Reviewed: April 30, 2006
Released: March 14, 2006
With three major action-platform titles as well as an arcade-combat racing game under their belts, Jak and Daxter have become household names, at least if your house has a PS2 in it. Anyone who has played one of these games will certainly agree that the wisecracking, troublemaking Daxter is one of gaming’s best sidekicks, so it was only natural that our mischievous little friend got to star in his own game.
Daxter is far from your typical hero. He abhors works and steers clear of anything remotely dangerous unless money or pretty girls are involved. Then greed and libido take over and it’s up to Daxter to “save the day”. The events in this latest platform game take place during Jak II and the two years that Jak was locked up and undergoing unspeakable experiments. Left on his own, Daxter took a job as an exterminator as he plotted his friend’s rescue.
For those who thought Jak and Daxter has strayed from their original platforming roots, you will be glad to know that Daxter has returned to the classic style of platform gaming that we all fell in love with. To that end you can expect a lot of combat, jumping, item collecting, and even some cool racing levels, all of which works surprisingly well on the PSP.
Daxter finds himself in the massive Haven City working for the local exterminator, a job highly in demand with the recent invasion of a swarm of nasty metalbugs. He starts of with an electric fly swatter that splats and fries bugs dead. You have a few interesting attack modes including a powerful combo system that unleashes after several successful swats. There is nothing more engaging that being surround by a swarm of spiders or other nasties and going into power-up mode, where it is “one smack one kill”.
When bugs die they leave behind a coin, which is not only a counter for your progress, it is also the payment you receive for doing the job. And what Jak and Daxter game would it be without those floating eggs. These are scattered about all the levels, many of which in very challenging locations that you might have to return to later to collect.
Control is simply amazing thanks to a wonderful analog movement system, realistic physics, and some of the best animation I have ever seen on the PSP. Simply put, Daxter looks ALIVE, even when standing still this orange critter is always in subtle movement, and when he climbs, attacks, runs or jumps his body bends and leans with realistic gravity and momentum. You can almost feel Daxter exert himself during rampaging combo attacks. It’s pure poetry to watch this game in action.
Later in the game you will get a spray gun that pumps out sickly green insect repellent that is also highly flammable. This opens up some great puzzle opportunities where you can ignite the spray creating a flamethrower or even a rocket propulsion system for some extra high (and long) jumps. Fire is also necessary to melt spider webs that are blocking exits or even interacting with parts of the environment.
The levels in Daxter are as clever in their design as they are gorgeous to look at, and with a fantastic camera system you almost never have to manually tweak the view. Each level has a distinct theme and flavor about it, so the gardens of the hotel look remarkably different from the creepy cellar of the tavern, and nothing can quite prepare you for the fast-paced, train-jumping action of the subway level.
Levels are often quite large and complex, using all three dimensions as you find yourself climbing some surfaces, jumping across ledges, or even crawling on your belly through vents and tunnels. The levels and the gameplay is fairly linear so there is little opportunity to get lost.
Your goals in each of these areas differs, but it usually involves killing lots of bugs, manipulating some key part of the environment, and possibly fighting a big boss bug, all the while collecting those eggs and coins. These missions can range from 15-30 minutes in length, perfect for handheld gaming.
There are also some interesting mini-games including some hilarious dream sequences that trigger when Daxter falls asleep. One of my favorites is where Daxter dreams he is Neo from The Matrix and you get to play a mini-arcade game where you must defeat dozens of Agent Smith parodies using a system not unlike the QTE’s in God of War. Other dreams spoof films like Lord of the Rings and Indiana Jones. More dreams unlock as you collect the orbs and winning the dreams give you gameplay bonuses like an improved health bar or new combat moves.
I did appreciate the game’s generous save and checkpoint system. There really aren’t defined levels in this game. Sure, you have distinct missions and areas, but everything flows together in a seamless big-world structure that uses exterminator’s shop as a hub. The game will prompt you to save your game from time to time, but you are also free to save whenever and wherever you like.
Daxter also checkpoints itself frequently so you never have to replay too much of the game. I actually used this to my advantage since there are some lengthy “rail slide” sequences where you must swing left and right to collect eggs. If you miss one or two you can “die” and restart the slide to collect the ones you missed.
Load times for restarting from a checkpoint are virtually non-existent and the game uses a clever visual trick to hide the loading of new levels. As you approach a door to a new level there is a 5-10 second animation of a door slowly cranking open like a vault. This is in fact the loading of the level. You are free to even move around just as long as you stay close to the door.
Daxter is one of a select few PSP games that can connect to a counterpart game on the PS2. In this case that game is Jak X: Combat Racing. Just connect your PSP to your PS2 with a USB cable and you can start unlocking special drivers and cars in Jak X and even discover a few hidden features in Daxter. It’s a nice touch to reward franchise-loyal gamers.
The PSP is home to a lot of great looking games but Daxter has to be in the top five when it comes to colorful graphics and outstanding animation. Other games have moments of brilliance but Daxter keeps the amazing graphics coming from start to finish. Jak was one of the few games to use progressive scan on the PS2 and Daxter shares that high-definition quality with razor sharp images and a view of the game world that is perfect for the widescreen format of the PSP.
Jak also pioneered a new intelligent camera system on the PS2 that virtually eliminated the need for manual control. Daxter manages to bring most of that system to the PSP, but there are a few occasions where you might want to tweak the camera. The left and right triggers spin the camera in either direction around our hero giving you the perfect view.
As always, the cutscenes are created with game engine graphics, keeping transitions totally smooth and integrated right into the game for seamless storytelling.
Daxter’s sound design mirrors every other aspect of this quality title with some of the best music you will likely hear on the PSP. The music is themed to the metallic fantasy design of the game world and also takes cues from the more specific environments and even the current situation. It really accents the visuals and gameplay.
Sound effects are excellent whether they are as obvious as the electronic zap of the swatter or the whoosh of flames from the bug sprayer, or even the soft padded footsteps as Daxter walks, runs, or crawls through the levels. There are also plenty of realistic environmental sounds to bring each level to life.
And we cannot overlook what is arguably some of the best voice acting in video games. The franchise has always excelled in this area with the occasional quips and one-liners from Daxter often stealing the show. Now that he is the “star” there is no holding back, and Max Casella turns in his best performance ever. Prepare to laugh a lot. Even more impressive is that the supporting cast manages to turn in quality performances that hold their own and play off well against our hero.
A single pass through Daxter can easily take upwards of 20 hours and there is always the incentive to go back and collect the orbs you may have missed the first time. There is also a multiplayer Bug Combat mode that uses special bugs you collect during the game. You can then use these bugs to breed your own insect warriors and challenge other players (or the computer) in a simple, but challenging mini-game. It’s actually quite interesting and unpredictable because you don’t always know what the other gamer has unlocked during their own adventure.
The mini-game dream sequences also keep track of their own high scores, and while these are fun to play a few times and certainly show off to your friends, you won’t be compelled to play them as much as you would mini-games in other titles.
Daxter continues to prove that the PSP is the best handheld system out there and the closest thing you can get to a home console experience. I’d certainly stack this game up against anything in the genre on the PS2. The graphics and gameplay are second to none, and fans of the franchise will love the special insight into those missing years in the Jak trilogy, as told through the comical genius of what is easily one of the best sidekicks in gaming history.
Whether you are a fan of the franchise or just love platform games with a touch of action and combat, Daxter is a must-have title for anyone who owns a PSP.