The Jak and Daxter Trilogy Classics HD: review

Long before Nathan Drake was raiding tombs and fighting pirates, developer Naughty Dog was one of the kings of the platformer genre, with Crash Bandicoot on the original PlayStation and then the Jak and Daxter series on the PlayStation 2. The platforming antics of Jak and his wisecracking sidekick were highly rated at the time, and this collection brings the three main PlayStation 2 games back to life on the PS3. But should the dynamic duo be welcomed back with open arms, or dropped into the deepest vat of Dark Eco?

The original Jak and Daxter was a typical colourful platforming romp.

The original Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was a charming platformer that was similar in gameplay to Naughty Dog’s other famous creation Crash Bandicoot. There’s nothing particularly original about the game, but it’s still an entertaining enough platformer. You control Jak, a human like character with large protruding ears, whose goofy chum Daxter accidentally falls into a vat of Dark Eco, which transforms him into a small, ginger, ferret-like creature, much like MP Danny Alexander. The main aim of the game is to find Gol Acheron, the Sage of Dark Eco, who can help you to change Daxter back to human form. The game features large open world environments to explore, which was unusual for platformer games at that time, and the game proceeded without any intrusive loading screens, an impressive feat on the PlayStation 2. Along with the staple platforming, there are also short vehicle ride sections on the A-Grav Zoomer and the Flut Flut, which is a bird like creature. The gameplay involves you collecting Power Cells, Precursor Orbs and Scout Flies to aid progress through the trap filled levels. To earn Power Cells you are tasked with completing short minigames like catching a set amount of fish for a fisherman or curing Dark Eco infected plants by powering up with Green Eco and flying around touching the infected plants. Jak has the usual jumping and melee attack abilities to help negotiate the nicely designed levels, although the camera can often get stuck on scenery or point in the wrong direction, which can become quite tiresome. The Precursor Legacy is an old school platformer that doesn’t quite match the Mario games for originality or innovation, but is a nice colourful game that does what it says on the tin.

Jak II takes a lot of inspiration from Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series.

Jak II: Renegade is a very different game to The Precursor Legacy, and it has been very obviously inspired by Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto 3, which was released around that time, with the large futuristic central hub of Haven City to explore, either on foot or by stealing any of the large collection of vehicles flying around, like hoverboards or what look like Star Wars Pod Racers. Jak is also transformed from a mute character to a talking rage fueled antagonist, which the game explains by having him kidnapped and experimented on with the same Dark Eco that transformed his partner Daxter in the original game. These experiments have given Jak the power to transform into Dark Jak, which gives the player increased melee attack power, which is useful when you’re confronted with hordes of enemies. With Jak’s shift in character, Daxter, who is still the same wise-cracking goofball, is left to lighten the mood with his wisecracks; but these grate after a while, and we’re not sure how Jak can contain his new found rage, when his little furry friend pipes up with yet another cheeky quip. The story of Jak II revolves around the duo defeating the dictator of Haven City, Baron Praxis, and the alien race, the Metal Heads. Our characters join the Underground, who task the pair with missions to start a revolution against the Baron and his minions. With the obvious GTA inspiration, the gameplay involves third person shooting with the Morph Gun (nothing to do with Tony Hart!), which feels similar to that other successful platformer, Ratchet and Clank, but with a less inventive arsenal. There are a lot of minigames that you take part in, but most of them are very frustrating, with the racing being particularly annoying, due to the constant crashing into the crowded streets and clipping the scenery, which ends up sending your vehicle into a fireball, which leaves you running around desperately trying to find another vehicle to commandeer. The variety of missions is welcome, but perhaps they should have been better polished to make them more enjoyable, rather than the hard slog that they are. The collection of Precursor Orbs is still present in the game, although they are relegated to simply upgrading your character, with the collection of Skull Gems being used to upgrade your Dark Jak alter ego.

Jak 3 brings enjoyable racing in dune buggys.

Jak 3 sees our heroes being banished to the Wasteland, which is an apocalyptic desert environment similar to Mad Max or the Fallout games. The main city hub of Spargus City is a lot smaller than Haven City in Jak II and there is a lot more going on. The vehicles that you commandeered in Jak II are replaced by lizard like creatures that handle like Yoshi from the Mario series, with the ability to glide over short distances. This makes the hub a lot easier to negotiate and removes some of the irritation that the second game had. Outside of the city you can venture out into the desert using the various dune buggies that are available. There are several missions that involve going outside the city walls, and recovering artifacts or racing against other protagonists. The dune buggies handle well, and the racing is a lot more enjoyable than what was on offer in the second game. Your buggy also has a gun attached to it, to take out the Marauders that roam the Wasteland scavenging from anyone who crosses their path. During the game Jak gains new powers through light eco, which is more defensive than the offensive powers of Dark Jak. Once again Precursor Orbs and Skull Gems are collected and used to upgrade and unlock side missions. Jak 3 has very similar gameplay to Jak II, but it feels much more refined and polished. There are still some annoyances though, with some missions being particularly difficult to complete, and if you die during the challenge, then you need to start the level from scratch – which can be very harsh on the player.

The Jak and Daxter Trilogy is a welcome return for the oddball platforming duo. It may not be particularly original, and some of the levels can have you in tears with frustration, but with Ratchet and Clank and Rayman being the only platformers around on the HD consoles these days, you can do a lot worse than experiencing the Jak and Daxter universe for the first time. It may not have the wow factor of the Uncharted series, but Naughty Dog’s precursor (excuse the pun!) to Drake’s adventures can still entertain, especially if you miss the golden age of the colourful platformer.

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Written by Kevin M

I've been addicted to gaming since my parents bought an Atari console way back in the 70's. I progressed to the iconic Speccy, Amiga, and all the Playstation platforms. Having seen games evolve from single pixel bat and ball, to HD constructed environments, gaming has changed much from my early years. Having defeated the rock hard R-Type on the Speccy, the biggest challenge I've faced so far is putting up with the hordes of American teens spouting abuse in the current generation of consoles, noob indeed!

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