So I know what you all are thinking, another platform game?! Well think again - while Jak and Daxter is not going to completely revolutionize the genre, it is definitely making its way to perfecting it. The game takes place on a series of islands (mainly one large one) where an ancient race of technologically savvy creatures known as the Precursors have become extinct, leaving lots of technology and mysteries to discover. One of these mysteries is "Eco" - the essence of life that seems to spout out of small geysers all around the islands.
The story begins as two boys, Jak and Daxter disobey the Great Sage Samos, master of Green Eco, and travel to the dangerous Misty Island one night to explore. They overhear the evil Gol and Maia plotting and scheming of world domination, but don't think too much of it at the time. Daxter stumbles upon a Precursor artifact, which doesn't seem like a very big deal, since the Precursors have left tons of objects all around the world. However, when Jak picks up the relic it mysteriously begins to glow. They are soon caught by a guard, and must act fast. Jak tosses the glowing orb dispatching the guard. Unfortunately your childhood chum Daxter has been knocked back by the strong blast and finds himself swimming in a vat of Dark Eco and has transformed into a ferret like creature. This paves way for the main task of the game, to get Daxter back to his original form.
Eco comes in many different flavors, some good and some bad. Blue Eco gives you the power to make machinery energized as well as give you a speed boost and the ability to gather objects quickly like a magnet. Yellow Eco allows projectiles of energy to be fired from Jak's hands, which makes killing enemies much easier. Green Eco revitalizes Jak and increases his health, which is critical to surviving the Precursor's trials. Red Eco allows Jak to deal more damage, while Dark Eco, as described above is, responsible for Daxter's transformation, and is evil.
Get ready to test your jump and run skills to the max, as Naughty Dog continues in the Crash Bandicoot tradition by pushing the genre to its limits, only this time in a free roaming 3D space, with a variety of moves that will keep you entertained. They have basically taken all the proven pieces of the puzzle and made them better. For starters, the addition of a rotating camera system throughout the game works really well. If that wasn't enough, the developers have also put a first person view mode, accessible via the triangle button. Controls are very smooth and responsive, leaving only your skills to limit your movement. As far as environments go you will see everything from murky swamps, lava flowing fire canyons, sandy beaches, and an assortment of villages, just to name a few. Each one of these lands will submerge you deeper and deeper into the Precursor world.
The enemies throughout the game, although basic in their intelligence, are still enjoyable with their cute antics, and comic personalities. The boss fights you encounter will evolve the combat and be a nice change from the mindless dispatching of enemies, and will require more thought. While the core of the game is the basic run and gather items formula, the way Naughty Dog has designed tasks and goals in order to progress is refreshing, and keeps the game from getting repetitive. For instance, you have to catch an artist's muse, catch local fish in the river, water contaminated plants, and race against the clock, just to name a few goals. The two items the duo will collect during their travels are Precursor Orbs and Energy Balls, which are integral to opening up new parts of the world, and allowing the mystery of the Precursor Islands to unfold. Along your journey you will also come across a few vehicles to get around on. These vehicles allow Jak and Daxter to travel to places they wouldn't otherwise be able to.
It is hard for a player not to notice the amazing engine technology the guys over at Naughty Dog have created. The engine itself is enough to warrant, I believe, over three years of development. The number of polygons on screen at one time is quite impressive, and I saw no slow down no matter how many enemies I tried to wrangle on screen at once. You can actually go to the highest point in the world and see as far in any direction without any clipping plane in sight. The particles and on screen effects rival or equal any I have seen on the PS2 so far, and they really contribute to making the world feel alive. When I saw the great liquid and fire effects, I knew the developers had done their homework. There is also a complete day and night cycle to the world and, if you pay close attention, weather and lighting will change as time passes. What's really fantastic about the engine is the fact that there are no load times throughout the game - that's right, all game data is completely streamed in real time so you can kiss those empty black screens goodbye! This really contributes to staying immersed in the world.
Another surprise to me was the great management of textures within the game - as many of you know the PS2 has a smaller amount of memory for textures than other consoles, and sometimes if you look closely enough you can see where tiling occurs. In Jak and Daxter this is not very apparent, and it seems like the artists and programmers have worked their magic once again. The animations are also top notch and while there may be some motion capture used, it still appears to be 100% hand done. The animators have really mastered the quick and smooth look that matches the bubbly look of the characters they have created. While the background music is minimal, it definitely assists in creating a compelling atmosphere. In game voices are top notch, and don't wear on your nerves as other games sometimes do. Cutscenes are all done in the engine, and is scripted wonderfully, with much attention to detail.
With so many compliments, there are a few things in this gamer's mind that would make for a better experience. The first is the world - with the world being as big as it is it would have been really nice to have an on screen map - with the numerous places to visit, I got kind of lost trying to recall which location went to where. It would have been nice also if the map could display what items and percentage complete each area was. This would have been a lot easier than the objective screens you had to flip through. The only other thing I would have really liked to see is more play time with Daxter. Imagine Jax gets captured or stuck in Eco or something, so you must switch to only play Daxter. You could get a whole new set of moves and abilities that would allow Daxter to go places that Jax couldn't based on their different sizes. This would have added even more depth to the game play, and perhaps we will see it in the next incarnation of their adventures.
With all this said, I must give Naughty Dog credit for creating a game that can truly be enjoyed by people of all ages. Whether you are thirteen or thirty, Jak and Daxter brings something special to the table. Its technology is superb and is leading the way other companies should harness the power of the PS2. So for all of you thinking platformers are just for kids, you couldn't be more incorrect!