Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy review
Having previously played and loved the Jak and Daxter series on the PS2, I was extremely eager to revisit them after all these years in The Jak and Daxter Trilogy for the PS3 which boasts a remastering of the visuals into HD. So, here I am with the review of the first game in the series The Precursor Legacy, a brilliantly designed platformer in a vibrant, cohesive world that has aged beautifully.
The game opens with a monologue of the extinct Precursor’s and an energy source called ‘eco’ which can be used for great good or for great evil; we then meet our two heroes Jak and Daxter taking a trip to the forbidden Misty Island. On their rebellious excursion they eavesdrop on a conspiracy from two Dark Eco users who seek to destroy the world. In the panic to escape, Daxter is knocked into a pool of dark eco where he is transformed into a weasel-like creature known as an Ottsel, when they arrive back home their custodian Samos the Sage explains that the only way to transform Daxter back to human form is to track down the Sage of Dark Eco who lies beyond the Fire Canyon. Being too hot to simply walk across, you’re tasked with finding a certain amount of shiny objects dubbed ‘Power Cells’ in order to power a vehicle to safely get you across. There’s a few more twists and turns in the story, but overall this isn’t earth-shattering stuff but why should it be? It’s a game for all ages and the narrative isn’t bad at all, it has a simple premise yet a clear objective to the adventure.
However it’s the responsibility of the characters after all to keep players interested in the story as it goes along and it’s no exception here, you play as Jak who’s a mute but it fits well with the theme of the game, not to mention it’s a perfect complement to the eccentric presence of Daxter. Ah Daxter, never fails to raise a smile especially with his witty exchanges with Samos throughout the game, it’s a small cast of characters but it’s just right, the world and its characters are deeply charming, no matter how many times you see Daxter dance.
If we move onto the gameplay now and The Precursor’s Legacy is a 3D platformer so I’m sure many will have a good idea what it plays like, moving platforms, tricky jumps and balancing on precarious ledges, you know all the staples of a platforming adventure? Similarly as with pretty much all platformers, it’s a big collectathon with the duo needing to navigate through the environments to get the required number of power cells and also small egg-shaped objects called precursor orbs which can be used to trade with the world’s inhabitants for more cells. Jak has a small number of moves at its disposal that are available from when you start the game, there’s a standard punch attack, a spin attack, jump, double jump and finally a long jump, all moves are easy to master and won’t provoke any form of frustration. Indeed, if you were to perhaps say that the gameplay doesn’t have much depth, then you’re not exactly wrong however later on Jak is able to utlise Eco power-ups to progress through previously inaccessible areas and a few short vehicle sections are staggered throughout the game, so there’s a few more elements to the game. All in all though, this is a classic platforming affair and by now you’ll know that if you find this sort of gameplay addictive or not.
However, a key reason why The Precursor’s Legacy is still so damn good is how amazing the level design is, the world is seamlessly interconnected with no loading screens beyond using portals to quickly get to previously accessed locations. As a result, the world feels organic and you get a sweet sense of satisfaction as you continue your adventure with your progress having been neatly reflected in the consistent path you’ve carved through. For example, from your starting point at Sandover Village you can travel to the nearby Sentinel Beach, Geyser Rock or the Forbidden Temple at your will and with no interruptions, it keeps the gameplay fresh and the structure clear, (you could even walk from the Village all the way to the final area, although that would take quite a long time by all accounts).
Jak and Daxter is ingeniously constructed and gives a staggering amount of freedom to the player without demanding that you find every secret in the world in order to progress, it was and still remains a stunning achievement in game design.
Graphically, this remains a gorgeous looking game and this is due significantly to how stellar the art style is, environments carry such vibrancy with a dazzling depth of colour on offer here. This riotous display of colour is perfectly in keeping with the theme of the game, it’s playful and maintains an innocence that should be cherished; the sea is fantastically if a little too blue, the grass and trees positively gleam in the sunlight and dark caves are beautifully illuminated by the presence of clear crystals. It all looks just so inviting, the early beach stages are like an idyllic paradise where the simplistic objectives of the area only reinforces its beauty by encouraging the player to explore at a friendly pace.
Also did I mention that this game features a full day-night cycle, how amazing is that? The dynamically-changing sky strengthens the player’s perception that they’re adventuring through flowing ecosystems all with their own specialist creatures, sand lurkers on a beach, snowy ones on the peaks for instance. Considering this game was made in 2001, it’s a remarkable feat and its crisp in motion with a solid frame-rate, the art style which I’ve waxed lyrical about has been clearly cleaned up and buttressed as well.
Furthermore, the animations although haven’t been re-done are still fantastic for its time, Jak will leap up onto objects with a great degree of believability, cling on to and swing from ledges, Daxter will forever be precariously clinging onto Jak’s shoulders throughout and of course there’s the variation in celebratory dance routines.
The character models meanwhile have not aged as gracefully, indeed the goat-like inhabitants of this world are very strange to look at, Daxter in some of his livelier scenes looks particularly erm… odd. This is a relatively minor complaint in what is a very attractive visual package.
The sound throughout is ace, with superb voice acting for the characters, Daxter in particular is exceptionally well voiced and of course how can we forget Jak!(wink) The soundtrack throughout is a real treat, your home of Sandover Village has a jovial, upbeat track, Forbidden Temple is brilliantly quirky and Misty Island has an appropriately mysterious, spooky theme. There’s plenty more themes for all the areas you visit but I’ll stop there and say throughout the duration of the game, the sound in pretty much all aspects is outstanding otherwise I’ll be here writing all night.
It gives me great joy for me to conclude that Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy is simply a stone-cold classic title. Even after returning to it all these years later, it’s still a delight to play thanks to its pitch-perfect platforming and entertaining environments. It may not be terribly complex, but this can be unequivocally brushed aside when it makes you smile as often as it does and that’s what gaming is all about, at least for me.
+ Truly timeless platforming
+ Wonderfully designed environments
+ Charming cast of characters
+ Gorgeous art style