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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Platform

 

Publisher

SCEA

 

Developer

Naughty Dog

 

ESRB

T (Teen)

 

Released

October 2003

 

- Goddamned gigantic world
- Huge gameplay variety
- Daxter

 

 

- Goddamned gigantic world is kinda empty
- Some gameplay elements not fully fleshed out
- Frustrating at times

 

 

Review: Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (Playstation 2)

Review: Ratchet and Clank (Playstation 2)

Review: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus (Playstation 2)

 

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Jak II

Score: 8.4 / 10

 

Somewhere along the line, it become an unwritten rule that platforming games not starring overweight plumbers had to have some sort of cutesy mascot creature star. I personally blame this on the Great Sonic the Hedgehog Clone Debacle of the 1990s (Aero the Acrobat and Awesome Possum, may you rot in hell), but it's still a trend that's echoing here and now. Jak and Daxter was a reasonably decent platformer brought out by developer Naughty Dog in 2001, but for the most part, it was a prettier version of Crash Bandicoot taken off the rails. But for the sequel, the designers decided it was not only time to evolve the gameplay, but alter the lighthearted, colorful tone into something you wouldn't feel embarrassed about playing.  The result is Jak II, a game being marketed as more "mature".

 

jak-ii-a.jpg (54561 bytes)          jak-ii-b.jpg (42449 bytes)

 

Of course, by "mature", you won't be seeing gallons of blood or strippers running throughout the street or even much cursing. Instead, Jak II thrusts the characters from the original into a dystopian future where everything more or less sucks. Jak is immediately kidnapped for some mysterious reason and is experimented on by the evil Baron Praxis, before being busted out by our favorite ferret-thing Daxter. Seeking not only revenge but answers as well, Jak and Daxter set out to explore this ruined dump of a future world. It's an interesting juxtaposition to see the cartoonish elf character designs given a hard edge, but it gives the game a rather unique charm - much like, say, seeing Mickey Mouse wielding a machine gun and kung fu fighting ninjas. It's not something you see much outside of anime, and it's even more intriguing coming from an American game.

 

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The unfortunate result of the change in tone is that the game loses its gorgeous colorful world in place of a dark and dingy one, but still manages to look great, especially with the day/night changes simulated by the game. And it still features amazing huge environments without any real load times - once you climb to the top of the city to get an aerial view and witness the expanses that you travel, you begin to wonder what sort of mad programming geniuses Naughty Dog has locked in their basement.

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While the game features the same solid platforming action as the original, there's a lot more changes to the core structure. It's like developers decided to take the original Jak and Daxter, and mix it up with every recent chart topping game in the past year. There's a sprawling cityscape ripped from Grand Theft Auto, where the primary method of getting around is carjacking various flying vehicles. You've got a hoverboard letting you grind around stages a la Tony Hawk Pro Skater.  And in a nod to friendly competitor Ratchet and Clank, you can wield a small variety of weaponry rather than merely jumping or spinning at them, per usual platformer protocol. There's even a few racing segments straight from whatever futuristic hover racer you feel like naming. It's pretty amazing that these seemingly disparate elements actually fit in the context of the game and not only feels very cohesive, but ensures that practically every missions has some unique element to it.

 

Unfortunately, this is where the problems tend to start - most of the new features tend to come up a bit short. The new city is huge and while there's tons to see, there's just not a lot to do. Despite some cool hovercar chases and Crazy Taxi-esque escort missions, the landscape really just acts as large space between levels. It's really rocking at first, but after a few hours, you just wish there was some sort of teleporter to
make things a bit quicker. I think Naughty Dog wanted you to explore the city, but this would only make sense if there were lots of hidden missions or goodies to find - which, by the way, are conspicuous in their absence. That being said, it's still less painful than Wind Waker's absurdly large overworld.

 

jak-ii-c.jpg (53812 bytes)          jak-ii-d.jpg (49554 bytes)

 

On a similar note, while the addition of weaponry definitely adds some spice to the gameplay, there's only a handful of weapons, and the lack of strafing or any semblance of lock-on mechanism makes certain situations more awkward than they need to be. And the hoverboarding sections are some of the most difficult parts of the game - primarily due to the fact that you can't wield weapons when riding on it.

 

On a whole, the game difficulty overall is pretty well balanced - you'll tend to die at least a few times in each new level, but if you any have any semblance of patience, it won't wear you too thin. There are a couple of missions that are rather irritating in design, usually because the screen is flooded with an uncountable legion of guards closing in from every direction and hitting you with attacks you can't see. And don't get me started on any of the timed "retrieve X number of objects" missions, which are the worst at potentially creating broken PS2 controllers. It feels a bit unbalanced when you spend an hour on one section and then breeze through the next in ten minutes, but at least the game tends to lower its own difficulty a bit if you spend too much of your time dying. And you certainly get your money's worth - expect around twenty hours worth of play before you reach the end.

 

Despite these annoying situations, Jak II's only real flaw is that it falls victim to its own over-ambitiousness. It tries to to do too much at once, and while it generally succeeds, there's still some room for a bit of spit and polish. That being said, Jak II is still one of the better platformers on the PS2, and with its less vomit inducing tone, is worth checking out even if you usually dismiss titles like this.

 

- Kurt Kalata

(November 15, 2003)

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