What ever happened to Jak and Daxter? Back in the heady days of the new millennium they had it all. Edgy yet cartoony look, and an interesting story - which was a little deeper and darker than it might have initially appeared for a game featuring a wise-cracking furry sidekick.
The talent pool at Naughty Dog had clearly had enough of the crate-smashing Crash Bandicoot, and were keen to prove they had a bit more depth, and were capable of more than just planting witch doctor masks, crates and gems for collecting.
After three successful J&D titles on PS2, a couple of PSP spinoffs, and a racing game, Naughty Dog turned their attention away from J&D to their new star, Nathan Drake, and set about getting him in and out of scrapes and adventures.
Well, brace yourselves, NZGamers, J&D are back for 2012, and they’ve had a bit of a facelift. The Jak and Daxter Collection released this month on PS3, allowing you to either recapture your youth by playing a nostalgia trip through all three games again, or discover this classic series for the first time.
Naughty Dog have been involved in the redevelopment, alongside Mass Media, which has brought J&D better graphics by way of higher frame rates, and additional features for the PlayStation Network (PSN).
So who are our heroes? Jak is the strong silent type, Daxter is the wise-cracking furry sidekick. (Who is universally acknowledged to be one of the funniest video game ‘supporting actors’ of all time - he’s definitely stood the test of time.)
The plot of the first game is reasonably simple: the people of Old World live surrounded by relics created by a far older civilisation, called the Precursors. Not much is known about them, but their technology appears to have been based upon power cells and eco: crackling balls of energy which come in different coloured forms. Our heroes stumble across a bunch of bad dudes harnessing the power of Dark Eco, which kicks off a series of events which mean... it’s time to save the world. (Naturally.)
In the interests of avoiding spoilers, we won’t go into too much detail about the plot of the next two games, but it’s basically the same characters in the same universe, finding all new ways to save the world.
So how do our beloved heroes and Old World look after a bit of spruce up? In short, they look good. Like they’ve just stepped out of the salon, in fact. Bearing in mind how much games and gaming technology have evolved and improved in the 11 years since the first title launched, this revamp has been expertly done, and ensures that Jak and Daxter don’t have that ‘pixelated’ look that old games tend to, when you go back to look at them years later.
The PSN was of course just a twinkle in Sony’s eye when the first J&D game was released, however the revamped J&D Collection includes about 100 trophies to earn as you work your way through the three games, which is quite nice for the kind of players who like that sort of thing.
In terms of playability, it plays basically exactly the same as the original games did. (Because, let’s face it, in terms of configuration and layout, the PlayStation 3 controller isn’t much different to what the PlayStation 2 controller was like, apart from being lighter. And wireless.) And as far as difficulty goes, this is not one of those games where you secretly know it’s a bit too easy for you, but don’t really want to say it out loud; there are some genuinely tricky things to try and tough your way through here - some of the challenges in these games will push you, but there’s nothing a determined NZGamer can’t handle.
The only mild criticism of the controls would be around the camera, which seems to need a lot of hand-holding - unlike the sophisticated automation we have become accustomed to in more recent titles where you can just run around, and the camera will follow you without getting tangled up in trees or behind waterfalls. It needs a bit of readjustment throughout, but once you get used to it, it doesn’t detract too much from the gameplay.
In terms of value, this title is very competitively priced at around $70. Especially since you know that for your investment you are getting three games, which you know are all good: all three went PlayStation Platinum the first time around, and all three scored highly with critics and fans.
If we’re lucky, it could be that this re-launch has been a test, to see if the audience for this sort of game is still interested. It has been a long time between drinks, but maybe it could be time for a new title? After all Ratchet and Clank are still going after all this time...maybe Jak and Daxter could dust off the mothballs, and get back on the eco again? We can but hope...