Every platform has its mascot – at least, that’s how it used to be – Sega had its Sonic; Nintendo has its Mario – and Sony, for a while at least, had Crash Bandicoot as its headlining plushy.
While the PlayStation 2 never had its very own iconic platform mascot – I like to think of Jak and Daxter as being at least at the top of the list of potentials – partly because the series and characters were the most critically well-received and popular characters on the system.
And partly because I say so. What bias?
(Re)Masters of the universe
The Jak and Daxter Collection includes: Jak and Daxter and the Precursor Legacy; Jak II: Renegade and Jak 3 – the three main entries into the series that centers around the Precursors and various story arcs that extend off of that.
The games are remastered with updated visuals and run in HD at 720p – at a consistent 60 frames a second. That means fluid motions, and no stuttering framerates, something that wasn’t as infrequent as we’d have liked in the PS2 versions.
Also included in the New! Fresh! versions are trophies for all you glory hoarders.
The game also comes with a 3D mode, which didn’t get much playtime with me because 3D gaming makes me feel nauseous. But at least the option is there. Things have depth where you’d expect them to – and it’s all very well and good, but the frame-rate drops to 30fps.
Aside from that, the games are true to their previous-gen counterparts in every way – Daxter is as annoying as ever; the settings, environments, maps and mechanics are all the same – and lucky us – the frustrating bits, like the shooter and driving sections are still frustrating.
The new old-school
It sounds strange, but there’s a learning curve to revisiting the games – when you realise you have to drop some of your modern gaming habits and re-adapt to the ‘old-school’ gameplay. Because, man, these games are tough.
It’s not tough in terms of being hyper-aggressive or overly-unforgiving – I’ve just simply realised that we’ve become rather spoiled by games today, with regular checkpoints, “duck-and-cover” recovery and ample opportunity to bounce back.
Jak and Daxter affords you none of that, and as a result, the jump back to this new-old-school style of gameplay from the last generation, is a stark reminder of how modern gaming has made us weak. Weak!
Dying mid-level sends you right back to the beginning of the area, resurrects all the enemies, gives you full health – but doesn’t replenish your ammo (in Jak II and Jak 3), so it’s not so much a case of trying again as it a case of giving you another shot at a disadvantage.
That said – when you get into the swing of things, you’ll be instantly reminded why these games were some of the best platformers of their time.
Jak and Daxter and the Precursor legacy
The first game in the series was Naughty Dog’s first foray onto the PlayStation 2, and their first new IP since the Playstation’s unofficial platformer mascot, Crash Bandicoot.
The game follows silent protagonist, Jak, and his annoying and mouthy friend, Daxter, as they seek out the Eco Sages of the land – to help Daxter change back into his human form after he gets turned into an ottsel by dark eco.
The story wasn’t very complex, even for its time, and follows many of the tropes established by Crash Bandicoot – in terms of gameplay, collectables and overall tone.
It’s the most childish of the games in the title, and it’s pretty obvious Naughty Dog were trying to establish a similar “for young gamers” brand for the series, as Crash did for the PlayStation.
The characters are charming – which is a nice way of saying they’re cute; which is a nice way of saying that there’s not really much to them – and the over-reaching plot never really deals with anything thematically deep – but that’s okay, because it never tries to pretend it is.
The game was also the first platformer to eradicate ‘levels’ and loading screens – with players accessing areas directly. That is to say, when you reach a high point and see a structure in the distance, you could journey over there without passing through menus or a form of level select zone.
This open world is still impressive, even by today’s standards.
Whether smacking around lurkers, zipping through the land powered by blue-eco, firing off balls of yellow eco – or navigating canyons and basins on the zoomer – Jak and Daxter’s first journey set a remarkable foundation for what was still to come in the series.
Jak II: Renegade
Jak II dared to do the unthinkable – to take a young, innocent character targeted for the Crash Bandicoot crowd, torture him, hand him a gun, and set him on a path of revenge.
Wow. What a shift.
And yet despite all the backlash from the happy-clappy gamers, Naughty Dog’s second title in the Jak and Daxter series dared to be different – and ended up with one of the greatest platformers of the the PS2 generation.
Taking open-world to sandbox (and then some); giving us weapons to play with – and suitably tougher enemies to match – Jak II tells a darker tale, with enough twists and turns in it to let you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.
Jak, as a character, went through a drastic change – gaining a voice, a brash personiality, a dark-eco induced alter-ego and a goatee. Goatees are hardcore. In line with the darker tone, Haven City, your playground, is full of shady characters, and renegades and revolutionaries, fighting an oppressive tyrant.
It’s here, in Jak II, that the aforementioned unforigiving gameplay comes into effect – with enemies adapting to the more mature direction of the game, and being a lot more aggressive, bigger, and tougher to dispose of.
Collectables came in the form of the shiny skulls of your defeated enemies, while the friendlier Precursor orbs from the first game became the hidden items you could collect to unlock new modes and secrets.
Jak II also let you ‘appropriate’ vehicles from the citizens of Haven City, a la Grand Theft Auto, and you were free to attack and kill anyone you like.
Of course, the city’s Crimson Guards don’t take kindly to you attacking them (they don’t care about anyone else) and would swamp you with Hellcats if you stayed stationary long enough.
Guns, goatees, hoverboards and a dark tale of betrayal and revelation puts Jak II squarely in the zone of hardcore – a stark contrast to the series’ childish beginnings. Jak II showed how the characters (and by extension, Naughty Dog) had grown up.
The third part of the Precursor saga didn’t take as big a leap from it’s predecessor as Jak II did from the Precursor Legacy. In fact, in terms of gameplay, it was very similar, indeed.
The game introduced further gun upgrades, essentially making Jak’s transforming weapon a Swiss-Army knife of enemy destruction – and also had Jak combat his inner, dark self, with an inner, light self.
The new iterations of Jak’s persona were tied into the plot – which ultimately reveals what the previous two games were leading up to in the most twisted, confusing and awesome way.
Despite the story of Jak and Daxter continuing after Jak 3, it’s here that Naughty Dog’s plot-line ended – with a strong focus on tying and wrapping up the Precursor arc.
Banished from Haven City, Jak now found himself in the Wasteland outside the city walls. It’s here where Spargus City – a city full of outcasts and wastelanders – is found.
Added to this new locale, was the game’s new gameplay focus – wasteland vehicular combat – which put our heroic duo in the driving seat of a variety of wasteland vehicles, each with a different strength or ability – such as more powerful weapons, or high/long jumping.
This vehicular portion of the game was Naughty Dog’s testing ground, essentially, for the Jak X racing game which followed.
The driving portions of the game were, and remain, pretty frustrating at times; with vehicle controls and movements sometimes stuffing out and causing you to die at inopportune times (and then you have to start over from the beginning, as described previously).
It’s hardly something that detracts from the overall awesomeness of the game – but it’s probably the one thing I missed the least from the series.
The Jak and Daxter series was, and remains, one of the greatest game series of the last generation – although things have changed, and Naughty Dog, especially, have moved onto grittier, more realistic stories – this high-defintion trip revisiting the iconic duo is well worth it.
If you’ve played the games before, and left them behind with the last generation of consoles, then you might not find value in having a few extra trophies, updated visuals and 3D gameplay – but if you’ve never experienced Jak and Daxter, then this comes as highly recommended.
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