Before they sent Nathan Drake all over the world searching for treasure and his ancestor, Naughty Dog created Jak and Daxter, a Crash Bandicoot-style platformer that initially started off as a light hearted adventure that later spawn two sequels with an overarching storyline (and a bit of retconning). Back in the day, Jak and Daxter was a celebrated series in the Playstation 2’s library and like most HD collections, it will interest those who a) have a fondness for the series or b) have not played them before. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, HD collections are a good way to attract new players with games they can’t normally play on non-backwards compatible consoles.
Jak And Daxter pits the our heroes against dark forces that besiege the land, searching for Precursor artifacts and methods of weaponizing a substance called Dark Eco, a black goo that has transformed Daxter into a small, furry ocelot. After saving the day, Jak discovers a Precursor artifact that summons a terrifying creature that hurls the boy and his friends into the future where the evil Baron Praxis has subjugated the land. Jak II picks up five years after Jak’s capture and torture by Praxis. Freed from prison by Daxter, the now talkative Jak joins up with a local resistance movement to seek revenge against his tormentor and ultimately come face to face with a terrifying foe who carries a secret about our hero. In the final game of the series, Jak and Daxter are exiled out of the city after a brazen attack by metalheads and the remnants of Praxis’ forces. Believing Jak to be the cause of the assault, he is sentenced to die in the vast, deadly wastelands. He eventually falls in with a band of Mad Max-style road warriors and sets out to prove his innocence, unaware that the journey will lead him face to face with the mysterious Precursors.
After spending about five minutes with Jak and Daxter, it’s easy to spot the similarities to Crash Bandicoot, as both games are stylistically the same. Jak can attack his foes by spinning, punching and collecting picks up that will help him along the way. There’s a lot more content here than a typical Crash Bandicoot title (from what I remember, at least) and instead of moving from stage to stage, Jak and Daxter is more open world as multiple paths exist in any given world. Some paths, however, are blocked off until you manage to locate a specified number of collectible power cores or activate certain switches. Each world has a number of inhabitants who need your help collecting a lost item or, in most cases, bring them X number of Precursor Orbs. To keep things interesting, the game mixes things up by including several different type of vehicle segments.
Jak and Daxter has an old school feel to it, something that didn’t carry over to Jak II and III because of a little game called Grand Theft Auto III. See, Rockstar’s open world crime sim took the world by storm and it wasn’t long before other studios saw the critical and financial success of the game and adopted the formula. Jak and Daxter were somewhat non-linear to begin with so the sequels don’t seem like an outright ripoff of GTA, but the structural overhaul and changes in tone almost feel a bit like they were pandering to an audience hungry for more of what Rockstar gave them. The bright, cheery and happy go lucky world of Jak and Daxter is replaced with an dark, urban dystopia and, more importantly, “edge.” Jak could let his Dark Eco-infused rage get the better of him, turning the boy into the Incredible Hulk for a few moments. If that weren’t enough, Jak’s friends happily give him a gun in order to blast his foes into oblivion. Edgy!
When the games were originally released on the Playstation 2, their cartoony visuals and design made them look fantastic and vibrant. Well, the first game mostly. The color palettes take on a more earthy flavor for the sequels. Still, the games look wonderful, clear and crisp on a 1080p television screen. If you want to compare the three games, Jak and Daxter is the obvious winner because it is consistently colorful. Remember when games deliberately chose not to use the same old boring color schemes? Yeah, those were the days. Each game in the collection run fairly smoothly, although I experienced a number of framerate hiccups in Jak II, usually before an autosave checkpoint.
I really enjoyed the Jak and Daxter series. Until I remembered all the problems that used to send me into fits of frustrated rage. The camera in Jak and Daxter absolutely sucked as you could only zoom in and out and pan left to right, making for a constant (and losing) battle for dominance. You can’t adjust the speed for the camera pans, resulting in lots of cheap deaths from off screen foes. Double jumping, the most important ability in the game, isn’t as responsive as it should be. These issues were adjusted for Jak II and III, but I was sad to see no effort made to tweak the mechanics a bit before shipping the game. Additional tweaking should have been done to the vehicles in Jak II because they are still as terribly loosey goosey as I remember. Missions that have you racing against the clock are often unfairly difficult because of “close, but no cigar” rubber band AI moments. I can’t tell you how angry I’d get after seeing my vehicle destroyed mere inches from a checkpoint or finish line because enemies shooting at me or the legion of idiotic drivers.
The Jak and Daxter HD Collection is a nice little piece of history coded onto a disc. If the Uncharted series has made you a Naughty Dog fan, then by all means give their previous works a shot (if anything, you’ll get the reference behind the furry animal logo on Elena Fisher’s wetsuit). Just understand that these games from a different era, a time before 3D platformers truly evolved. You’ll struggle quite a bit with most parts, but if you can power through you’ll experience a delightful Naughty Dog tale.