I am a relative newcomer to PlayStation gaming. I got my PS3, my first Sony platform, just three years ago and I wasn’t really familiar with all the studios and IPs that PlayStation had to offer. Sure, I played Crash Bandicoot many years earlier but I didn’t recognize Naughty Dog until a friend recommended a little series called Uncharted to me. Still, having played and platinumed all three of Drake’s adventures, and having enjoyed The Last of Us more than other games last year, the names Jak and Daxter didn’t really ring a bell.
Luckily for me, the HD remake of the Jak and Daxter trilogy was made available to PlayStation Plus subscribers last September in Europe. I was out on holiday and with no Internet access to grind the Killzone: Mercenary Platinum, so I decided to give the platformer a go, not expecting anything and feeling that it would take me just a couple of minutes to go back to Spelunky or Stealth Inc. Well, 3 days, 4 hours and 45 minutes later, the Platinum was mine and now I’m really looking forward to beating the remaining two games in the series.
If it’s an old-school 3D platformer game that you’re looking for, I don’t think there’s many better choices than Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. The whole game revolves around the premise of scaling the environment, defeating enemies and looking for collectibles, nothing more to it. The controls are also simple so it really takes just a few seconds to get going. It’s exactly this lack of extra features that I find compelling about this game. One thing Jak and Daxter improves on, when compared to other older games in the genre, is its open world nature. Even though not all locations are accessible to the player from the start, there are plenty of places to go, and the order in which those stages are completed is for the player to choose. Granted, the difficulty gradually increases from stage to stage so it’s a good idea to start with the easier ones.
I didn’t find the plot of the game that interesting but that’s not what platformer games are about (right, Mario?). In some kind of fantasy world, two friends witness a strange ritual, after which one of them falls into a pool of mysterious dark eco. Because of this, Daxter is turned into an ottsel, and he and Jak, with the help of other characters, start their quest to turn him back to his human form. Obviously, things don’t go as planned, and the same person who was supposed to change him back emerges as the main villain of the game. As you can see, the story is pretty generic but the character design and the voice acting are executed very well.
Graphically, the game looks like it should for a 12-year old PlayStation 2 game. Having watched some clips of the PS3 version of the game, I have to say that the Vita version looks worse and suffers from occasional frame drops. It’s not ugly, by any means. Let’s just say that it’s not Tearaway. One major problem I had with the game is depth perception, which was often caused by suboptimal camera control. In certain places, I was not able to position the camera in a way that allowed me to properly feel out the distance Jak needed to jump. This resulted in tens of attempts which mostly ended with our hero falling into the abyss and me having to restart a whole section of the game. The checkpoint systems from the previous decade were nothing like they are today so dying often meant going back to the start of the stage. It’s not that bad in The Precursor Legacy, but it did annoy me a few times. I’m all for difficult platforming sections in games like these, but the gameplay can’t get in the way of performing them and I felt this was occasionally the case here.
I lied a bit before, when I said that the game is all about platforming. There are stages in The Precursor Legacy that make Jak and Daxter ride the Zoomer, a hovercraft created by the protagonists’ friend, Keira. I found those stages to be one of the less enjoyable, since the vehicle doesn’t handle that well and it takes some time to get used to its controls. Whether it’s the racing or the obstacle course navigation parts of the game, I would not be disappointed if they were removed from the game in favor of more platforming. I understand the need to put something in the game that breaks the jump/kick gameplay once in a while and making the vehicle fly better would probably make it more fun.
However, those technical hiccups didn’t influence my impression of the game too much and I completely agree with most of the reviews that put the original game in the 90 range on Metacritic. It plays well, the environments are varied and pretty large so there’s little repetition in the game. There’s plenty to explore, some interesting boss battles to fight and, most importantly, many collectibles and trophies to find. Let’s move on to some of the most interesting ones.
| Purple Pain
|Navigate the Purple Precursor Rings|
| I Got The Blues
|Navigate the Blue Precursor Rings|
Did I mention that the Zoomer parts weren’t my favorite? Well, those two trophies won’t let me forget it for quite some time. I honestly believe they were much harder and infuriating than the the three Zoom, Zoom, Zoom ones, which only required to get across a given route, not to mention the Speedy Fast lap on the Gorge. The Precursor ring navigation consists of making it through purple and blue gates before they disappear. Otherwise, Jak goes back to the start and tries again. The thing is, there is no timer that indicates how many seconds are left until the next gate vanishes. The sound changes but that’s not enough of an indicator to me. Also, usually one mistake means that there won’t be enough time to double back and try to get to the gate. This really got to me, especially since on a couple of occasions I was sure I went through the gate but the hit zone of the object didn’t register the Zoomer.
It’s not at all impossible to beat those courses but it takes some time and the challenge goes beyond the gameplay difficulty. Again, strange camera behavior and awful steering makes it much harder than it should be. Just in case you want to see how it’s done, take a look at this YouTube clip for help. The problem with having to start from the beginning of the course means that the first gates are mastered and after a while I got so used to beating them that I started underestimating them and paid no attention, which resulted in me making even more mistakes in the earlier parts of the challenge. If the handling was just a little bit better…
| Black Thumb
|Defeat the Dark Eco Plant|
| Battle Hardened
|The Final Battle Against Gol and Maia|
Now we’re talking! Bosses! I love bosses in platformer games. The challenge of trying to figure out the patterns and then executing the proper moves to avoid the attacks and retaliate at just the perfect moment. Knowing, that there are probably several ‘forms’ of the boss and their offensive and defensive powers will increase with each hit I throw. That’s what I’m talking about! There are only three bosses, one of which is optional, in The Precursor Legacy, so that is a downgrade compared with the the recent Sly Cooper game. Still, avoiding lava boulders thrown at Jak by Klaww and shooting Gol and Maya while escaping the massive explosions by boost jumping using the blue eco were among the top experiences in the game.
If you’re looking for tips on how to beat them, let me quickly go through their patterns. The Dark Eco Plant is the easiest one. Just avoid the lurkers it sends at you and when it opens its leaves, jump on them and hit the bastard in the head. Repeat the sequence the well-established number of three times and it’s over. Klaww is also pretty straightforward. Avoid the boulders and when a platform appears in the middle run towards the boss and use the yellow eco to shoot him down. Make sure to keep shooting until he topples over and quickly run back like Indiana Jones with yet another boulder rolling down the platform, trying to squish you. Guess how many hits it takes to defeat Klaww. The final boss uses three different weapons against you, all of which need to be taken out using yellow eco. First, Gol and Maia shoot lasers from the robot’s head, then they throw red bombs that produce a blast that needs to be avoided. Finally, they shoot flaming missles using the robot’s cannon. Each time, Jak and Daxter have to pick up yellow eco and destroy the robot’s offensive part. After that, use the blue eco to jump off the platform to avoid the explosion.
| The Super Orberator
|Collect 2000 Precursor Orbs|
The number of orbs that need to be collected in this game is too damn high! Imagine how easy it is to miss one of those. Fortunately, each section of the game has its own collectibles counter so that narrows it down a little bit. If you add the 112 Scout Flies and 101 Power Cells, that’s a lot of things to discover. For a relatively old game such as this, I really appreciate the fact that the progress is very well indicated. Each Power Cell is awarded for completing a ‘mission’ in the game and there are always 7 Scout Flies in every section. However, in the end I was still 5 orbs short in the Forbidden Jungle section. I finally gave up and looked it up on the Internet and it turned out I wasn’t the only one with this problem. The solution was simple, although the game didn’t indicate that was the way to do it. After you defeat the Dark Eco Plant you can jump on its head up to five times, getting five extra orbs. It would’ve been nice for the game to show that needed to be done, especially that it’s the only place in the game where the enemy contains hidden orbs.
| Top of the Heap
|You have mastered the game and collected all there is to collect!|
Looking back at the blog post, I kind of seem to be complaining about the game a lot. However, those are the only things I have against it. I really enjoyed it and as far as platformer games go it’s one of the best one’s I’ve ever played. I recently started Jak 2: Renegade and the formula there has changed a lot. I will Platinum it soon, so stay tuned and be part of my journey 13 years back, discovering those PlayStation 2 gems for the first time.