Reviewed: November 24, 2009
Released: November 3, 2009
Where has the time gone? I can distinctly remember back to the days leading up to the release of the PS2, when it was announced that developer Naughty Dog was handing over the keys to their prodigious Crash Bandicoot series in favor of this as-yet-unknown platformer called Jak and Daxter. Many gamers – myself included – felt the bittersweet sting of reality, as we simultaneously wondered what would become of our dear marsupial friend, but felt the twinge of excitement at the prospect of this new dynamic duo. It’s no secret what became of Crash; after a few stumbly-fumbly releases and getting bounced around to various publishers, he finally faded off into obscurity, never to return to his former glory (RIP my friend).
But what about Jak and Daxter. If the first Precursor Legacy release was not one of the very best platformers released during the last generation of gaming – then the edgier, less-linear sandbox styled Jak II and Jak III sequels definitely were. Now here we are, roughly eight years later, and Jak and Daxter have become the old face of platform gaming. With Naughty Dog up to its neck in the tomb raiding of Nathan Drake in the excellent Uncharted series, it has become painfully apparent that the developer has officially separated itself from the series, handing over the titular heroes’ keys for good – to High Impact Games (also of the PSP’s Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters and Secret Agent Clank).
High Impact Games’ first release in the series is Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier for the PSP and the PS2. Yes, you read that right – there are still developers out there supporting the PS2. But this review is specifically on the PSP version – which in this case was downloaded via the Playstation Network (PSN), and clocks in at roughly 975mb once installed on the PSP or PSP GO.
First, I must say that this was my first full PSN download release – a relatively new on-demand service Sony is offering to support the UMD-less PSP GO. The download itself was lengthy (about 45mins on my 8mbps connection), but the overall ordering and installation process was relatively painless through my PS3. Even though I have ordered a number of smaller indie and arcade titles over the years via PSN and Xbox Live, and not having a physical disc has never been an issue – but with a full-priced title like this it seems a bit unsettling to not have something to show to validate the purchase. Add to that the fact that the game can no longer be traded or sold and it’s a real bummer. On the upside, the in-game loading times were phenomenal, and battery life was noticeably longer without having to spin the physical disc. But this is a philosophical argument that belongs elsewhere – not in this review.
The absolute best aspect of The Lost Frontier is that it melds together all of the good stuff from the previous Jak and Daxter titles, and only carries over a fraction of the bad. Falling somewhere in the sweet-spot of the gameplay golden triangle that is formed on three corners by the straight-up platform hopping of the original Precursor Legacy, the open-world exploration of Jak II, and the all-out blasting and vehicular travel of Jak III - The Lost Frontier delivers a well-rounded and balanced experience that has been sorely lacking on the handheld.
Before I go on expounding the virtues of The Lost Frontier, I would like to mention some of the bad points. First of all there is the camera – it really sucks. In fact, if part of our review criteria were to grade the camera alone, it would be lucky to get a 6 out of 10. The camera is a constant source of frustration, and causes far too many fatal plunges – period. Granted, this is more a function of the PSP’s lack of a second analog stick and/or secondary bumpers, and was the very same problem experienced with earlier Ratchet and Clank and Daxter PSP releases – but it is a real bummer.
Then there’s what I like to call the “dead horse” syndrome – where a game, movie, television show, etc. comes up with something entertaining and enjoyable, and then proceeds to ruin it by resorting to it over and over and over. You know the problem – Saturday Night Live has been afflicted with the disease for like 20 years now. The Lost Frontier definitely beats a dead horse every now and then – presenting a number of cool gameplay ideas, and then hammering them into submission with overuse. There are far too many laundry lists of tasks to perform in the game that go on for too long – bosses seem to regenerate one too many times, enemies come in one too many waves, and the button-based puzzlers seem to have one too many keystrokes.
Now I am not trying to sound like a sissy complaining about a game being “too hard” – but when a handheld title draws out boss battles to 20 minutes or more, it definitely goes against the bite-sized nature of the medium. And when an eleventh-hour cheap shot causes a full restart, or worse – you lose the progress while in standby – well, it can be awfully frustrating. OK, that’s pretty much it for the bad stuff – let’s get to the good, because The Lost Frontier has a lot going for it.
For starters, the story is really enjoyable – the world running out of Eco, and there is a mad race afoot between three factions to get to the edge of the world and tap any of the remaining fuel. Between our heroes Jak and Daxter (and lady-friend Keira), Captain Phoenix and his band of Eco sky-pirates, and the nefarious forces of Duke Skyheed the story takes a number of twists and turns along the lengthy path to its conclusion.
In the course of the game, Jak will garner a number of Eco powers (although the Dark Jak form is not present in this game) that become key to eliminating bosses and completing missions. These powers include the ability to slow time to make fast-moving enemies and platforms manageable, the ability to shoot exploding fireballs to eliminate large enemies or large groups en masse, and the ability to “grow” crystal stalactites and to “rocket” like a jetpack to help reach out-of-reach platforms.
Weapons play a big part in the game – especially when used in combination with the Eco powers. For instance, the fireball mine requires some form of shot – or shockwave – to set it off, so it can be placed in a particular location and detonated remotely. Using the weapons is fairly rewarding, although the PSP’s lack of rumble does seem to detract from the fun compared to the PS3 releases.
Daxter even gets to have some dark fun of his own – turning into Dark Daxter, who falls somewhere between Captain Caveman and the Taz, The Tazmanian Devil. These Dark Daxter levels are filled with destructive mayhem, as Ottsel goes whiling dervish on lengths of sewer pipe in Aeropan City.
But probably the best addition to the franchise is the aerial dog fighting that takes place throughout the game. Truly, these segments are so well developed that they could have comprised a completely separate game of their own. In fact, given the amount of micromanagement that goes into purchasing, upgrading, and maintaining the ships – it pretty much is a separate game of its own. In trying to find a similar title, the closest I could drum up is Crimson Skies on the Xbox – but since that is not fair to the Sony folks, just picture the PS3’s Lair, but with much better controls.
Visually, the game looks awesome on the PSP. There are times when things look a little, err…small, but that’s all part of the package when playing a handheld. And yes, there are the aforementioned camera issues, but I can hardly fault a game for problems that are innate to the machine. The audio is equally excellent, with full voice acting and fantastic sound effects. The Jak and Daxter series has been known for great audio presentation, and The Lost Frontier is no slouch. The scripting is top-notch and the acting is definitely on par with the previous releases.
Value-wise, The Lost Frontier is definitely worth the $40 MSRP given the overall length and variety. Had High Impact included multiplayer dog fighting…it would have been a must-buy. Really, there’s not much more I can say about the game that hasn’t already been said. While the camera can be a pain, and the game tends to beat a dead horse or two – The Lost Frontier’s good definitely outweighs the bad. It looks great, plays great, and the fact that Naughty Dog is no longer behind the helms is hardly noticed. Here’s hoping that this aging dynamic duo fares better in the future than poor old Crash Bandicoot.