter is good for is providing wisecracks during cut scenes and an occasional spouting of your next objective) have to go around performing errands for people or other random little tasks in exchange for enough power cells in order to operate whatever deus ex machina will let them advance to the next area. In the first area it's a heat shield for Jak's hover bike, in the next it's an anti-gravity gizmo to move a huge boulder out of the only path onward, and so on.
Sometimes the chores you're required to perform are simple, like "give me 90 Precursor orbs and I'll give you a power cell, even though no one's really sure what a Precursor orb, let alone 90 of them, is good for." Some are corny, like helping the bird-watcher old lady out by knocking a huge egg off a cliff (why did she want you to do that that? She couldn't have known it'd hatch), helping the mayor turn the power back on for the village when he's too scared to do anything about it himself, or finding the muse of the local stone carver, which turns out to be a spunky squirrel-like critter with gold-colored fur. And some make no pretext whatsoever of being anything except a cheap little diversion from the quest, like beating the best time on a race track with Jak's hover bike.
A lot of people go for this, as can be determined by the high number of 8-10 ratings given to this game. That's fine, whatever your floats your boat. But while I played Jak and Daxter I nearly always felt like I was completing a list of chores, not like I was completing vital tasks on a quest of epic proportions, with the fates of thousands, perhaps even millions, on my hero's young shoulders. I don't think your tasks in a fantasy adventure game should feel like a list telling you to take out the garbage and mow the lawn, do you?
At least Jak is a more brave and daring fantasy game hero than most, taking on the hordes of darkness with nothing more than his fists and feet, and an annoying rodentian sidekick but I already talked about how much help he is. Nope, no sissy magic swords for Jak. his dashing punches, spin kicks and lethal swan dives onto monster's skulls are all he needs. Plus his Dragon Ball Z-type haircut (as in it's two feet tall and looks ridiculous). Gotta respect a guy with self-confidence enough to have some bad locks like Jak does (especially with his bad goatee in the later games) and still go around and fight evil unashamed.
Jak and Daxter looks great and is well-animated, I will say that for it. As I say about many games it has a very cartoony look to it, but that's okay with me because sometimes I want to put down serious games like Final Fantasy and Ocarina of Time and play a quest game that doesn't feel the need to make a save the world plot seem intimidating. The sound work is competent, with decent voice acting for the characters, although none are big budget animated movie quality. Little touches like the sound of Jak's footsteps being different as he runs across different types of ground are nice, and overall the sound effects are, for once, pretty good. The music is a little weak, with no particularly memorable tunes.
In the end Jak and Daxter manages to do nearly everything else right, but gets brought down some by having a few too many ridiculous, chore-like goals the game requires you to complete. People sure are willing to trade valuable ancient artifacts for some really dumb favors. Here's hoping Jak II is a little thicker on the adventure and a little lighter on the list of chores seeming.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 06/16/04
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