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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Platformer

 

Publisher

SCEA

 

Developer

Naughty Dog

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

December 2001

 

- Expansive, amazingly beautiful environments

- Intuitive Controls

- Great sound, voice acting

- Balance gameplay

- Old school platform gaming

 

 

- Very few boss battles

- Slightly Cliché

 

 

Interview: Jason Rubin of Naughty Dog

Rayman 2 (Playstation 2) Review

Super Mario Advance (Gameboy Advance) Review

 

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Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy

Score: 9.5/10

Simple enough for kids and complex enough for older gamers, Jak & Daxter is a godsend to the waning platform gaming world. As an essential component of the birth of console video games, platformers are taking a back seat in this world of Halos and Metal Gear Solids. Yet even where they excel, they have become a clever morphing of action/adventure and traditional Super Mario-esque game playing. With J&D, Sony is hoping to recapture the mascot induced console recognition of yester-year. Sega has Sonic, Nintendo has Mario and Sony has had Crash but they have also been going through a slight identity crisis for the past 6 years or so. With the Bandicoot’s less than stellar debut on the PS2, J&D are here to pick up the slack and with any luck, we’ll all pull ourselves away from this years slew of “Mature” themed games and settle in for the best platformer yet released for this hardware generation.

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Developed by the same people who brought us the Bandicoot with an attitude there are many similar themes to be found between the two games. Jak is designed with the same jagged, strident qualities as Crash plus they both spin attack and spend one fourth of their time smashing boxes and collecting orb like objects (really egg-shaped). The environments are also very similar, extremely varied and drastic. When it’s snowy it’s really snowy, when there’s lava, it’s like being in the depths of Hell. But what Jak lacks in attitude his sidekick Daxter makes up for even though he’s only 3 feet tall. He’s the persistent, annoying comedy relief that will actually make you laugh from time to time. What emerges is a Disney-like story set in an exceptionally well-crafted world.

 

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As usual, the evil people of the world are doing their thing but the game somehow avoids mentioning them too often. The real opposition in the story is the fact that Daxter (who already looks like a rodent) has fallen into a vat of cosmic ooze called Dark Eco and transformed into a squirrel/rat/cat like animal. Jak sets out with his buddy on his shoulder to find a cure. Although the real-time cut scenes are not very frequent and definitely win no award for profundity, the story still retains an unmistakable cinematic air.

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Every noticeable aspect of J&D is even better than you would think at first glance. Beginning with the graphics, they’re colorful, rich, rock solid, thoughtfully designed, fresh and imaginative. But even better, they are so completely 3D and expansive you really feel like you’re interacting with a fictional, cartoon world. Unlike platform games of the past, there is no break between levels beside the occasional cut scene. Otherwise, the entire game world flows like one massive level with only infinitesimal in-game load time between areas. Consequentially, you can stand atop a mountain or temple and see the entire landmass in sharp resolution. It’s absolutely beautiful! From the tallest mountains to the grains of sand that fly as Jak runs, Naughty Dog has created one of the most visually enchanting platform worlds we’ve ever seen. The real-time lighting effects of the rising and setting sun happily compliment the painstakingly detailed environment. The look of a level changes with the change in daytime; shadows elongate, and honey golden light pours across the scene in the late evening.

Character animations are some of the most fluid and lifelike ever seen on a game of this type. The movements are so lifelike and dramatic at a near flawless 60fps that you’ll sometimes feel like you’re controlling a Disney film. Yet this is most important because it enhances the feel of interacting with the environment - it’s so easy to get Jak to do what you want him to do. You can control his movements and the camera angle with the left and right analog sticks making it a sinch to coordinate position and view at any moment.

Underneath the glamorous graphics though, Jak & Daxter is a true platform game at heart. While the level design and expansive 3D environments blur the lines between action/adventure and platform, J&D draws from the well of most tried and true platform elements but refines them to the level we should expect from the current generation of hardware. Jak can jump, punch, charge, upper-cut or spin attack his way through antagonists or power-ups and ride a flying rocket vehicle or a colorful bird called a “flut flut”. You’ll swim, fly and operate all types of machinery and cannons, climb towers and mountains and traverse realistic lush terrain that’ll make you wanna stop and breath it all in. There are huge temples, villages, beaches and rivers of lava running seamlessly together. The control just feels so amazingly intuitive that simply running around, exploring and finding nothing is fun.

As is also typical of platform games, Jak must extend his abilities and explore to collect many different items. Precursor Orbs are to Jak what rings are to Sonic but they are used throughout the game to exchange for the more important Power Cells which are needed for many different deeds like powering one of the flying rockets. The land is scattered with cells of energy called Eco that come in green, blue and red each with their own attribute and purpose. Green, the most plentiful, adds one unit of health to Jak’s meter once he collects fifty. Blue gives him a momentary magnetic charge to run fast and operate machinery. Red upgrades his attack abilities with a fire charge. The items are worked into the game play well enough that it never seems to become too repetitious - each item has a particular use for advancing through the levels.

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While Jak & Daxter relies on many platforming cliché’s that work out well, the one they abandoned, frequent boss battles, might have helped to clearly define the separate sections of the game. The lack of bosses leaves you wondering sometimes whether or not you’re done in a particular section, as if you’re leaving the job unfinished. Otherwise, the structure and pacing is near perfection. The player can save at any point and is spared the tedium of re-doing tasks by the frequent auto-save points in each level.

Much like the original Crash games, J&D has a groovin’, semi-tribal soundtrack that matches the scenery very well. Atmospheric music pulses with the changing environments and the games many sound effects are satisfying and robust. From the crunch of Jak’s bare feet on grass or sand to the wild splattering sound of his spin attack relieving a Precursor beast of his miserable life, the soundtrack matches the game perfectly. The cut-scene voice acting is also some of the best to date with appealing accents and cartoonish voices.

Unbound in it’s exploration yet linear by format, J&D is a game you’d only replay for the pleasure of seeing it again or searching for those last few orbs you couldn’t find before. A diligent player could finish the game in less than 15 hours but its well worth the time and purchase. On the scale of pure enjoyment, I put J&D higher than many of this years releases for the simple fact that it’s so well designed mixing old school reliables with new school technology. And beyond that, J&D is one of the only games I’ve played this year whose hype shoe fits it’s foot so faultlessly. Let’s hope Naughty Dog hasn’t exhausted their creative nuggets with this one - I’m anxious to see where it goes.

- Doug Flowe

 

(January 8, 2002)

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