Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Developer: Naughty Dog | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment | Release Date: 2001 | Genre: Platformer | Website: N/A | Purchase: Amazon
Naughty Dog has already proven themselves capable of creating quality platform titles as demonstrated by the Crash Bandicoot franchise on PSone. Surprisingly they have turned their attention to a brand new IP for their PS2 debut and the question is can they work their magic once again?
The game opens with the two titular heroes exploring “Misty Island” despite repeated warnings about the dangers. The world of this game is littered by mysterious artefacts left behind by a long gone race known only as the Precursors. During their little expedition Daxter is knocked into a pool of “Dark Eco” and instead of killing him (like it does Jak if he ever touches it) transforms him into a furry, weasly thing called an Ottsel. The rest of the game is taken up by a mission to restore Daxter to his proper buck toothed, Elvin eared form.
What this translates into for players is the usual platform jumping and item collecting. It seems Naughty Dog wasn’t ready to forget Crash Bandicoot completely as this game shares a lot of similarities. Instead of breaking crates and collecting hundreds of wumpa fruits you’ll be breaking crates and collecting egg shaped Precursor orbs. Jak also shares a spin attack, double jump and stomp move with a certain marsupial mascot. You’ll spend most of the time in this game power cell collecting however. Each new area you enter will have a checklist of things to do with a power cell being the reward. Collect enough power cells and you’ll gain access to the next area. Initially it’s fun and the objectives varied, but the game soon runs out of steam and all the objectives degenerate into finding enough orbs to trade for a power cell.
All the platforming is broken up by an occasional hoverbike section that serves as the transition into the next hub area. These parts are fun, but all too brief, and you will soon find yourself back platform hopping and item hunting. Levels are bright and colourful, with interesting designs, but are never as big as they first appear. The fact that they all conform to the usual platform clichés like volcanoes, swamps and snow levels doesn’t help matters either. While they are still fun to explore for the most parts and good looking, one can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. If this is your first platform game, however you will have a ball.
In an interesting twist for the genre, you don’t have any lives in this game. If Jak bites the dust, you’ll automatically restart from the nearest checkpoint after some verbal abuse from Daxter. While Daxter rides around everywhere on Jak’s shoulder, he doesn’t serve much of a purpose in the game beyond comic relief. Since the humor is slapstick at best, he’s going to be an acquired taste. Jak, on the other hand, has no personality and never even utters a word. The voice acting is quite good as long as you can stomach Daxter’s quips. There are no subtitles though, but on the other hand the story is so bland, you won’t be missing much if you don’t pay attention. The Music is wholly unremarkable as are the sound effects, apart from the annoying ones that play when you walk over certain platforms.
Naughty Dog clearly spent a lot of time on the visuals and it shows. The animations are exceptionally good and shown off at every opportunity. The funny victory poses that the duo pulls off whenever a power cell is acquired never gets old. The way that time passes as you play is also pretty cool. Unfortunately all of this doesn’t extend to the enemy designs which are pretty bland and boring. Don’t expect much in the way of spectacular boss fights either, you’ll be facing a grand total of three for the entire game.
What caused me the most grief with this game however was the controls. They felt downright unresponsive at times, especially when it comes to double jumping. This is never a good thing, especially in games with moving platforms hovering above bottomless pits. The camera is also a cause for lots of headaches as it can only be slowly rotated around your character. It also has the nasty habit of getting stuck in tight spots, forcing you to rotate it slowly in the other direction. You can look around in first person mode, but can’t move with it.
The different types of coloured eco you will find scattered around levels felt much too underused and look like it was almost added as an afterthought. Blue, Red & Yellow eco will give you increased speed, attack & firepower but it won’t tax your brain to figure out when and where to use them. The game isn’t especially difficult, but the fiddly camera coupled with the stubborn controls can lead to some untimely deaths. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I had to endure the screams of the characters plummeting down yet another bottomless pit.
The game can be completed fairly quickly unless you are aiming for 100 percent completion. Even this is not worth the repetition in my opinion. If you enjoy platform games, you can do far worse than this PS2 exclusive. The game and characters had a lot of potential and sadly not all of it is realized in this first instalment. If the Crash Bandicoot series is anything to go by, the best is yet to come.
*Review originally published 2001.