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Game Profile
Ready at Dawn
GENRE: Platformer
March 14, 2006

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier

Jak X: Combat Racing

Jak 3

Jak II

More in this Series
 Written by Adam Woolcott  on March 31, 2006

Review: No Jak, no problem.

It's always been Jak's game, but it's always been Daxter's show. The goofy, cocky, exaggeration-prone ottsel (that's half otter, half weasel) has rested on Jak's massive shoulder since the beginning, stealing the spotlight one smart-assed comment at a time; but not any more ? it's time for Dax to spread his wings and fly solo, with nary a Jak in sight. Daxter's self-titled game finally puts him front and center, just as he's always believed himself to be. Daxter is a throwback title, sure to remind gamers of the original adventure, but with the same universe the franchise has called home ever since the end of the Precursor Legacy. And as a PSP exclusive, Daxter has given the hardware a legitimate mascot and perhaps more importantly, the sort of title that provides PSP with some first-party identity.

Daxter is technically a side-story to the Jak universe, though it arguably could be a real sequel to the original Jak & Daxter. The game begins with the dynamic duo landing in Haven City, where Jak is captured by the Baron Praxis and taken away, but Daxter manages to get away. Promising to rescue Jak, Daxter goes on an adventure through Haven City to figure out how to do so. But before he can get too far, he ends up taking a strange profession of being an exterminator, killing a vicious breed of bugs that have been terrorizing the town. In general, the plot takes a huge backseat to action until the very end of the game; developer Ready at Dawn even seems to note this at one point, when Daxter suddenly remembers an important task that had slipped his mind previously ? rescuing Jak. In a game like this, it's not so much the plot that's the driving force; it's the tight, polished, and enjoyable gameplay. On the other hand, the characters are amusing and Daxter is, of course, hilarious.

And glorious it is. It's also very different from the last 2 'normal' games in this franchise. After the platform goodness of Jak & Daxter, Naughty Dog took the series in a darker direction, making Jak a brooding hero and moving away from the pure platforming aspects, instead giving the game a much more action-oriented focus. Daxter on the other hand gets back to basics, and delivers a game that doesn't forget its roots, but instead embraces them. That's not to say Daxter doesn't have any action aside from platform hopping, as that's definitely not the case. When he takes the job as an exterminator, he gets an electrified bug swatter, which becomes your default tool of ass-kickery, at least when you're dealing with weaker bugs. Not long after that, the ottsel acquires a handy piece of equipment in a bug spray canister, that can weaken stronger bugs to make them susceptible to hot bug swatter action. It also functions as a levitation device for the platforming bits. The bug spray also upgrades over time, with more powerful weapons like fire to burn nasties to ashes, etc.

Each stage is generally the same in function; Daxter's goal is to defeat a set amount of bugs in each stage and collect the yellow gem within their bodies. Along with that, you can also collect precursor orbs which unlock some bonus mini-games. You might think this is a little repetitive, and perhaps it is, but in this game, it's not about the destination, it's the journey, and how each level is crafted in such a way that you won't even care that you're repeating the same task over and over. There is some stages to break up the traditional missions; you can hop onto a special speeder and hit the forest where you 'cure' poisoned flowers and take down the nasty queen bugs that cause all this chaos. You'll see a pair of these stages within the first couple hours of play. Like Jak 2 and 3, Daxter takes place in the open world of Haven City, though it's a much smaller chunk of the town. However fans will definitely recognize many of the areas.

But in general each stage is all about hopping from platform to platform. Now it's not brutally hard, as Daxter has a healthy amount of checkpoints and there's unlimited lives, but definitely there's points where you have to tread carefully and deal with the elements. One level, for instance, takes place in a fish factory and you have to time your leaps as to not attract the attention of the larger fish who will eat you without fail. Daxter has a double jump to reach high ledges, he can crawl around to avoid enemies in a stealth aspect, and can jump from wall to wall if there's a place he can grab onto. Then, there's the bug spray. When you're not using it to kill bugs, the spray also turns into a levitation device of sorts, and you can use it to reach ledges that a normal jump can't reach. However you must act fast because you can only do it for a few seconds. However if you can collect the green spray refill orbs that float in an extra-large gap, you can keep on gliding. If there's any sort of fire-spitting device around, Daxter can fly over it which'll shoot him in the air more.

But there's more; there's the Precursor orbs that are strewn around each level ? 1000 in all. Every time you collect 100 of them, a special mini-game opens. When Daxter sleeps on his bed behind the extermination office, you can select his 'dream' sequence that is always a parody of some real movie, such as Braveheart or The Matrix. These games are pretty simple, as you must simply press buttons at the right time to beat up enemies. If you complete it, Daxter can take on the game again with added challenge. While they're all optional, and you could likely never bother with them at all, they have uses in the main game too, as Daxter can unlock more complex moves and techniques. Daxter also can collect special bugs that unlock special modes for multiplayer gaming via wireless LAN, which plays slightly different than the main game.

Like Jak & Daxter before it, this game doesn't really reinvent the wheel, but instead makes a better wheel than most others and gives the PSP the sort of game it sorely needed ? a traditional platform title designed specifically to take advantage of the strengths of the hardware. It's just flat out fun and enjoyable, without any real nagging flaws to ruin things. The controls are smooth and precise, a difficult task sometimes when it comes to the PSP's analog nub. The game doesn't perform like it needs another analog stick or buttons; it's been designed for PSP rather than some other half-cocked scheme that doesn't mold itself to the console. The only real thing to complain about is the camera; sometimes it just doesn't want to give you the best angle to a jump or obstacle, but it's easily adjusted by using the right and left shoulder buttons unless it's a rare spot when the camera is fixed. Aside that, Daxter is one of those games that gets almost everything right and really is an entertaining title and one that is perfect for PSP.

The Jak series on PS2 was famed for its extremely high quality animations, and such is the case with Daxter as well. The little ottsel is loaded with fluid movements and visual design; his movie parody dream sequences hit the mark with charm and authenticity as well. The move to PSP has generally done little to hurt the overall technology of the series either; though the city is a smaller chunk this time around with less people and Crimzon Guard, it looks really sharp on the PSP's screen. Much of the stages in the game are a bit dreary and depressing, but this is Haven City after all. Returning to voice Daxter is Max Kasella, and once again his work is fantastic and gives Dax his great persona. Basically every important returning character also has their familiar voice actor as well. The music is pretty subdued in the game but what's there is comparable to the stuff you've heard in the previous games.

Bottom Line
With so many PSP games being watered-down, uninspired takes on 'big console' games, Daxter is a possible turning point for the portable. It takes a rich universe and focuses it on a very popular character, and didn't just throw him into some clone of Jak 3, but instead designed a game around Daxter and the PSP. Daxter just gets almost everything right and the result is a charming, fluid, and enjoyable platform title and another killer exclusive for PSP. Now we just have to hope Sony doesn't decide to drop it on PS2 later. In the meantime, Daxter is most definitely the first truly great PSP title of 2006, and manages to pull off a minor miracle ? designed to appeal to the Jak & Daxter fan who felt blindsided by how the series progressed, and appeal to the Jak II/3 fan who love Haven City & wanted to see more. It's pretty much the best of both worlds.

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