Video Game Review: Jak and Daxter Collection
Okey dokey, Dr. Jones. Hold on to your potatoes!
Before Joel and Ellie, and Nate and Sully, Naughty Dog acquainted gamers with a big-eared hero and his wise-cracking furry sidekick. Originally released for the PlayStation 2, the adventures of Jak and Daxter have been brought to the PlayStation Vita in the form of the Jak and Daxter Collection. All three games underwent the high-definition upgrade to bring their visuals up to speed, but how well do they hold up after all these years? Let’s find out.
There is a very obvious shift in philosophy on display here as the series moves from being an all ages platformer to a much darker, action-oriented experience with guns. Throughout all three games, Jak has a number of acrobatic moves at his disposal with all manner of jumps, spins and dives. Your combat repertoire gets beefed up in later titles, and it’s all pretty solid with one Barry Bonds-sized asterisk that looms over everything: the camera.
It’s funny that I don’t recall PS2-era titles having massive camera issues because it seems like every time I review (or edit a review of) an older title it crops up. Jax and Daxter Collection is no exception as from start to finish I found myself battling the camera in a vain attempt to keep enemies and landing points positioned where I wanted to.
Sure, it improves as the series moves along, but even then it just feels slow and clunky by modern standards. Add to that the unfortunate use of the rear touch pad and the controls turn out to be the biggest hindrance to enjoying the game.
Already in the Vita’s short lifespan there have been a number of titles that arguably look better on its smaller screen than on the PS3. This is not one of them. Despite a nice, colourful and cartoonish theme, Jak and Daxter fail to impress on the handheld.
The expansive environments and character/enemy design still hold up, but the frame rate takes a hit far too often — this is particularly noticeable in the first and third installments. It’s not game breaking by any means, nor would you classify the game as ugly. It just doesn’t make a seamless transition to the format.
Even though these are older Naughty Dog titles, you still get really strong voice work throughout the trilogy with plenty of snarky dialogue worked in. The soundtrack is good as well, and it does a nice job in reflecting the series’ progression from whimsical to something darker.
Technically there have been six Jak and Daxter titles, but only the three main games (The Precursor Legacy, Jak II and Jak 3) are included here. As already noted, the tone of these adventures changes quite a bit from the debut, which features platforming and collecting objects, to the second and third installments, in which Jak has been transformed from silent protagonist to tortured prisoner. Even with the philosophical shift, Daxter remains a source of levity and humour, so it’s not like the later games are too dark for anyone except the youngest of gamers.
If you change the word “dark” in the last sentence to “challenging,” however, it becomes a different story entirely as Jak II can be punishingly tough even for seasoned players. Of the three games, it stands out as the least enjoyable as there have been so many changes. As a result, it’s left without the simple charm of the original as well as the more polished Jak 3, which tones down the difficulty and finds more of a happy medium for the series. Still, the fact that all three games feel different from one another is a good thing as it keeps it from becoming a tiresome formula.
What doesn’t change from one game to the next is the quality of the writing. It’s easy to see Naughty Dog sowing the seeds of its excellent storytelling here, as even without the plausible settings of The Last of Us and Uncharted these older titles still present interesting stories and compelling characters — even if many of them look completely outlandish.
In spite of a strong story and healthy mix of gameplay styles at the ready, Jak and Daxter Collection on the Vita can’t fully escape the aforementioned issues with the camera. Too many times I misjudged a jump and fell to my death — though the game rarely punishes you harshly for such transgressions — or had an enemy club me from behind whilst trying to adjust my view.
Series vets may know how to work around these issues, but newcomers could find the camera system a little too archaic.
On the plus side, Jak and Daxter Collection offers up three full games with good storytelling, solid gameplay and plenty of differences from one title to the next to keep things fresh. Some of the fun is undermined, however, courtesy of shoddy controls, particularly the camera, and technical shortcomings in being ported to the Vita. It’s not the ideal platform to experience the trilogy on, but if this is your best option then it’s still worth the money.