As stated in the last Games of Our Lives, the PS2 had three primary mascots during its lifespan: Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet and Clank.
Naturally, we’re talking about Jak and Daxter today, and the history of this series is strange. It goes through many different genres, and the games themselves tend to be odd. Let me explain.
Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy (PS2)
Jak and Daxter is an odd, entertaining romp that enjoys its own insanity. The comparisons to Banjo-Kazooie were inevitable and, to an extent, deserved. Jak’s plot, bare bones though it is, is not as cartoonish as Banjo-Kazooie. Whether this improves the game or detracts from it is up to the viewer to decide.
The series starts off in this unnamed world, which revolves around this force (or forces) called Eco. These are used for a variety of purposes, from powering machinery to more….escoteric things. In gameplay terms, these act as the power-ups. Blue Eco will give Jak a burst of speed, Red Eco makes his attacks hit harder, Yellow Eco gives him a ranged attack, and Green Eco restores health. The plot gets started when the eponymous heroes go to the forbidden “Misty Isle”, and Daxter falls into a pit of Dark Eco, which spits him out transformed into a small, orange furball called an ottsel.
They go to the Sage of Green Eco for help and he tells them to go to the Sage of Dark Eco, as he’s the only one who might be able to change Daxter back. That’s the plot. Yeah.
But it’s not really all that bothersome, it drives you from point A to point B, and it’s not really the focus. Things quickly switch focus to the arm of monsters bearing down on the world. Yeah, there’s an army of monsters bearing down on the world. You get to punch them in the face.
The gameplay is where this game shines. Combat is quick and simple, and the bosses, while generic, are infrequent and do leave a lasting impression. The world, while small for today’s standard, is still impressively detailed, and has a wide variety of environs for you to explore and do various quests and objectives for numerous eccentric characters. It’s a joy to explore this world, and the entire game is just about challenging enough for you to feel you’ve earned your victories.
Perfect it is not, but this game is still excellent.
Jak 2 (PS2)
This game is very, very different from the prior one. Instead of an open world, you are placed in an (admittedly large) city. That’s not the problem. The problem is that Jak 2 is dark, and not in a good way.
The world of Jak and Daxter was colorful and wondrous, but it still retained an element of darkness. It was actually quite well balanced. But Haven City is grey. It is rainy, dark, and there’s so few colors, jokes, and even people smiling that it makes you start to wonder if you should really be trying to save a world this messed up? That’s a very bad sign.
The gameplay isn’t too different from Jak and Daxter, but with a few distinctions. First, you can commandeer vehicles from random passersby (and hope the police don’t see you). Second, the Eco power-ups have been removed and replaced with a Dark Jak form, where you utilize Dark Eco to increase speed and strength, at the cost of control (because Dark Jak’s momentum is weird). And third, and most important, you now have guns. Guns! Why? Answer me, game. I know you’re ignoring me.
Besides that, this game is far more difficult. Enemies swarm you far more often, and the gameplay shifts can take far too long to get used to, particularly one mission very early on with an evil, evil tank.
But, despite all this, it’s not a terrible game. The exploration element is just as strong, and Haven City has its moments. There’s some cool things about this city.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this is easily the worst game in this series. Can the next game make up for it? Eh, kinda.
Jak 3 (PS2)
Jak 3 changes very little, besides the setting and the introduction of more vehicles. But somehow this just feels stronger than its predecessor.
The first advantage is the setting. Jak and Daxter have been banished to the Wasteland, a seemingly endless desert pocketed with ruins and cliffs and forests of cacti. Already, it’s far more interesting than Haven City. The wasteland city of Spargus is smaller and easier to navigate, and you’ll likely spend a lot less time here than you think you will. Most of the quests you’ll be given have you venturing deeper and deeper into the dunes, whether to gather needed supplies or killing a boss.
The only addition to the gameplay is a “Light Jak” mode, or rather a set of abilities to balance out Dark Jak’s offensive advantages. Light Jak can heal, stop time, and even fly as you upgrade it.
But besides that, there’s not much to say, which is this game’s ultimate downfall. While it is certainly a better game than Jak 2, it’s just okay without anything that makes it really stand out.
There ends what people usually think of as the main series. Turns out there’s another, slightly more obscure installment.
Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier (PSP, PS2)
Daxter’s back in the title. Joy.
Honestly, there’s very little to talk about here. It’s Jak 3, except you’re on some islands floating in my butts. And yet the wasteland was far more interesting. It had far more identity than this place.
Oh, and there are sky pirates. I don’t even know what to say at this point. There’s this set of levels revolving around Dark Daxter, which are also boring. Despite receiving positive reviews, it’s clear why the series didn’t continue past this – it has, like its predecessor, nothing to mark it out as special.
If you’d like to play this series, the first three games have been re-released in HD on the PS3 and the Vita.
Want advice on freeing yourself from the grip of Dark Eco? Want to forget that racing spin-off exists? Well, there’s no chance of that. But leave a comment below and we will comfort you in your hour of need.