GenreQuest: 3D Platformers – Part 21: Jak and Daxter Special

Hello everyone and welcome back to GenreQuest, this week you all get to find out why last week’s edition was so short, and it’s because we have another game trilogy special. For those of you unfamiliar with the series Jak and Daxter, it was made by Naughty Dog, now famous for the Uncharted series, and was the PS2 platforming follow up to their famous Crash Bandicoot trilogy. Let’s go!

 

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Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy is an odd title when you consider the games that come after it and the games that came before it. You can immediately notice that it’s the only game that includes Daxter in the title (despite the fact that he is a main character in all 3 games), and if you’ve played this game you might also notice that it is almost completely different in tone and gameplay from the rest of the series.jak1

The story of Jak and Daxter concerns the titular characters, a pair of teenagers who dwell on a jungle covered island with apparently no parents, but they do have a floating, green haired midget to act as their guardian. The pair end up exploring the forbidden Misty Island where Daxter is knocked into a vat of Dark Eco, a mysterious substance with dangerous and corrosive powers. However, instead of melting down to his bones, Daxter is turned into an ‘Ottsel’, a half otter/half weasel, and so the pair embark on an epic adventure so that Daxter can regain his goofy faced self.

The main point of the gameplay is to collect Power Cells to provide energy for different devices, usually a device required to remove some obstacle or get through some dangerous areas. On your way you also collect Precursor Orbs, which act as currency to help you collect even more Power Cells, usually by bribing villagers or paying the giant stone heads to give you their eyes…their eyes are Power Cells. (Also on a side note, what the hell could a giant stone head want with currency? It can’t even move!)

The controls for the game work really well and fully utilize the mandatory analogue sticks. Your main methods of attack involve a single punch that sends you shooting in the direction you’re pointing and a spinning kick that hits anything that is near you. You can also jump and use the punch to smash into the ground, which is necessary for smashing certain types of boxes and defeating certain types of enemies. The nice thing about the combat is that all of the moves you have can be strung together into combos which make you a veritable whirlwind of death, something which 0f853e2d-28f4-4e10-b2bd-09d53097ab5fcomes in handy with some of the harder combat sequence towards the end of the game.

As you progress through the game, you might start to notice that both with the visuals and the music there’s a lot of Crash Bandicoot lingering in the series. The first area of the game is all lush and verdant greenery or jungle temple areas with designs that wouldn’t look out of place in a PS2 Crash game, and the music uses lots of bongo drumming as well. Honestly, if the main character were swapped out for Crash himself, I doubt many people would have noticed that this game was supposed to be for an entirely new set of characters.

The overall difficulty of the game is not very high at all, and you can pretty much breeze straight through it without much difficulty, but the humour and the characters are well worth sticking around for, even if the actual story doesn’t have much magnetism to it. The game is fun to play because it is so well polished and was clearly designed and produced by a team with experience in the platforming genre.

Overall: The game that Crash Bandicoot would have eventually ended up being if Naughty Dog had kept making the games. This game owes so much to the company’s previous titles that it is basically indistinguishable. If it weren’t for the characters (particularly Samos the Sage and Daxter), then there wouldn’t be much of a reason to play it at all. Having said that, the game is very well made and highly polished, worth playing if you want a relaxed game to 100% in a single afternoon. 

Score: 87/100

 

 

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Jak II: Renegade

This is where the series takes an interesting turn. Where the first game was much too easy and had far too much in common with its spiritual predecessor, this game took the town to the darker side of the spectrum and ramped the challenge up so hard that a lot of players got whiplash from it.

The story this time around follows on directly from the last game. If you managed to collect all 100 (technically there were 101, but whatever) Power Cells in the last game, you get to see a video thatps2_jak_daxter_2_07 reveals that they found a giant Precursor door or ring that can transport you…somewhere. At the start of this game, our friends have managed to move the ring to their lab and begin to experiment with it. As they sit at the controls, Jak accidentally activates it and a giant monster appears in the ring unleashing hell on their village (something that isn’t talked about ever again). In an effort to defeat the monster, Jak shoots the vehicle they are in towards it and they are all catapulted through the vortex into a mysterious land.

Once they arrive in a new world with many technological advances over their previous home, Jak is immediately arrested and taken to be tortured. After two years Daxter actually manages to rescue him, but not before he gets two new powers: firstly a dark side which turns him into a practically invincible and aggressive monster, the other is an actual voice this time, which is nice.

With the coming of a voice there comes a personality, and thanks to the two years of torture that he endured, Jak’s personality is grim and a bit moody. Fortunately, Daxter is still a sidekick (despite his name being dropped from the title), and he brings some much needed sarcasm and humour to the game;s usually grim and serious storyline. In fairness, Jak does eventually lighten up and start cracking jokes here and there, but at first he can be a bit of a culture shock for players of the previous title in the series.

The gameplay has retained all of the elements that it had in the first game. You can still spin, punch, and roll your way around and string your moves into ridiculous combos, but a few new elements have been added to the game. The first is that you unlock guns pretty early on, and these can be combined with your other attacks to create lethal new combos. There are also a lot of GTA style elements, such as police who can be provoked into chasing you and the ability to steal vehicles which you can drive around the city.

Jak-and-Daxter-HD-Collection-Coming-in-February-Video-and-Screenshots-Available-3The new elements do change the tone of the game, but as said there is plenty of humour to be found if you play long enough, and even the characters who you previously knew all get back into the picture before the end of the game. The challenge factor is something else that has been changed. This time around you will find many sections that will test your determination, sometimes to its breaking point. Having said that, the game has no lives or continues, and you can just keep trying until you either can’t be bothered or you manage to break through the solid brick wall of difficulty. While it’s true that there are plenty of sections which spike the difficulty through the roof, I wouldn’t say that any of them are too difficult for you to complete.

The graphics in the game are somewhat similar to the first game, but the bright oranges and greens that were the hallmark of that game have been swapped out for lots of dull metallic colours with splashes of vibrant red. Although this grimmer colour palette isn’t the best thing ever, it still manages to have vibrancy where it counts, and fortunately you get to visit other places which have some more living colours than the grim, grey city area does.

The music has followed the same path as the tone and has changed from mainly jungle inspired bongo drum beats to heavy, dark, and driving tunes, especially when being chased by the city guards. The music has some variety to it, but for the most part falls into the background as you concentrate on the tough as nails gameplay.

Overall: The game in the trilogy which made a transition from being too easy and too similar to Crash, to being too hard and nothing like the previous title. Altough the challenge level is much higher here, the lack of a lives system should mean you can power through without too much effort. 

Score: 90/100

 

 

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Jak 3

Ahh, where to begin with this game. Despite the fact that it manages to better juggle the light and dark elements, as well as scaling the difficulty back to somewhere more manageable, I find myself not liking it as much as the previous two games in the series.  I will, however, try to not let my own personal bias get in the way of this review’s objectivism. (HA!)617628-919901_20041115_screen014

The story this time is that after the defeat of the evil baron from the previous game, Jak has been exiled to the desert (for reasons that are not made entirely clear). You then get accepted by the local desert tribe and have to try and survive out there so that you can make your way back to the city where your friends still reside.

The gameplay in this game is basically unchanged from the previous title, although there is a more heavy focus on vehicle based missions than the last game, something which is telling of the direction the series was going in. As I mentioned before, the difficulty has been scaled back a bit but still manages to have some bite to it, making this game the perfect balance between challenge and ease of access.

As well as all of your guns and your dark powers, you gain access to light side powers from Light Eco, an element that hasn’t been seen since the very end of the first game. This adds a slew of new abilities which tend to add to the manoeuvrability of your character, making new areas reachable and vertical ascension actually worth trying to do without becoming a pain in the butt.

Jak-and-Daxter-HD-Collection-Coming-in-February-Video-and-Screenshots-Available-2The tone is also more balanced here, being more a thrilling adventure with a cast of mainly funny and interesting characters instead of a grim tale of corruption and deceit. There are a few twists and turns in the story that are actually quite interesting as well, throwing curveballs to certain elements of the story that have been around since even the first game. Although the second game also tried to do this, it never managed it in the same way barring one major exception to this rule.

The music is just as forgettable as the last game, and has none of the ‘humability’ of the first game’s music. Although it is fit for its purpose, it quickly falls aside to the gameplay and the characters.

Graphically, the game is middle of the road. Half of the game is bright and vibrant, while the other half retains the previous game’s grey, grim aesthetic. This works quite well for visual balance but doesn’t help the lack of interesting new designs that the game suffers from. Overall, the actual quality of the graphics is the best yet, and the new things introduced do look really good, but ultimately this game doesn’t offer much more than the last game did in terms of visual design.

Overall: Although the game has added lots of new elements and managed to strike a good balance between dark and light elements, the game doesn’t feel as good as either of the last too. It might be the proof that the series would either need radical changes or needed to be dropped entirely, but at the end of the day the game is worth playing to say goodbye to the characters we’ve grown to know and in some cases love.

 

Score: 79/100