The pint-sized Daxter is every bit as good as its console counterparts, bringing all the best elements of the action-platformer Jak games fluidly to the PSP.
- Gorgeous, simply gorgeous
- Outstanding sound and music
- Wonderful adaptation of the standard Jak gameplay
- A lot of things to do in the game, and reason to play through again.
- Some slight control and camera issues
- Still using the Jak formula, for better or for worse.
Daxter may be the fifth game in Sony's flagship Jak and Daxter franchise, but it's still responsible for many firsts. It's the first game in the series that doesn't star Jak, the once-mute-turned-brooding protagonist. It's the first game in the series to appear on a system other than the PlayStation 2. And it's the first time the PSP has ever looked so good. Simply put, fans of Jak and Daxter who were disappointed that the latest console release, Jak X: Combat Racing, strayed from the franchise's formula need not be disappointed any longer. Daxter is every bit as entertaining as its PS2 counterparts, looks absolutely stunning, and manages to pack the full console experience into a handheld without being dumbed down in the slightest. Frankly, the bar for PSP games, in terms of graphics and gameplay, has just been raised. Though Daxter is a little formulaic, especially for those familiar with previous Jak games, the formula works, and it works surprisingly well on the PSP.
Taking place directly before Jak II, Daxter follows the story of the so-named hero during the years that his buddy Jak was imprisoned, learning how to be an angst machine. Fortunately for you, it appears Daxter had plenty to do during that time: getting to star in an adventure all on his own to save Haven City from nefarious and dastardly...bugs. Yup, bugs. And to nail the point home, Daxter's primary weapon is a fierce...electric...flyswatter. From the game's entire premise to some of the more minute details, you'll experience a lot of the series' typical brand of irreverent humor, maybe even more so in this game because Daxter has always been the driving force behind it, and now you don't have to worry about sullen Jak bringing the mood down. It's in this way that the game is particularly endearing--not because it's unique or innovative, but because of how cohesively and effectively it takes an existing franchise and gives it a new spin.
If you've played either Jak II or Jak 3, you'll feel quite at home with Daxter, because the layout of Haven City and the mission-based structure of the gameplay are identical to those of the previous games. When the adventure begins, Daxter is...well, he's telling tall tales in a bar again, but shortly thereafter he begins employment at the Critter-Ridder Extermination Company. Since it's the only remaining exterminator shop that Haven City has left, and since there's suddenly a real infestation crisis (two problems which are not unrelated), Daxter has his hands full trying to pull his weight and prove his worth to the Critter-Ridder shop manager, Osmo.
In each level, you have several objectives to complete. There's the main objective that has been laid out for you, which might consist of killing enemies, destroying insect hives, or collecting objects. As you're playing through, you can also choose to do two optional secondary objectives, which are reminiscent of Jak games of old, collecting Metal Bug gems and precursor orbs. Though the mission is generally straightforward, completing the secondary objectives can sometimes prove to be a real challenge. Fortunately, you only need to clear the main objective to progress the story, so you can always return to collect all the items later. Playing cleanup is also easier later, since you'll often have better weapons and moves to get through the level more quickly. In fact, the way this works is done extraordinarily well, giving you quite an incentive to play through again to hunt for all the items.
The two tools at Daxter's disposal are his previously mentioned (very fierce) flyswatter, and an insecticide sprayer that gets some righteous upgrades in the later levels, to become a flamethrower and then a sonic blaster of sorts. Daxter is also able to do some light platforming, including double-jumping and scaling climbable-looking surfaces. The dynamic that is most interesting, however, is that his sprayer also serves as a propulsion device, allowing Daxter to hover or boost up in the air, giving him more distance and height than merely jumping would allow. Although this is mighty reminiscent of the water pump from Super Mario Sunshine, the mechanic works extremely well, if not better, in Daxter. You'll spend most of the game switching between the sprayer as a weapon and the sprayer as a platforming device, and it all works quite effortlessly.
Most of the gameplay has you proceeding from one area to the next, fighting, and maneuvering around various enemies and obstacles, and fighting large bosses, but there are some alternate gameplay elements along the way. One is the zoomer, which Daxter uses in a couple of different missions to chase down enemies or objectives that would be out of reach if he were simply on foot. There are a few other great mechanics, like the level that requires you to jump across the tops of moving trains, or the level that is practically taken out of Metal Gear Solid. Though none of these mechanics are particularly original, they're varied enough to keep you on your toes for the duration of the game. Also, as you collect precursor orbs, you'll be able to unlock dream sequence minigames. Each dream sequence borrows heavily from well-known movies, a couple more than once, like The Matrix, Indiana Jones (why did it have to be snakes?) and The Lord of the Rings. Though all of the game's minigames consist of virtually identical gameplay, tasking you to properly time hitting the PSP's directional pad and face buttons, they're a nice break from the run-and-gun gameplay, and they offer you the ability to unlock additional moves, like an uppercut, or to increase Daxter's health meter.
One of the immediately obvious things about Daxter is the game's stellar presentation. The graphics are simply beautiful. The animation quality both inside and outside of the cutscenes is as rich as it ever has been before. And you'll wander through several different gorgeous environments, even if most of the game's later levels are repeats of the earlier ones. The game also manages to run pretty large environments with minimal loading times and almost no loss of frame rate whatsoever. Whatever formula was used to get Daxter working so efficiently on the PSP should be used as the model for PSP games from here on out. If a game like Lumines is the equivalent of peeking through the keyhole of the PSP's graphic capabilities, Daxter kicks the door in. The sound is equally impressive, not missing a beat (literally) when it comes to detail. When you jump on the scooter, you'll hear the engine rev up until it reaches a nice steady gurgle. Every aspect of both the sound and music is fine-tuned, so you'll notice how effective the combination of buzzers, moving doors, and music presents something even as simple as the ambiance in an elevator. The voice acting is also outstanding, and Daxter is once again voiced by Newsies-star Max Casella, who nails Daxter's humor and awkwardness perfectly.
The game's most noticeable flaw is that it might take awhile to get used to the control and camera. 3D platformers are notoriously tricky when it comes to both these elements, especially on handheld systems. Both the camera and the control scheme are implemented about as well as can be expected (but not flawlessly) so it might take you a little while to get accustomed to moving around. And though the game is quite linear, sending you directly from one mission to the next, some of the levels are so open that you might backtrack a little more than you'd like. In some respects, this gives the game depth, but in others, you might find the repetition tiresome. For the most part, though, the game is both easy to follow and open-ended, making the gameplay fairly long without being tedious.
The single-player is rich enough to make the game worthwhile, but there is also a multiplayer mode, bug combat, that makes for a nice diversion. Essentially, as you play through the game, you'll find additional hidden pickups for use in multiplayer. These pickups are caged bugs, spells that you can assign to them, and boosts that will bump up their stats for the fights. After you've collected the items, you can exit out and play the bug combat mode, which is a turn-based version of rock-paper-scissors in which you can fight either the computer or a multiplayer opponent. Aside from collecting the items to make your bug as powerful as possible, there's little purpose to the bug combat. Still, it's a nice addition to an already solid game. There are also a few extra unlockables that you'll get from perfecting the game and/or hooking your PSP up to a copy of Jak X: Combat Racing. The most elusive pickups are a bunch of masks that Daxter can wear. They're pretty difficult to find, but you'll probably bump into the Jak mask just in time to rescue him from prison. The addition of all these extras, cheats, and little goodies gives Daxter a richness that many other games in the genre lack.
Daxter follows the Jak formula closely, but in the absence of a Jak game in the end of last year, Daxter plugs the hole almost perfectly, by offering console-rich action-platforming gameplay that is almost better because it's on the PSP. Setting new standards for what the PSP is capable of, especially when it comes to graphics, Daxter is going to be enjoyable for almost anyone, even people who might not normally be interested in the gameplay. If you're a PSP owner, platformer enthusiast or not, you simply can't go wrong with Daxter.