Is that a ferret in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?
Can you imagine being restricted to following just one path in life? Every morning you get up and put on the same uniform you've worn since birth, wax the mustache you've been growing since puberty, eat a few of the same old mushrooms, stomp on the same old Goombas and head in the one "right" direction yet again. What kind of life is that? I'd rather be able to roam free, going wherever I want, whenever I wanted to, without ever being hocked by my annoying, skinny brother.
The folks at Naughty Dog seem to share this vision. Like me, they were tired of all these platform games that set you on a single track with a one way ticket to the same old gameplay. Rather than stick to this tried and true formula, they've created Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, a game that will change the way you look at platformers.
You play Jak, the local hero who's out to save his buddy Daxter from living out his years with a fuzzy butt. It seems Daxter fell into some dark eco-muck and was magically turned into an Ottsel (half-otter, half-weasel). To save his pal, Jak must wander the land like Kwai Chang Caine in search of Gol, the dark eco-muck expert. Needless to say, Jak eventually stumbles upon a larger conspiracy to take over the world and ends up fighting to save his more than just his furry friend.
Jak & Daxter takes place in a huge 3D world complete with a variety of areas, such as a tropical jungle, snowy mountain top, volcanic lava bed, and more. But opposed to past platformers that feed you one specific area at a time, Jak & Daxter puts the choice in your hands by meshing them into a single cohesive world. If you can see it (and you'll be able to see a lot), you can get to it - it's all a matter of figuring out how. With all of these places to explore, you'll never feel like you're just trudging through the same area over and over again. Go anywhere you want, whenever you want. That's my kind of game.
Since you have the ability to go pretty much anywhere, Jak & Daxter takes on a freedom usually exiled from platform gaming. Would you like to tackle the Forbidden Jungle before heading off to Sentinel Beach? How about skipping it altogether and heading off to Misty Island? Should you find a boat or brave shark-infested waters to get there? It's completely up to you!
Making things even better is the lack of a loading screen between locales. It's mind-boggling how such a vast world can be put together with no real load times. Hooray for streaming.
Naughty Dog is known for their strong grasp of eye-popping visuals, and they didn't let down here. Great-looking characters, smooth textures, and all around quality graphics mark a great first PS2 effort. There are cool flame effects, birds flying through the skies, and even a full day/night cycle to be experienced. To keep the sense of freedom alive, you can literally get to any place you see without a load. Considering the enormity of the game (it would take about a solid hour to walk, point to point, from one end to the other), the whole thing looks impressive.
The core gameplay is generally the same as most platformers - you run, you jump, and you bonk various evil minions with a slew of attacks. There's a simple spin, a dive, and a roll attack similar to Crash, but you'll also get aerial attacks and a few dragon punches that would make Ryu proud. You'll also have a few vehicles to play with along the way including the A-GraV Zoomer and a riding bird called a Flut Flut.
What's different about Jak & Daxter is the colored Eco system that will imbue our hero with a special ability for a limited time. You have your basic Green Eco that will help heal Jak when he's feeling down. There's also Red Eco that provides super strength and Blue Eco that will help suck up precious Precursor Orbs and allow Jak to power mysterious Precursor artifacts. Last is the Yellow Eco, which will give Jak the power to hurl powerful balls of energy at enemies and allow him to smash his way through some tough spots. Legend speaks of another Eco with massive powers, but you'll just have to play the game to find out more.
I love the little references to familiar games and pop-culture characters. One area has you jumping over barrels while going uphill a la Donkey Kong and another mini-game has you catching fish like in the same style as the classic game Kaboom!. There's even a Lurker enemy that looks just like Master Blaster. The retro touches add some flair.
The only real issue with the game is the occasionally frisky camera. For the most part it works fine, but get into cramped quarters and the camera gets hung up on the edges. It doesn't happen too often, but when it does, things can get frustrating fast.
And while it takes platforming to a new level in terms of overall design, Jak & Daxter is still pretty standard when it comes to the actual gameplay. If you're not a fan of platform games, this won't suddenly convert you.
But Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy certainly has set a new benchmark for the platformer genre with its huge environments and gaming freedom. Play this one through, and you'll never look at platformers the same way again.