Everyone remembers their first. Even if their first was seventeen years ago.
Jak and Daxter was the very first video game I ever played. It’s a game that has been a part of my life for literally as long as I can remember. That and The Simpsons: Hit and Run, as well as Grand Theft Auto 3.
One of those things was not like the other. Well, at least not until Jak 2.
The plot of Jak and Daxter is exceptionally simple. Troublemaking duo Jak and Daxter make their way to Misty Island, despite the warnings of their teacher, Samos. Here, they witness a totally-not-evil-why-do-you-ask meeting between to totally-not-evil looking dudes and a bunch of monsters. While sneaking around, Daxter ends up falling into a pool of Dark Eco, which turns him into a small furry creature. Now the two must travel across the land, collecting all kinds of spherical objects in order to stop the evil plan and return Daxter to his original form!
The story in this game isn’t exceptionally complicated. None of the characters have any depth beyond one or two character traits. Jak is your typical silent protagonist, Daxter a wise-cracker, Keira is a mechanic with a thing for Jak, Samos is the short-fused wise man, so on and so forth. It’s basically just a playable Saturday morning cartoon.
And I love it. Is that nostalgia talking? Maybe. But if four year old me and twenty-one year old me agree, which they don’t often do, then I’ll have to trust them.
This game is populated by a whole slew of one-dimensional cartoon characters. From uptight rich folks to cowardly nights to backwater hillbillies, the cast of this game is expansive, diverse, and simple. It really does feel like every character and the mission they give you are just an episode in a children’s cartoon and I love it.
It certainly helps that it looks the part, too. This game is bright, colorful, and… well, cartoonish, for lack of a better word. The character designs are over-the-top and perfectly communicate what kind of person that character is. The environments are each distinct, with their own color pallet and aestetic. Sure, they all boil down to one-word descriptors; lava level, ice level, beach, jungle, so on and so forth. But they each look memorable and fun in their own way!
Music wise, this game leaves a bit to be desired. I can only kind of remember one track. Everything else is just a blank. None of it is bad music; it never made me yearn for death. But I just can’t remember any of it!
Thankfully, this game nails it in the most department of all: the gameplay. And by ‘nails’, I mean it knocks the nail straight in with one powerful, clean, perfect hit!
At its core, Jak and Daxter is your typical collectithon 3D platformer. Jak can punch, jump, spin, roll, or combine some of these moves in order to overcome the various enemies and platforming obstacles in his path. Along the way, you’ll collect a ton of Precursor Orbs (which are more like eggs than orbs but whatever) and these little scout robots trapped in boxes. Get enough of them and you can trade them for the most important collectible of all: the Power Cells.
There are three things that set this game apart from other 3D platformers of the time. Those being: Eco, vehicles, and the interconnected levels.
Let’s start with Eco. These globs of energy floating all around the world gives you access to a whole slew of abilities. Green Eco is your health; get fifty of these tiny orbs or one big orb and regain one hit. Blue Eco envelops Jak in lightning, speeding him up and drawing nearby items towards him. Red Eco increases firepower, making you hit harder. Yellow Eco grants Jak the power to throw fireballs, destroying everything in his wake at a distance. You can get these from floating orbs or flowing vents all over the world.
The second is the hoverbike. You’ll be hopping on this vehicle fairly often in order to participate in extra objectives or reach new areas. These objectives are fairly simple; drive through loops, compete in a time trial, so on. Honestly, these segments have never been my favorite. Not only does the sound of its engine quickly get on your nerves, but the actual levels themselves just aren’t that interesting. I always want these levels to end as quickly as possible.
So imagine my four-year-old self’s delight when he discovered how central this was for Jak 2 and 3.
Finally, there’s the interconnected world. This isn’t like other 3D platformers of the time. None of the levels are segmented off behind some painting or an overworld menu. You can walk from the first level all the way to the last with few to no loading screens. It’s not much, but for a PS2 platformer?
That’s a pretty impressive feat! One that lends itself really well to speed-running! Seriously, Jak and Daxter speed-runs are freaking nuts!
This game is so much damn fun. It’s so simple, but it squeezes out every last bit of potential from its mechanics. When I’m judging a platformer, this is among my top comparisons! I loved it as a kid and I love it now! If you still haven’t played Jak and Daxter, I’d highly recommend giving it a shot!
Holy shit, a Naughty Dog game that I reviewed positively? Never thought I’d see the day!