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August 01, 2005

Review: Jak and Daxter (PS2) - Naughty Dog reprises the role of Platforming genius

VGP Score


Naughty Dog, the founding father of the Crash Bandicoot series, a now legendary platformer for the Playstation, have now made their debut on the Ps2 with this incredible new franchise, that simply dwarfs what Crash Bandicoot was. If Crash Bandicoot was a cheap red wine, Jak and Daxter would be the champagne, its simply euphoric.

This new game gives us something new, and something to look forward to for the years to come on the Ps2. A great game for a great machine. Jak is an elf like humanoid, who teams up with his buddy (also elvan humanoid...for now) Daxter. Both characters are unique, and both make the game what it is. Jak is your well known hero, who is simply out to get the girl, but eventually finds himself entangled in a web of deceit as he must stop the Dark sages Gol and Maia and stop them from taking over the world with Dark Eco (more on Eco a bit later). As they partake on this awesome journey, Daxter is accidentally flung into a pool of Dark Eco, from an accident involving a Precursor artifact. You may be confused about the Precursors, and trust me, you always will be. The whole precursor thing is open for interpretation...for now. In any case, Daxter is then spit out of the Dark Eco pool, and transformed into an ottsel, a combination of an otter and a weasel. His appearance is very unique, and contrasts Jak perfectly, which is what all sidekicks should offer, contrast. Just the character of each is astounding. Daxter is the rambunctious and out of control personality that offers laugh out loud humour to the game, and Jak is the strong and silent type, who offers his strength and skills to do what else, but save the world. Your job is to find the other Sages, and get their help, to bring down Gol and Maia. Its fun, its quirky and it works.

One of the key elements of the story is "Eco", a magical force that evaporates out of the earth, and all sorts of earthly elements are respresented. The main type of Eco is Green eco. An eco that has several regenerative properties, and is essentially the "health" of the game. The yellow eco is your typical projectile weapon, where the user charged with it, is able to manipulate it into quick bursts of energy, which damages the enemy on contact. The thrid type of Eco is Blue eco. This empowers the user with an incredible sense of speed, and several lifts, switches and doors can only be opened when the individual trying to use them is charged with blue eco. It allows Jak to run at super high speeds, and lets him find hidden passages to allow him to find more precursor orbs, the currency of Jak and Daxter. The final type of Eco is red eco, which when charged with it, the user becomes ultra strong, and their attacks strengthened ten fold. It adds a very unique element to the game, and using these different types of eco in different syncopations is what truly adds challenge and depth to this game. The other types of eco that aren't useful to the player, are Dark eco and White eco. These two types of eco may not be integral to the gameplay, but the dark/light duality is crucial to the plot of the game, and eventually becomes the climax of the game itself.

As I mentioned earlier, the currency of Jak and Daxter is Precursor Orbs, a common artifact of the precursors, used for exchanges to obtain power cells (They are essentially to Jak and Daxter, as what coins are to Mario). Using them to purchase Power Cells will allow you to further progress through the game. Power Cells are what "power" different pieces of machinary, to allow you to venture from one location to another. For instance, collecting 20 power cells initially, will allow you to activate the Zoomer which allows travel across the lava pits, and lets you enter different areas of the Jak and Daxter world, like the Lava Tube, Snowy Mountain, etc. Collecting power cells by exchanging orbs is not the only way to obtain them. Every "level" contains a certain number of power cells, and all of which will have special tasks which need to be accomplished in order to get them. For example, you will find on Sentinel Beach, that there is a Power Cell lying in the open, but when you try to find it, a large bird will come and swipe it from you, perching itself on an island, where you must go to get it back. Once you get the bird to let go of the Power Cell, you must race to it before he gets there to swipe it again. Small challenges like this, though meaningless at first glance, are incorporated very well into the world, and in some cases, the overall story/experience of the game. Even though this game is a collect-a-thon of items, be it, precursor orbs, power cells, eco, or scout flies, its very engaging, and will always have you wanting more, more, more, more. This game offers an all encapsulating feel when it comes to gameplay.

Aside from the astounding gameplay, the linear platforming genre, is intertwined with "mini-game" gameplay segments, like racing, Puzzle solving, and simple...mini games, each yielding more power cells. Its very diverse, and offers a lot especially since the world is so expansive, and so unique, not to mention there are almost no load times, and the world is seamless when traveling from one locale to another.

Visually the game is remarkable for a first generation Playstation 2 game. It doesn't offer a lot of graphical excellence in terms of polygon counts for the characters, but the attention to detail is tremendous, especially in the jungles and in the busy villages, its nostalgiac to reminisce about the days when we thought this was the cat's meow of graphical excellence. Also, each "section" of the game is given a unique appearance from the last, that it is a treat in itself just to travel in this game.

Jak and Daxter sports some very dense landscapes. Some tasks can only be accomplished once you've made your way through the game to a certain point. You may see a power cell somewhere, and think "How do I get there?". This is where you'll have to use your head. You may see an offline eco vent, and some inactive switches or platoforms. Once you reactivate the eco vents later in the game, you can teleport back, and solve the puzzling task. This simple element of non-tedious backtracking is fun, and I guarantee satisfaction in seeing the creativity involved in making such unique and puzzling challenges. This platformer is just that, with all these extra bells and whistles too. Its a platformer in every sense of the word. Like I said, the worlds are dense. An area may seem empty or barren, but once you look up, you realize there is a clockwork of activity there, and your job is to move about up, down, left, right, sideways, backways diagonal ways, and in a very non-linear path. Nothing is layed out for you, ever. Everything is about exploration and figuring things out for yourself, and to be honest, even though it sounds daunting, the game is paced very well. You'll be collecting new power cells every few minutes, and opening more oppportunities to explore with every task you complete. Everything is meshed together to form one giant cohesive exeprience, which is in no way boring or overly difficult. The learning curve is just perfect to a "T". The more you put into this game, the more you get out, which is why this game is so addicting; I will tell you now, once you're finished, you'll stand up and give this game a round of applause, and immediately begin playing again.

Playing again is actually encouraged in this game. The bare minimum for completing this game is only collecting a total of 72 power cells. Though, if you put the extra couple hours to obtain the full 101 power cells, you will be rewarded with an extended ending, with footage you can't see if you JUST do the bare minimum. See, the more you put it, the more you get out. Its a very friendly game, and almost anyone can enjoy this game, despite skill level or experience. Its a great way to kick off the Playstation 2 software line up, and this game is deserving of a spot in anyone's permanent collection.

Some of the most addicting gameplay, pasted together with a cohesive gaming experience, makes for one of the best games ever. Well worth your time.


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