CES 2006: Daxter Hands-On

We check out a two-level demo of the PSP platformer starring the world's most famous (and only) ottsel.

LAS VEGAS--Nestled in the PlayStation section of Sony's CES booth is a small assortment of PSPs featuring a mix of released and unreleased titles. One of the games on display is a demo disc of Daxter, the action platformer starring the one and only orange ottsel who is one part of the Jak and Daxter team. The upcoming title is a solo adventure for the wisecracking critter, set during the two years before the events of Jak II; it depicts Daxter's attempt to rescue his beleaguered pal, who's being experimented on and tortured at the hands of the vile Baron Praxis. As rescue operations go, Daxter takes a rather unique approach to saving Jak: He becomes a bug exterminator. We tried our hand at the selection of content in the demo, which offered a good sampling of what to expect from the title.

The demo featured three components, the introductory trailer, the first level, and a "dream" level. The introductory trailer sets the stage and offers an ostensibly glowing introduction of Daxter by Samos, who's been a staple of the Jak titles since their debut. Of course, the wizened codger loses his cool and tells it like it really is about the annoying ottsel. From there you get a quick setup that shows just why the chatty critter winds up becoming a bug exterminator after he said he would be saving his buddy.

The introductory level finds you getting acquainted with Daxter's move set and bug-swatter weapon--essentially an electrified fly swatter with which you can perform simple three-button attack combos. The key is to take on a job, kill insects, and collect orbs as you go. The level was pretty straightforward and let you get a feel for the game's controls and its unique brand of platforming.

The dream level is a tongue-in-cheek Matrix homage, complete with leather apparel and sunglasses, which is a minigame-style button masher that requires you to fend off incoming enemies by pressing the correct button icon that comes up as you're approached by a foe. If your timing is right, you'll knock them away with some kung fu flourish. If not, you'll be clipped and take damage.

Control in the game is simple and easy to pick up, much like its console counterparts. The basics of running, jumping, and double-jumping are all here, as are some ottsel-specific maneuvers, such as crawling on all fours to squeeze into new areas and climbing up walls.

The visuals in the game are still on the positive path, as we noted when we saw it at E3, and come surprisingly close to mimicking the look of the PS2 Jak games. You'll notice Daxter looks and moves smoothly, with all of his trademark sass intact. At the same time, the other characters we've seen share the same level of quality, as do the environments. If you look closely, you'll notice some unattractive textures and other rough spots here and there; but regardless, the game makes a top-notch first impression.

The audio in the game features console-quality music and effects. We've heard a healthy amount of voice from the cast already, featuring some familiar actors from the series. Daxter is one chatty wisecracking dude, as always--but so far it's not too annoying.

Based on what we saw, Daxter is shaping up to be a tasty bit of platforming for the PSP. The original title may end up being just the right example of what the nearly one-year-old hardware's library needs, an original title with console polish. Daxter is scheduled to come out this spring for the PSP. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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