Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
Of all the types of games that exist today, one of the oldest is the platformer. Since the early Eighties players have been furiously double jumping from ledge to ledge collecting items and powerups while under attack from a multitude of weird and wonderful enemies. It’s a testament therefore to Jak and Daxter’s cheeky charm that although it recycles many of the genre’s clichés wholesale, it still manages to be as fresh and enjoyable to play now as it was on its release in 2001.
The story begins with the humanoid Jack and Daxter exploring an island near their home. Daxter manages to fall into a vat of malevolent purple goop called Dark Eco and is transformed into a small weasel like creature. Understandably upset by this turn of events, Jak and Daxter decide to journey across the land to find the planets foremost expert on Dark Eco for advice on changing Daxter back.
Before they can travel to the next village/level hub however, they need to upgrade Jaks “Zoomer” (a rather cool flying jet powered motorbike) and that means collecting powercells. These valuable items can be acquired in two ways. First you can find them dotted about the various levels and completing the objectives set for you will result in gaining one as a reward. The second way is to pay the various NPCS with ninety Precursor Orbs per cell. These egg shaped items are found scattered about the place and there are two thousand in total to collect.
As well as powercells and orbs there are also temporary powerups to grab in the form of different sorts of Eco. Green Eco replenishes Jak’s health. Yellow Eco allows Jack to fire energy projectiles. Red Eco increases Jak’s physical attack power and most important of all is Blue Eco. This activates Precursor switches and platforms and is a key part of solving many of the puzzles you’ll come across on your journey. Dark Eco is best avoided as it will sap Jak’s life if touched and kill him outright if he falls into a pool of it.
Roaming the levels are enemies called Lurkers. Just about all the nasties you fight in the game are types of Lurker. Whether they be the flying Lurkers in the Precursor Basin, drill wielding ones in the Spider Cave or the yet like ones on Snowy Mountain. This gives the game a pleasing feel of continuity as you progress with the design work overall convincing you that you really are exploring diverse areas of the same planet. The fact that there are no loading screens between levels and the way you can see across one level into the next also adds to the feeling of total immersion. “Realism” in videogames tends to date very quickly, but the brash, cartoon graphics of Jak and Daxter have a timeless quality to them and still look crisply fantastic to this day.
The game of course contains those two mainstays of the platformer, the ice and lava levels. The ice level is played straight, but the lava levels have a delightful twist to them. Instead of exploring them on foot Jak must ride his Zoomer through the hot, smoky tunnels. If you dally to long the heat shield will overload and explode send you back to the nearest restart point. So it becomes an exhilarating dash, with some nimble fingered driving required, made pleasurable by the fact the Zoomer handles beautifully.
Talking of restart points, it should be pointed out that although Jak can lose all his energy and “die”, all that happens is that you’ll be sent back a little way. As these invisible checkpoints are plentiful , you’ll never be more than a short walk from where you come a cropper. This means you’ll only need to save when you end your session and won’t ruin your immersion in the game by constantly having to save and reload. Because the game camera behaves so well, there shouldn’t be too many deaths that aren’t foreseen; no leaps of faith in this game. Those parts that do require repeated tries will usually see you progress enough on each attempt that you never feel frustrated or punished by the game. The learning curve is perfectly balanced in that respect.
In fact that leads us to one of the downsides of the game; it’s not long enough! The compulsion to keep playing – to get to that next powercell to see the next level – is so strong that most will see the ending roll round in just a few evenings. Getting all the orbs and powercells will take a little longer. But you’re really left wanting more time in Jak and Daxter’s bright and colourful world. You’ll have to keep wanting though. Although the two sequels are decent games in their own right, they sacrificed Jak and Daxter’s cartoon vibrancy for a more gloomy and gritty GTA style aesthetic. A pity.
The sound is another disappointment. While the speech is well acted and scripted and the effects satisfyingly meaty, the music is not up to the same standards of the gameplay and visuals. It’s blandly inoffensive muzak which doesn’t irritate but doesn’t impress either. Some might find Daxter’s comedy shtick a little wearing too. But that’s it really for negatives.
Jak and Daxter remains one of the best platform games to appear on a Sony console both then and now. Smart, funny, lovely to look at and a joy to play it should still find a home in anybody’s collection.