In 2004 Sony disappointed millions of gamers around the world when they announced that Jak 3 would be the final chapter in the series. Up to that point Jak & Daxter had been one of the PlayStation 2's most endearing franchises, a 3D platformer that excelled in just about everything it tried. After the last year's disappointing spin-off, Jak X, fans of the series were understandably worried that this was the end of their beloved platforming heroes. But these fans need not worry, because if Daxter is any indication of things to come then there are still plenty of fun and exciting 3D adventures to come.
Daxter is Sony's first brand new 3D platformer for their year-old PlayStation Portable. Over the past twelve months Sony has managed to release a couple of other games in the genre, but those games -- Ape Escape, MediEval: Resurrection -- were nothing more than ports of older titles. Daxter is all new, taking one of Sony's most popular characters and (finally) giving him his own big adventure. It's a no-brainer that this is the PSP's best platformer, but Daxter is also one of the best games you can buy on the system.
Daxter takes place between the original Jak & Daxter and Jak II, filling in a two year gap that features poor Jak imprisoned and Daxter trying to make an honest buck. In case you've never experienced any of these games, Daxter was turned into an ottsel (sort of a muskrat-like creature) by a magic puddle in the original game, and ever since then he has been this pint-sized sidekick who shoots out sarcastic comments and weaves exaggerated stories about himself.
Daxter finds himself alone in Haven City, a bustling futuristic city complete with flying cars and neon buildings. Our furry hero has taken a job at the Critter-Ridder Extermination Company as a bug killer, a perfect job for somebody so small and agile. Daxter comes equipped with bug spray and a cool electric flyswatter, two weapons that get a lot of use by the end of the adventure. Outside of double jumping and a few other small similarities, Daxter plays a lot different from his human counterpart, one of the things that go a long way to make this game feel different from any of older games.
Like Jak II and Jak 3, Daxter's story is told through a series of missions, each giving you a main objective to complete, such as killing a certain amount of bugs or collecting enough items. Each of these missions also feature optional objectives, more difficult missions that you can save until later (when you've collected bigger and better items). This ends up working out pretty good because it gives you a lot to go back and do once you've beaten the story mode and offers a lot more time to the game's overall length. And best of all, since this game is so much fun replaying these missions is a real joy, no matter how many times you do it.
As a bug exterminator you're going to naturally come into contact with a number of cool (metallic) bugs. While most of the bugs are little more than a push-over, some of the bugs put up a real fight and require you to master your weapons. As I mentioned before, Daxter is working with an electric fly swatter and a tank of powerful bug spray. The bug spray works as both a way to stun your enemies as well as (in later levels) a type of flame thrower. The fly swatter, on the other hand, is your basic melee weapon, a unique item that is easy to use and makes sense for this story.
As you progress through the game new abilities and weapon upgrades will be added to your repertoire. The best addition happens to come extremely early in the game; it's an add-on for your bug spray that allows you to use it to float in the air. Some might point out that this was done in Super Mario Sunshine, but Daxter manages to make this feel a lot more natural. Using your bug sprayer as a propulsion device ends up being extremely useful, not only getting you out of dangerous situations but also helping you solve the many platform challenges.
Although the game has tight controls that are always responsive, this is a 3D game and occasionally falling to your death is to be expected from time to time. Thankfully Daxter doesn't have to worry about how many lives he has left, instead when you die you will be taken back to the last checkpoint (usually no more than a couple minutes before the point you died) and let you try it again. Towards the end of the game there are some truly difficult platforming tasks, so needless to say that not having to worry about your lives keeps this game from becoming even more frustrating.
Daxter's missions are not all bug killing and platforming, though. Every so often you'll board a speedy little vehicle with one propeller in the front and race around a world that looks suspiciously like the world of the original Jak & Daxter. Here you'll fly over flowers laying down bug spray like a crop duster, chasing down flying insects, and even battling a boss or two. These levels don't last as long as the rest, but they do a great job of breaking up the regular bug killing game play.
These vehicle levels aren't the only mini games Daxter has up his sleeves. Whenever you go back to your home base you will be able to get some much-needed shut eye. Apparently Daxter's dreams are pretty exciting (and he has a Netflix account) because each of his dreams feature the little ottsel in some of the most exciting movies of all time. We're talking about Braveheart, The Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, and even Raiders of the Lost Ark. For the most part these mini games are identical (mostly asking you to hit the correct face button when the enemy is near), but they are a load of fun when you only have a couple of seconds to play. Better yet, if you complete these games you will unlock new abilities (new moves, more life, etc.) for your adventure.
Daxter's journey to save his friend takes him to a number of unique (and beautiful) locations. The game has a funny way of turning something that is normally small and turning it into a huge world full of enemies and obstacles. Some levels will have you out in the middle of a huge construction site, while another level will have you jumping from one train to the next. There is no shortage of exciting locations to visit, each offering their own brand of challenges. And best of all, as you are given new abilities and parts for your bug sprayer you will be forced to use them to complete your missions. Daxter is great at staying fresh and original, there's so much variety here that it's downright impossible to get bored of the action.
It’s also pretty darn hard to hate the game's presentation. The graphics may be shrunk down to fit the PSP's smaller screen, but don't take that to mean they have been compromised. Daxter is easily the best looking game on the PlayStation Portable; it's the type of game that is just overflowing with detailed backgrounds, great looking (and HUGE) bosses, and amazing animation. There are times in the game where I wondered how the developers were able to make the game look so good on such a small system, some of the effects simply need to be seen to be believed. Daxter is the type of character that expresses almost everything through his actions, and the animation here is very expressive. If you've become a fan of the way the original three Jak & Daxter outings looked then be prepared to be impressed again, because Daxter manages to hit all of the right notes no matter where you are or what you are doing.
But don't get the wrong impression that Daxter's only form of communication is through his actions, because nothing could be farther from the truth. Daxter is quite a loudmouth, the type of character that always has something funny to say. Max Casella returns to voice everybody's favorite ottsel, and he doesn't hold anything back knowing that it's a portable game. His jokes are still as funny as they ever were and the way he just kind of falls into all of the story twists makes this feel like a fully realized adventure. This is a character you can really get behind, the type of hero that you want to see succeed. This may not have the deep story of a Final Fantasy or Metal Gear Solid, but you'll always want to know what's coming next and what Daxter's next one-liner is going to be.
Not only does Daxter manage to raise the bar when it comes to graphics and sounds on the PSP, but it does so without any load times. Thanks to the game's slick seamless loading chances are you won't notice the game loading until after you've entered a new level. Instead of popping up a big box that tells you that it's loading, Daxter allows you to control the character while it's grabbing the next bit of information, effectively masking any load time. This means that when you're going into a new building the front entrance might be a little longer, but only to give it time to fully load the amazing graphics, outstanding music, and everything else that makes Daxter one of the best portable games of all time.
Once you've managed to do and see everything there is in the single-player adventure then it's time to find some friends and play them in Daxter's unique two-player modes. The two player mode doesn't have anything to do with the platformer side of the game; it's more or less a play on "Rock, Paper, Scissors" … except with bugs. As you go through Daxter's story mode you will find hidden two-player items that are tucked away in hard to reach locations. You use these to battle your friends or computer opponents in Bug Combat, a turned based mini game that is a lot of fun, for awhile. There isn't much of a point to this mode, but its fun for what it is and a great diversion from the rest of the excitement.
Along with finding these special items, you can also uncover a number of funny cheats and hidden items. Late in the game you will find a Jak mask, which you can wear if you're the type of person that misses controlling the human side of this duo. You can also plug this game into Jak X and unlock even more hidden items, which may be the most fun you've had with that racing spin-off in months. It's these little things that prove that Daxter manages to get everything right, no matter how big or small.
It's easy to come away from Daxter impressed, this is one of the best playing games on the PSP and easily the best 3D platformer on any portable game system. With its air tight controls, stunning visuals and ever-evolving game play, you can't help but love a game like Daxter. Regardless of whether you're a fan of 3D platformers or not, there's enough in this game to warrant a look. This is the type of game PSP owners have been waiting for, and a great show piece for anybody who doesn't already see the system's potential. Let's hope this is just the beginning of a whole series of great portable platforming adventures.
Daxter isn't just a great platformer with amazing graphics and sound, it's one of the best playing games you can get on the PSP. You can look around all you want, but there's no reason to; Daxter is the new king of 3D portable platforming games!