The original Jak and Daxter was an outstanding platformer during the early days of the PlayStation 2. Its shining star was Daxter as a personality, but its loading-free gameplay was some of the finest on the console at the time. However, time was also the enemy of the core game’s design. The era of platforming mascots with ‘tude was past and the kid-friendly cast just felt like something from a bygone era. This has hurt many mascot platformers, but hurt this game more because it wasn’t something that delivered timeless gameplay or even featured a memorable rogues gallery. It was a well-crafted game that was simply something that was released at both the best and worst time possible. The industry was shifting towards a more adult-oriented slant on things and kids generally wanted to play GTAs and the like — leaving games like Jak and Daxter to feel passe right out of the game.
The series as a whole went through a weird change on the PS2, with the immediate sequel going for a try-hard emo vibe with Jak now becoming a semi-badass and taking a few influences from GTA. The third entry found a nice in-between, with a more serious bend, but not a hilariously angsty one like the second entry. An outstanding and underrated kart racer in Jak X: Combat Racing delivered a ton of thrills. Its upgrade system and surprisingly involved storyline have also allowed it to age nicely and while it may not be as revered as Crash Team Racing, it’s still a sign that Sony can handle mascot racing fine on its own. The series even hit the PSP with Daxter as well as Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier. These side-stories offered up a lot of comedy, but lacked some of the polish that made the mainline games a hit on consoles.
The franchise always scored well, but did falter a bit in popularity. The lack of a new game after the PS2 era hurt it a bit, but the franchise did rebound a bit with an HD collection on the PS2. This allowed a new console generation of fans to play the first three games and do so with better graphics as well. The revamped visuals saw a nice boost in polygon count and generally smoothed out any rough edges the PS2 releases had. The inclusion of only three of the franchise’s games instead of all of them was a bit disappointing – but did allow for the mainline games to get a solid showcase. However, with two-thirds of the collection featuring the more mature content, it still left the first game to feel like an odd man out. It’s the most family-friendly game of the bunch and the one that feels like it would have been right at home in the N64/PS1 era of mascot platformers.
It blends platforming with fetch quests and does so in a way that feels fairly natural. Finding things opens up new parts of the world and allows you to progress, while clear stage layouts make it easy to find all that you need to in order to move on and additional goodies can be found with a bit of exploration. By not requiring every possible thing to be collected in order to do well – like far too many Rare games, it allows you to focus on the platforming and just treat the fetch quests as a means to an end. The pacing of the adventure is much faster thanks to this core game design shift and it makes the game more user-friendly for both genre veterans and newcomers. The adventure controls slightly better than ever before due to the Dual Shock 4’s longer grips making extended play sessions easier while the increase grip on the thumbsticks makes character and camera movement a breeze. The default camera is definitely a sign of the times though, and doesn’t work as well as it should when you’re in a confined space.
Other than that issue though, the original game has held up quite nicely. The formula for mascot platformers wasn’t revolutionized with it, but Naughty Dog refined things and in the process, created a whole new franchise. Compared to Ratchet and Clank, it has cooled off more over time – which is a shame. The game’s sense of humor is a bit more family-friendly and not as crass, which might be one reason it has never quite achieved a large amount of success. One great thing about the game being released on its own on the PS4 compared to the PS3 collection is that it gets a true chance to shine here. It may not look as good when it comes to character models and environments, but the cutscenes lack the glitches and clipping issues from the PS3 release, making it a bit of a trade-off.
The PS4 version retains a widescreen aspect ratio and feels a bit more natural as a PS2 to PS4 game, while the PS3 version benefits from an increase in graphical fidelity — but also one that makes it look like a smoothed out PS2-era game. Neither is a full remake and the series really doesn’t need it. Part of the charm is seeing the game’s original era be retained in some form. If you missed out on the original game, this is a fantastic way to play it and the best overall way to do so without a PS3. If you have the PS3 trilogy, then this is a less-essential purchase unless that version’s cutscenes issues bothered you. In that case, it’s worth getting here to still enjoy the game with a widescreen aspect ratio – albeit one that is slightly cropped.