From sidekick to star.
What exactly do video game mascots do after they leave their bread and butter? The popular Jak and Daxter trilogy came to an end about a year and a half ago, but the two heroes have been pounding the pavement trying to find a new line of work since. Jak apparently took the hint from Mario and landed a new career in racing, but it didn't quite work out as well as the old gig.
[image1]Daxter, on the other hand, decided to stick with what he knows, getting picked up by developer Ready at Dawn to star role in his very own platform game. And as it turns out, this second banana makes one helluva lead.
The appropriately named Daxter for the PSP is set in the Jak and Daxter universe and takes place between the Precursor Legacy and Jak II. Remember when Jak got locked up for a while and Daxter busted him out? This is the story of how Daxter did it. You'd think that a lot of planning would go into breaking your pal out of a high security prison, but all it takes is a new job, an electric fly swatter and a little luck. Daxter actually forgot all about his pal and wound up as a Kritter Ridder exterminator. His adventures fighting Metal Head bugs eventually lead him back to Jak, but you'll have to play the game to find out how.
The gameplay in Daxter is similar to the original series. You head out to various locales in familiar Haven City spots and unleash double jumps, spins and your fly swatter of death on the forces of evil. Along the way, you'll also pick up a spray gun and some killer attachments, such as a flamethrower, turning the bug sprayer into a brutal torch. The sprayer doubles as an extra propulsion device, too, allowing you to sort of jetpack around the levels. There's a bit less jumping and a bit more whacking in Daxter than in typical platformers, which is a nice change of pace.
Each zone in the world gives you a specific objective, usually collecting a certain amount of bug gems, but you also need to keep an eye out for precursor orbs and the rarer combat bugs and tokens. Though it isn't quite as varied as the console games (no hoverboard levels, for instance), Daxter does include a handful of mini-games and vehicles and does a great job of keeping the original spirit alive.
[image2]The first game introduced players to large, streaming environments with no loading screens, and astoundingly that's just what you get in Daxter. As most PSP games have load screens that last for years, the absence of any here is simply amazing, especially considering that the levels are huge.
Negotiating those levels is fairly easy. For the most part, using the two shoulder buttons to control the manual camera works pretty well, and players are given the option of regular or inverted control. The camera does have a tendency to get stuck in close quarters and can even get caught behind crevices now and then, but by and large such woes are tolerable.
Daxter extends itself with a smattering of cool side content, such as the collection of mini-games that can be unlocked by collecting precursor orbs. These play out as dream sequences based on popular movies like The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones, but with Daxter in the starring role. These all play identically as sort of button-timing rhythm games, though they get progressively harder and if completed will result in new moves or extra lives. Even after you've beaten a dream sequence, you'll be able to revisit the scenario to see how long you can last, possibly earning a gold or silver rating for even more bonus stuff.
Sweetening the package are combat bugs, which can be found in secret spots around Haven City. These are used in Bug Combat, another mini-game that can be played against a computer opponent or another player. Each bug has its own stats, which can be increased with bug juice vials that are also found in the main game. When it comes time to battle, players select an attack in a rock, paper, scissors type of combat. Battle tokens (also found throughout the main game) can also be used to adjust the outcome. It's a decent diversion, though it sadly doesn't support full Infrastructure play, just Ad-Hoc.
[image3]In any mode, Daxter continues the series' legacy of smooth animations, vibrant colors and outstanding level design. Despite the giant levels, the framerate doesn't skip and the action never crunches. The only stutter happens on rare occasions and during auto-saves when the framerate drops a bit. It's doesn't happen nearly enough to put a bad taste in your mouth, but it is noticeable.
Another familiar element is the continuing role of Max Casella as Daxter. Voice-acting was always solid in the console series and Daxter continues the tradition. The instrumental backgrounds also do a fine job moving things along without being too intrusive.
Daxter is a testament to Sony's dedication to this franchise, as despite changing developers, it still holds up as a great platformer. The formula from the original series has been transplanted to near perfection and the Ready at Dawn crew has added a few gems that will keep you coming back for more. Fans of the series will not be disappointed and new players are in for a pleasant surprise.