The term “Platformer” almost instinctively brings to mind an image of that smiling Italian plumber so famous to us all. But while Mario certainly adapts in new ways as new games are released, it was always the platforming franchises of Sony that paved the way in taking the genre into new directions, especially during the PS2 era. The three flagship series were Ratchet and Clank; Sly Cooper, and of course, Jak and Daxter. All three have been brought to prominence again with HD re-releases on the PS3, in which each disc contains three entire games. With Sly Cooper already out, and Ratchet and Clank on its way, it’s time to look at the adventures of the vaguely-elvish boy, and his fuzzy rat-like companion, and remember a distant time known as the early 2000s.
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was released at the tail end of 2001, by veteran developers Naughty Dog (of famed Crash Bandicoot legacy.) The story is introduced by a voice-over from Samos the Sage, master of Green Eco in the world. Eco is a force that comes in many different colours and functions, and controls the natural flow of the world. Jak and Daxter, two childhood friends, sneak onto a forbidden island, and overhear a plot of two villains who plan to unleash chaos on the world using Dark Eco. Daxter accidentally falls into a vat of Dark Eco, and is transformed into a ottsel: a creature half weasel and half otter. The duo find themselves travelling around the world making contact with the other sages and stopping the evil plans set into motion. At the end of the game, upon the player collecting all the required items, a cutscene is shown that sets the scene for 2003’s Jak 2, a game altogether much darker in tone, where the main characters are flung into a dark, dystopian world ruled by the villainous Baron Praxis. The Baron kidnaps Jak at the start of the game, and subjects him to Dark Eco experiments over the next two years, whereupon Daxter helps him escape, setting into motion the events of that game. Jak 3 came in 2004, and it is hard to give a plot summary without ruining any events from the previous two games, but what it does do is provide a satisfactory conclusion to many of the plots throughout the series.
The Jak Trilogy is very similar to the Pirates of the Caribbean films, or even the Matrix films, in that the first installment was set up, and then upon it being a success, the next two entries were different from the original, and much more linked with each other thematically and plot-wise, while at the same time borrowing from the original in some ways. Precursor Legacy is a bright, vivid and cartoony world, filled with countless collectables and bright animals. Jak 2 and 3 are dark, grim worlds, which nevertheless can still be seen as coming from the same origin as the original.
Precursor Legacy also uses small areas filled with missions to complete that then allow travel into a new area upon their completion. Jak 2 and 3 go for the GTA route, providing large hub worlds from which missions can be obtained and secrets can be found, with travel provided by vehicles in one form or another. One rule that is true for any of the games though, whether it is a jungle area, or old robot factory, all settings look crisp and bright and enjoyable to view, full of detail in many different ways. When the first game came out, it is also worth noting that it was revolutionary for not needing to load between every separate area, creating a much more inclusive world.
Gameplay mostly revolves around as typical platforming action as possible, with expert jumps and rolls being what gets you anywhere. In the first game, Jak could only spin and punch to attack, and also absorb various kinds of Eco for benefits. In the second and third game, Jak gains the use of guns, which are always very distinct and enjoyable to play around with. He also has the use of a powered up “Dark Jak” form, that can make difficult combat sections more bearable. By Jak 3, vehicle sections have become more complex, and an additional “Light Jak” form is added, for even more combat and exploration possibilities.
Missions can usually be defined as either “go here and get this” or “go here and destroy this,” but to define them as such cheapens how distinct they can all be. Missions very rarely feel the same, with many different twists to provide a new enjoyable experience. What is true however, especially in Jak 2, is that quite often missions can feel very cheap, in terms of difficulty, with the computer cheating at a crucial moment and making you need to restart from a checkpoint very far away. But this is a minor gripe, and does not detract from the game much.
Jak and Daxter are part of gaming history now, and any gamer with the facilities who enjoys this genre should definitely give them a look, especially now that all three can be bought on one disc for about half the price of a new AAA game. The translation to PS3 went smoothly, and all that has really been added are trophies, which are not bad in and of themselves. At the least, Jak and Daxter should provide hours of fun with games that are not only fun to play, but contain intriguing storylines and sometimes very witty dialogue and lines for the most mature player to enjoy.