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Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

Year released: 2001
Company: NaughtyDog
Genre: Platformer

One of the perks of my relative insulation from modern gaming during the late '90s is that I didn't really grow attached to the franchises that were introduced during that time. It's a good thing, too, since appears that the paradigms invented during that time period (like Tomb Raider and Resident Evil) have been run into the ground. So instead of having old stuff get regurgitated over and over, I get to enjoy the new stuff. And when that "new stuff" includes a game like Jak & Daxter, you can be sure that I won't miss the stuff that came before it.

Designed by the same folks who tried to turn Crash Bandicoot into a household name like Mario and Sonic (and in the process became one of those worn-out franchises mentioned above), this game revolves around the use (and, in the case of the opening story, misuse) of a mystical substance known as Eco. When the elfen-looking Jak and his friend Daxter disobey Jak's grandfather and travel to a nearby spooky island, a chain of events unfolds which sends Daxter into a pit of Dark Eco. When he comes out, he's been turned into an otter-like creature. Now it's up to Jak to travel across the land in search of the one person who knows enough about the nature of Dark Eco to bring Daxter back to normal. As the game progresses, though, it becomes obvious that something insidious is afoot, with the sages of all the other villages having mysteriously disappeared.

It's a fairly standard plot, but what helps make it come alive is the dialogue between the characters. Not only does it not sound forced, but it actually was fun listening to all the different characters and their mannerisms. Daxter follows Jak around and serves as the comic relief - and this is probably the only game I can think of where said comic relief is actually, genuinely funny. Most of the time the smart-ass sidekick comes off as over-the-top and cheesy, but this time around I found myself laughing to a lot of the things that Daxter does during the game. I especially like his one-liners when Jak loses a life. ("Don't step into the light, Jak... DON'T STEP INTO THE LIGHT!!")

The game itself revolves around the collecting of Power Cells to activate certain contraptions which help take Jak from point A to point B. Most of the time, obtaining Power Cells are a matter of buying them from other NPCs using orbs littered around each level, defeating certain enemies, or negotiating various hazards and obstacles. The tasks start off quite easy (Use Blue Eco to open a locked door, knock a bird's egg off a cliff), but quickly become more complicated as you move along. You're afforded infinite lives, so in many cases solving the next task is simply a matter of patience and problem-solving. On the whole, the game is fairly short - I beat it with a 100% completion rate in a week and a half - and with the number of sidequests given, you'll progress very quickly.

Technically, this game has set the bar quite high, not only in the atmosphere of the game, but in the way it's implemented. The graphics are extremely lush and colorful, with vivid and detailed environments that obviously have been intricately built. The animation is similarly fluid, and Jak's movements are quite intuitive (such as when he wipes off his face after emerging from underwater). The music, while not captivating with any one theme, gets the undertones of the scene across quite well. But what's most impressive about this game is the fact that it's almost entirely seamless. With the exception of two outside areas (which use various modes of transportation as a cover), every parcel of land is interconnected. You can go from the starting point of the game to the very last region and never once have to wait for anything to load. (Granted, it's extremely difficult to pull it off on one life, but theoretically it's possible.) This helps give the game a very worldly feel instead of making each level feel like its separate from everything else.

This was the first game I've played which made extensive use of both analog sticks. For that reason, getting used to the controls took a little while, although the setup was intuitive enough. The camera would try its best to default to an over-the-shoulder vantage point while playing, but there were times when the camera would get confused and shoot from below at the floor where Jak was standing. (Luckily, you could see his shadow so you wouldn't get totally lost.) I also think there could have been more places to put the first-person view to use, although it did help me ferret out those last few orbs in certain spots.

The game was extremely playable to me for several reasons. First off, the challenge was so well paced I never really got frustrated with a task that was beyond my skills. Daxter's wisecracks kept me sympathetic to the plot, but ultimately it's the fact that I never once had to pause for the disc to load that kept my interest. Platformers have a habit of drawing a player in and keeping them focused for hours at a time; making it so that there's never a lull in the action certainly helps that goal along. Even after I had beaten it, I found myself coming back to the game to search out the missing items needed to score 100% completion. The ending was a bit of a letdown (and for once, I found a credit roll to be a bit draggy), but it wasn't the sort of game that hinged on a riveting resolution.

This was the first game I'd bought for the PS2 (aside from Shifters, which I tried out for 10 minutes and haven't played since) which wasn't based off a known entity, such as a TV show or a previously established series, so I had a little bit of trepidation in buying this game. But overall, Jak & Daxter has the makings of a truly great game.

Overall Ratings:

Technical Scores
Atmosphere: 4/5
Layout: 5/5
Concept Scores
Plot: 5/5
Design and Control: 4/5
Innovation: 4/5
Playability Scores
Challenge: 6/6
Thrill: 5/6
Longevity: 5/6
Total Score: 89%