The lights are on
Following in the footsteps of a majority of Playstation series of the last few years, Jak and Daxter has at least debuted its own HD collection on the PS3. With its three games of the Precursor Legacy, Jak II, and Jak III, Jak and Daxter’s HD Collection revisits its past to deliver another satisfactory package of nostalgia in the midst of a decidedly average presentation. Though marked with their own variety of flaws, the draw of its games’ beloved characters and impressive graphics should nevertheless give players either new or old to the series a reason to take a walk down memory lane or experience this amusing series for the first time.
Among the unremarkable content of most HD collections, Jak and Daxter proves to be no exception and offers little apart from its PS2 classics. The core gameplay and story remains unchanged for its remastering and, unfortunately, does not allow for changing games without quitting your gaming session. On another note, the games aren’t any different to look at either. Although portrayed in the 720 high definition standard to the PS3, the collection’s graphics are disappointingly similar to their original quality except for a slightly better frame rate. This is by no means a fail, though. Even a decade or so after their release, all three Jak and Daxter retain their groundbreaking visuals. Their levels keep all of their colorful character designs and vibrant levels and still impress in the current-gen. The most positive aspect is the typical addition of trophy support for the collection. Numbering 127 trophies in all, the collection boasts three of the easiest platinums on the PS3 and if nothing else, is a boon to trophy fanatics.
More important than the collection’s exclusive features are, of course, the three classic games themselves. Rather than dissect any of their pros and cons on a very technical level, I don’t assign any kind of official score to any one of them in my review and opted to score the general quality of all three games combined on the collection itself. So as not to give any longwinded or formal reviews for them individually, I chose instead to merely summarize my experience with each of them, jotting down just a few of my thoughts about their overall level of enjoyment.
Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
In spite of hitting shelves over a decade ago way back in 2001, Jak and Daxter’s very first game still shines in all its charm and glory to showcase some of the best graphics and platforming of the PS2’s infancy. It’s seemed to age the best out of all the three games and, while obviously primitive to today’s standards, is really rather fun. Hanging around the “Old World” (I think that’s all it’s called later in the series) with pals Daxter and Keira, little elfin guy Jak gets himself and company in a big ‘ole mess of trouble and has to stop some evil sages from doing bad juju magic/stuff with the power of Eco energy. Taking a cue from Mario, silent Jak is played off of by some amusing one-liners from Daxter and the rest of the cast feels warm and jovial in their comic-mischief.
The game’s plat-former focus works well and, with only slight issues in responsiveness, is easy to handle and allows you to really explore the world. Levels are that whimsical shade of cartoon style cheer while the bosses themselves are pretty gimmicky and unremarkable. There are also plenty of collectibles in the forms of literally hundreds of Pre-Cursor Orbs. Despite having so many to collect, most of them are practically in plain sight and are fairly disappointing challenges to locate post-game. Vehicle missions work surprisingly well in contrast to most games of this era and provide for some change of pace from the constant romps on foot.
The game is a great starter for new players in its easy difficulty as well and is a fantastic throwback to simpler times in gaming. Fans of old will no doubt recall this game the most and probably for good reason.
Taking a major 180 from the first Jak, Naughty Dog abandoned the franchise’s light-hearted, silly nature in favor of a darker, grittier story that would produce the troubled product of Jak II. Set immediately after the secret ending of the Precursor Legacy, Jak and Daxter’s cast are radically morphed into edgier characters fitting in with the game’s dystopian universe that Jak and company are hurled into following the secret ending of the Precursor Legacy. Set in the distant future, Jak and friends are plopped straight into the war-zone of Haven City and left with no choice but to fight the city’s evil baron (Name:???). Introducing the series’s trademark sense of decidedly crasser humor, the overall game feels far more chaotic and dreery, though not without some amount of laughs from time to time. Be warned that, like with any movie/tv show to include it, the time-travel twists don’t exactly fit perfectly into the plot but at least comes with one very good surprise twist.
More important is the frustrating gameplay at the heart of the game. With the more macho tone of the entry, combat take more precedent with an appropriate use of Ratchet & Clank style laser rifles, shotguns, and bazookas. These are generally great if not for the awful lack of a lock-on feature for targeting enemies and proves utterly frustrating. While on the move in battle, this problem is magnified immensely with the hoards of enemies and very tough bosses you’ll encounter. The vehicle missions they include this time around are more uncomfortably frequent as well tricky and unresponsive. Most of them are the only way to get around the city and prove equally annoying even though good in concept. The plus of Jak II’s gameplay comes through with Jak’s new Dark Eco version of himself that makes him go on a wild rampage, smashing enemies like the Hulk and remaining invincible for a short time. There are still Pre-Cursor orbs are still present, albeit fewer and more challenging to find, and this time grant some much needed and interesting in-game bonuses.
Jak II, regardless of all its potential, is unfortunately the one entry that drags down the rest of trilogy. It’s harsh difficulty and unenjoyable mechanics artificially extend what should be only a 6-8 hr. game but I toughed it out for a Platinum anyway. Like I said, it has one cool ending and hardcore fans will want to see it.
Following the quest of Jak II, Jak 3 continued the similar storytelling and gameplay of its predecessor with the addition of a few significant improvements. Set immediately after the second game, Jak and Daxter are exiled (for reasons I still can’t fully understand) in the world’s desert region and join up with the local bandits to battle it out with the rising Metal Head creatures threatening the city. The story is a tad less emo than its predecessor with a fair amount of humor, but includes the greatest amount of answers to the trilogy’s questions with an even better surprise ending than II’s in its attention to Daxter’s character.
Much of the gameplay form Jak II remains very similar, though with much appreciated access to way more high-powered weapons to compensate for the large amounts of enemies. This should be much appreciated and boss fights as well as enemy hoards are far more tolerable and even more fun with their better use of creativity. Vehicle missions come in the style of Max Max with you zooming up and down the desert (perhaps too all too often) to collect gems and orbs fight wandering creatures. These are still unnecessarily frequent, yet I enjoyed all but a few of the collection missions. There are lots of dune buggies and trucks to choose from and playing them is usually enjoyable.
Jak III is certainly a step up from Jak II and a satisfactory conclusion to the main series. Granted, it retains a few hiccups here and there, but I thought it actually had the best story by far and ends the trilogy on a good note.
An assuredly mixed-package, the Jak and Daxter trilogy is both a troubled and intriguing series that will still give old fans a fun blast to the past even at the expense of giving new players occasional frustrations. It may not be my personal favorite among either game trilogies or HD collections, but I felt I enjoyed my overall experience in playing the series, even if I would recommend it only for veterans of Jak and Daxter. With the Uncharted series now reaching a similar amount of games in its library, I hope that Jak and Daxter isn’t finished yet and Naught Dog can give it another go once more.
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