Sunday, June 10, 2012

Daxter - This Time, The Sidekick Gets A Turn

After three platforming games and a kart racer set in the world of Jak and Daxter, the PSP set the stage for a new installment, deciding to take the opportunity to lend the spotlight to Jak's sidekick, Daxter. This 2008 game, developed by Ready at Dawn rather than Naughty Dog, is one of the few that I actually own for the system and also marks me being near the end of my coverage of the Jak and Daxter franchise. The first time I played this game I was unsure what to think of it, so this second playthrough has given me a much stronger opinion. With that said, I'm not 100% sure about my opinion.

Daxter takes place during Jak II, more specifically the two year time skip in the first few minutes. While trying to figure out Jak's location after his capture by Haven City's Krimzon Guards, Daxter ends up accepting a job opening for the Kridder Ridder Extermination Company from a man named Osmo, whose previous hire quit out of cowardice. As the subsequent events unfold, a man named Kaeden aims to eliminate the Kridder Ridder business, and Daxter, for good while the ottsel makes new relationships along the way and uses his job as a cover to get his friend out of prison.

Admittedly, there isn't too much to this story, since the bulk of it seems to occur almost immediately before Jak II begins. Still, it's interesting how they handled it to fit the canon of the story. Daxter's side of the story shows how, despite his cowardly exterior, he has an inner drive that enables him to take whatever risk he needs to in order to save his best friend and protect the ones he cares about. There is also another side of the coin that depicts Kaeden speaking with Kor at this point in time, revealing the reasoning behind the later deception necessary for the huge twist in Jak II. Even with this in mind, it still didn't really explain to me why Kor would want a small business destroyed, though I did understand his need to rid the world of the ottsel for his scheme to work. It is because of this that Kaeden feels unfortunately like a cardboard villain that's there simply because he needs to be. New characters Osmo, Ximon, Taryn and Tik fulfill their roles well despite them being minor characters and I found it fun to see how they interacted with the protagonist throughout the campaign.

At its core, Daxter is a platforming game, with solidly designed levels that take full advantage of the abilities at the player's disposal at specific points, though some of the areas felt rather unfair due either to small ledges or the inability to see some part of the area fast enough. In addition to this, there are plenty of secret areas to discover, which can contain Precursor Orbs or other special items. Based on the levels alone, Daxter performs admirably, though perhaps not quite on par with its console brethren.

The other major design element of the game is its combat, and the orange ottsel shows some good prowess in this. The essential weapons used to exterminate the metal bugs are an electric bug swatter and a spray gun, both of which control extremely well. While the swatter stays the same the whole way, the spray gun is upgraded over time with different nozzles to shoot flames or an ultrasonic blast to defeat enemies or reach new areas in the levels themselves. What helps the spray gun stand out as well is its ability to be used as a way to travel across large gaps, as well as overcome various obstacles, with the various heights generated by the sprays providing a great amount of tactical variety and thoughtfulness with approaching what's up ahead.  Defeating the various metal bugs will award the player Metal Bug Gems, similarly to Metal Head Skull Gems, which seem to serve no other purpose than to fulfill whatever objective requires them.

Two other modes are present in this game, those being the Dream Mode and Bug Combat sub-game. The somewhat fun Dream Mode occurs when Daxter decides to rest (read: touch the bed) in Osmo's shop, entering one of six minigames based on popular movies, most prominently The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings. Beating these minigames can either give Daxter a new move in combat or increase his health, which can really come in handy later on. Bug Combat, accessible through the main menu screen, utilizes the other collectibles Daxter can collect during his adventure in a rock-paper-scissors style match between two opposing bugs. Potions can be used to upgrade the stats of the bugs and tokens can be used to give yourself a unique advantage at the right moment. While the game is interesting at first, and surprisingly deep, I got tired of it after a while and didn't end up playing it very much. There is a multiplayer mode, but good luck finding someone else you know that still uses their PSP to play Daxter.

Daxter's graphics are rather impressive for a PSP title, helped by the fact that Ready at Dawn worked on the impressive God of War handhelds as well. The soundtrack fit the levels accordingly and helped it fit in as a Jak and Daxter title, backed by impressive voice acting and clever dialogue to keep a consistent tone throughout. My only complaint might be in the rendering of Daxter's fur during cutscenes, but this is very minor and didn't affect my views at all.

In the end, Daxter is an interesting handheld title that is of an actually impressive quality in terms of its technical capabilities and combat. The story however feels weaker compared to the brilliantly written Jak II and 3 and I couldn't help but wish for something better for the main antagonist at least. If you want something different to play, or you want more Jak and Daxter, I'd suggest giving this game a try.

The next, and final, time I'll be touching upon this franchise will be when I get around to playing Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier.

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