Ohhh, so that's how Daxter became that weird dog thing.
I feel ashamed and embarrassed to admit that this newly released Vita collection of Jak & Daxter games was my first opportunity to play Naughty Dog's precursor to Uncharted, The Last of Us, and everything beyond. It took only seconds to see the lines drawn from Crash Bandicoot leading to Jak's legacy and continuing beyond into PlayStation 3's defining action series. Playing Jak 2 felt like unlocking a box of history before I discovered it for the first time, just, you know, well over a decade later.
As I tore the cellophane off Jak & Daxter's Vita collection, I imagined I was blowing the dust off an ancient artifact. With the advancements in design, narrative, graphics, and more seen in Naughty Dog's The Last of Us, could these beloved last-gen relics stand up to the experience I just awarded GameRevolution's holy-shit-they-finally-gave-a-perfect-score-A+ to? Of course they can, but only if you take the rose-colored glasses off and expect a trilogy of old console games now available on handheld.
Booting the game up, the first thing I noticed was the slick UI created for the game selection screen. Jak and Daxter seem to evolve as you scroll between Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Jak 2, and Jak 3. They seem so innocent and pure in the first game, but flying forward in time makes Jak look like a roadie for Stone Temple Pilots. Unfortunately, once you launch a game, I couldn't find a way back to this menu. If you want to hop back and forth between the three games, you'll have to close and relaunch the Collection's application from your Vita home screen.
That's not really a big issue for people interested in reliving each game thoroughly, so I ignored it and played several hours of each game. The first stands up as a steady, but experimental dive into PS2 game design. Jak's spinning-attack animation harkens back to Crash Bandicoot, but the writing and voice-acting are miles ahead of Dr. Cortex's cartoony machinations. Obviously some of the story-telling elements will seem lacking compared to Naughty Dog's modern work, but the charm and spirit shines brightly on Vita.
But enough of this, Alex told me that Jak 2 kicks the crap out of Precursor Legacy, so I jumped into the next game and barreled through several hours on a lazy Saturday. As shiny and polygon-stuffed as the Uncharted games are, I preferred Jak 2's free-roaming, hover car-stealing, and punch-spamming. Every animation and sound rings true with cartoony goodness, giving me the impression that I really, really screwed up buying a Gamecube way back when.
I spent a little time with Jak 3 as well, but it should be clear that this is an excellent collection of gameplay that still stands tall today. Even in the shadow of fungified mutant monsters, Drake and Sully's relationship, and Jak's poor fashion choices, all three Naughty Dog games in this collection are still… wait for it… Naughty Dog games.
Aside from the issue with navigating between games above, you might also want to note that the Jak & Daxter HD Collection on PS3 is now $10 cheaper than this Vita version, and neither provide cross-buy keys. The camera can get a little awkward and my fat fingers never seemed to miss the rear touch panel, throwing me into first-person camera view inadvertently. Still, I feel stupid for taking this long to play the series.
What the Vita lacks in software, it makes up for in opportunity. UI tweaks, perfectly mapped controls, and a beautiful translation to the Vita's portable screen make it perfect for anyone traveling for the summer, sitting on the toilet in need of PS2 greatness, or even people like me who just missed Jak & Daxter's adventures the first time around.
Copy provided by publisher. Review based on Vita version. Also available on PS3.