Among the earliest titles on the Playstation 2, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was released just in time for Christmas of 2001. This is somewhat irrelevant to me and this article as I was just about three years old at the time. Some years later, my brothers and I received our first PS2. I say first because I had a nasty habit of breaking the poor things (never put anything expensive on the top of a wardrobe, especially if it has wires that can accidentally be pulled in a frustrated jerk). Part of that gift was a copy of Jak and Daxter, the title that got me hook, line and sinker into gaming. I must have been six at the time so I couldn’t have understood quite what I was playing. Oh, I understood the whole interactive moving picture thing but the technical skill with which it was created had completely eluded me.
Looking back, I am still surprised Naughty Dog pulled off an experience so early on the PS2 with no load times and yet such a good looking game.* Sure, the shadows could be a bit dicey on character models, but that didn’t bother me, and I doubt it bothered you. Each character and actor model was created through sly and cunning trickery to stretch and squish, conforming to the first principle of animation and adding what felt like real weight to each character’s movements.
This may seem simple in a world with real-time ray tracing, but in 2001 this was a huge step forward*. I think, though, that a greater testament to the in-game animation is that there are so few pre-animated cutscenes in the game. Even the opening scene has Eco floating in the background, indicating an in engine display using the in-game location, Misty Island. For such a pivotal moment, the inciting incident of the entire series, some might expect a little more polish than an in engine sequence. And yet it works! Seeing the low poly Daxter get knocked into a vat of Dark Eco feels more faithful somehow to the game itself. Ugh, feelings, I know, but it bears thinking about. How might it have seemed if a fantastically animated opening had then dropped you into the game as it is? Sometimes it can work, sometimes not (cough, Kingdom Hearts one through two, Cough**).
In terms of story: Thicc girl Maia and her chain-smoking Soyboi Cuck want to flood the world with Dark Eco and blah blah blah call to adventure. Their minions of darkness who for some reason I only want to call Urgals (Lurkers, I had to look it up) are your main hindrance. Of course, your other goal is to restore Daxter to his original form… because he wants that… for some reason. Watch the opening, you’ll agree, he ugly.
The MacGuffins of the hour are Power Cells and no word of a lie as I wrote those words, all I can hear in my head is the synthy ‘you got the thing’ music. There are of course other items to collect, usually as a way to obtain more Power Cells. In terms of gameplay loops, Jak and Daxter are pretty solid. Kill enemies by mashing square and circle (punch and spin respectively, each with an appreciably squishy animation). Collect Precursor Orbs*** to trade for Power Cells. Use power cells to charge heat shield/ move boulder/ charge heat shield again (delete where applicable).
There are puzzles scattered throughout the world though most are based on the movement mechanics more than anything. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing. The few times that the game strays from its standard format can be… jarring. Stationary turret sections spring to mind, the Zoomer segments were teeth-grindingly irritating and the worst criminal: The fishing section. The god damn fishing section. I’ve one hundred percented this game twice. This is one of the first games I ever played. I love this game. I hate the fishing section. On my first playthrough, I could never complete it.***
“HERECOMESABIGONE”-The fisherman bastard. Do your own job dick.
The fishing section, for those who don’t know, is a fast-paced, net-based, fish-catching extravaganza. Each fish is given a numerical value, 1lb and 5lb, and your job (in exchange for a measly power cell) is to catch two hundred pounds of fish. If you miss twenty pounds then you get bugger all. Then there are the poisonous eels. Fuck the fishing section.
So… Power-ups. You may have noticed me use the word Eco and wondered what I meant. Well sit your sweet and handsome butt down and have a learning. Eco is a natural energy that flows from deep underground. Sometimes it’s a liquid or a solid, but mostly it’s a gas. Globs of it in its different forms can be found all over the place and its main use is as a puzzle mechanic. There are five kinds of Eco that are introduced to us throughout the game. Green, Blue, Yellow and Red as well as dark. There may be another colour, but I’ve already done so well on avoiding spoilers wink. The player does not interact with Dark Eco to their benefit, but each of the others will grant a positive effect. Green restores health, Blue makes you faster, Red makes you stronger and Yellow makes you shoot fire out of your hands. You know, enhancing each of your body’s natural abilities. Finding globs of Eco usually means that something fun is going to happen and using these powers does feel remarkably cathartic.
And that’s pretty much all she wrote. I think I’ve made it clear that I like this game, It’s my gold standard. When I play a new game, I’ll ask myself if I like it more than Jak and Daxter. The answer is usually a resounding meh, I’m quite indecisive. Now for the cloud to this silver lining. The sequels. I’ll be honest, I haven’t played all the sequels. I had great fun with Daxter… Never finished it. Lost Frontier… Loved it, Never finished. Jak II, felt too different from the original. That’s a perfect example of the thin design line. If it’s too similar to the first what’s the point, if it’s too different why call it a sequel. Gun mechanics and shape changing where just too… something. It was a shift, movement in a strange direction. I’ve heard it described as Kidsbop GTA and I can definitely see it. Maybe one day I’ll return to the world of Jak and his friends and finally get through the original trilogy (as it were). I hope so.
So there you have it, Not That You Asked But… Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. A fantastic first game with some sequels I guess. Have you played this game? Do you have any thoughts? Comment below and tell me exactly why I’m so wrong and why my thoughts and opinions are invalid.****
(*For the time, 2001 remember. What else had come out that year? Halo: Combat Evolved? Sonic Adventure 2? I’m not saying the graphics are perfect, but yikes, they could have been a lot worse and gotten away with it.)
(**I love the games just as much as you do but the difference between the opening and the engine is… noticeable.)
(***Big ups to my big brother who, in retrospect, probably only helped me so I would go away.)
(****I don’t really care, my editor just told me I needed a call to action for the audience.)*****
(*****Not what I meant – The editor)