The Jak franchise may have traded in butt-stomping for combat racing last year on the PlayStation 2, but the series' platforming roots are still showing on the PSP with Daxter, a new action game starring everyone's favorite obnoxious ottsel. The game is currently in development at the relatively new Ready at Dawn Studios, the founders of which can boast on their resumés such obscure titles as Jak & Daxter, Starcraft, and Warcraft III. We've spent some time with an advance build of Daxter, and though Jak is nowhere to be seen and Dax's own moves are quite a bit different from past games, fans of the series should feel right at home here with the mission-based structure and familiar-feeling platforming action.
The beginning of Jak II saw Jak and Daxter teleporting from the lush environs of the first game to the dystopian urban sprawl of Haven City. The story then flashed forward two years to Daxter's, um, heroic rescue of Jak from the torturous clutches of Baron Praxis. But have you ever wondered what Daxter was up to in the intervening period? Daxter (the game) will answer that question. Despite a promise to rescue Jak as soon as possible, it seems the little scamp spent much of his time swilling booze in one dingy bar after another. What a stand-up guy.
But through his drunken antics, Daxter will inadvertently end up employed at the Critter-Ridder Extermination Company, working for a good-hearted old man named Osmo. The company is in financial trouble, and the villainous Kaeden has set his sights on shutting it down, so it's up to Daxter to take on one job after another to make enough cash to keep Critter-Ridder afloat. Of course, he'll quickly become embroiled in events with repercussions far beyond simple pest control, and we suspect the story will take fans closer to Jak II than you might expect at first glance.
The core structure of Daxter is similar to that of the second and third Jak games. You'll use the Critter-Ridder shop as a home base, and you'll head out to roam around Haven City, going from one job to another. Haven City here isn't quite the bustling metropolis you'll remember from the PlayStation 2 games, which is most likely due to the PSP's technical limitations--there isn't a lot of traffic zooming around, and the explorable areas aren't quite as extensive--but the look is the same, and you'll soon get a hover-scooter that you can use to get from place to place more quickly. And, just like in the Jak games, it appears that there will be a number of secrets hidden around the city for you to uncover between missions.
Once you hit a job, you'll go into a typical Jak-style action level. The basic feel of the platforming is almost identical to the Jak games, all the way down to the running and double-jumping. As a would-be exterminator, though, Dax's set of moves is different from Jak's. Gone are the spin attack and butt-stomp; in their place, you'll start out with a snazzy electric flyswatter that you can flail at enemies using simple attack combos. After a couple of levels, you'll also get access to a pressurized insecticide sprayer that you can use to hose down and stun most enemies. You'll also find challenges like zip lines and slides that will require you to dodge quickly incoming obstacles. Finally, throughout each level, you'll be collecting precursor orbs and metalheads--just like in the Jak games--and the latter of these can be applied toward unlocking various secrets. In short, the game has its own gameplay particulars, but it does feel an awful lot like a Jak game, which should make longtime fans happy.
In characteristic Jak fashion, you'll find other kinds of levels aside from the numerous straightforward platforming missions. In one level, we had to ride on a flying crop duster of sorts--except we were dusting bugs instead of crops. This level challenged us to take out a set number of bugs within a wooded glade before the time limit ran out. Once this was completed, we had to chase down and destroy the queen to complete the mission. Racing and vehicle-based missions have always been a big part of the Jak games, so we expect to see more of this sort of thing later on.
Daxter will also boast a number of dream-based minigames. At regular intervals, you'll be able to make Daxter lie down in his bed and go to sleep. The first time we tried this, we were thrust into a takeoff on The Matrix that had us hitting certain buttons with precise timing to fight off a bunch of Agent Smith-looking opponents. Though we've only uncovered this first dream game so far, we imagine the subsequent ones will be similarly based on various movies or other properties--or barring that, they'll at least be just as amusing.
From what we've played so far, Ready at Dawn has done an excellent job of re-creating the look of the Jak games on the PSP's small screen, from both technical and artistic points of view. The level designs all have the characteristically organic, varied look to them, and the characters emote with the same expressiveness that you'd expect. The team has even managed to include real-time cutscenes with goofy and amusing animations and other production values roughly on par with what we've seen in the PS2 versions. The level of detail has generally been impressively high compared to other PSP games, and we're looking forward to seeing how Daxter shapes up visually in its finished state.
So far, Daxter looks to be a worthy successor to the Jak series, from its varied action and numerous secrets to its pleasing visual design and inclusion of Max Casella, who returns again to provide the little whatsit's lovably grating voice-over. The game is due out at the end of March, and we'll bring you more in the coming weeks.