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Jak and Daxter

/ May 25th, 2002 No Comments

In the beginning, there was Mario. And Mario saw the barrel and he jumped. And gamers saw the jump and, lo, it was good. A couple of decades of video game evolution later, a new pair of leaping adventurers have emerged from the creative minds at Naughty Dog, and while the jump is essentially the same, the game surrounding the jump is definitely good – for as long as it lasts.

The game, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (J&D), is a great-looking 3D platformer that makes a firm bid for the video game mascot championship belt. The story behind the icon grabbing has J&D trying to stop the plans of the mutated evil guy, Gol (voiced well by 80’s metal dude Dee Snider from Twisted Sister). Jak, with Daxter providing occasional commentary, runs and jumps around standard platform environments (yes, more lava and ice) collecting items.

Players can expect to perform the usual feats of good timing for jumping/attacking/collecting that have carried them through other platform games. While underneath, J&D’s gameplay doesn’t bend platform game conventions set by Naughty Dog’s other grinning fuzzy mascot, a number of different mini-games wrapped up as quests add variety to the item hunt. These range from racing on a zoomer (a smoothly moving hoverbike type vehicle), herding animals with extreme prejudice, and occasionally targeting bad guys in simple mini-shooters.

There is not a substantial depth to the controls (the few special moves are hardly ever necessary), but what is there is well-executed – simple enough for younger gamers while deep enough to occupy veterans. As in other good platform games, J&D rewards creative uses for the different moves, some of which can make the difference between a long fall and a breathtaking grab on the edge of a ledge.

J&D’s main strength is its nice-looking, charming world and characters. Without overloading a player’s eyes with colors, the graphics are crisp and detailed. Some nice effects, particularly the way the world changes from day to night and back again, add to the eye candy – the sunrise is a particularly stunning piece of graphical work. Polished animations will delight younger players, while impressing older players thanks to spot-on voice and action syncing.

Given the game’s cartoonish atmosphere, Naughty Dog deserves kudos for assembling some fine voice talent for characters that could easily have been over-the-top. Mixed with the fine animations, the on-the-mark voices keep the character’s antics – standard Saturday morning cartoon fare – from being annoying, enough so I forgot to groan over many of the cheesy lines. I was surprised that the game didn’t put in some nods to older gamers – more off-the-wall humor akin to Crash Bandicoot – but what is there is likeable enough. It’s a safe bet that Daxter becomes a favorite of younger gamers (I can see my eight-year-old cousin imitating Daxter’s dances now).

Aside from the day and night cycle, J&D’s other outstanding graphical feature is a completely seamless world – requiring no load times whatsoever. When walking through a door, players will immediately see the next room (even one in another game area); when riding an elevator, players will watch J&D go up/down and then run directly into the next location. The continuity of the world also shows up in the view a player sees when standing from a high perch. At first, having the whole world available to explore seemed overwhelming, but every area isn’t open at once. It also helps that the quests are all conveniently organized for review when pausing.

Camera angles in 3D platform games have been the cause of controllers thrown in disgust. J&D does an admirable job of maintaining a good camera angle throughout the action. Quick adjustments to the camera angle can be made with the right analog stick, and this coupled with the first person view control makes the few times when the camera gets flaky easy to overlook.J&D biggest fault is its short length. I completed the game in about ten hours, finding almost all of the items. It certainly was a good ten hours of gaming, but once it was over, I wished there was more. Neither is the game very challenging; there are some tough jumps and battles, but a little thought and persistence quickly overcomes those. J&D also features infinite lives; there is no Game Over. I appreciated being able to immediately pick up where I left off after a horrible death (with all items gained intact), but it did make character suicide disturbingly convenient. “You mean I have to jump all the way back up there to get out of this area? Nah, I’ll take the fall – instant warp.”

J&D may be jumping onto the shore from the same pool as other platform games, but it has all the goods to keep gamers, particularly younger ones, fully entertained while it lasts. Platform game fans will probably finish the game quickly, but are sure to appreciate the vibrant world and the assortment of mini-games. Others may want to rent the game first and see if they can experience all its rich sights and situations before it’s due back.


Roy Rossi

Roy Rossi

Roy Rossi was a long time major contributor to Gaming Illustrated before disappearing of the face of the Earth. His service to GI will never be forgotten.
Roy Rossi

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