Any discussion of the best games on the PlayStation 2 is not complete without one very great platforming series: Jak and Daxter. It's no wonder then that SCEA decided to bring the classics back via an HD Trilogy that is out today. These games are pushing a decade old, can they still prove relevant and fun today? You betcha.
The Jak games are all 3D platformers, or even open world 3D platformers really. Each story builds on the previous one, and the original, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, introduces players to several main characters and ideas that are key in the later games. The Precursors were an ancient, advanced race. Their mysterious statues and artifacts are all around a group of fictional islands on which the game takes place. Jak and his rodent buddy Daxter (who is hilarious, to this day), are tasked with combating forces of Dark Eco and collecting a variety of artifacts, most notably power cells. After an initial tutorial area on Geyser Rock, players are given a lot of freedom to explore seamlessly connected areas on their own, discovering Precursor Orbs, machines, a variety of organic and robotic enemies, a few mini-games, and generally just have a great action-platforming time.
Controls are accessible and work great, the only nuisance is the constant micro-management of the camera, which often zooms in too close and can sometimes fail to rotate around completely when you're trying to pan in a horizontal circle. This forces you to reposition your character to be able to sweep the camera around completely, or, you can hop into first person mode to get a view, although you cannot actually walk in this view. That said, the left stick (no d-pad support) is used to move, X to jump (and double jump), and Triangle (or R3) to bring up that first person view. There are multiple attacks, such as dive attacks or drop attacks (where you jump up and come down hard, Mario-style), whose controls are based on Circle (Kick Spin) and a sliding or lunging punch executed with Square. By pressing R2, you can see how many collectibles you have gathered, including Power Cells, Green Eco (50 of these restore 1/3 of your life), and Scout Flies (7 of these per area generally). The Pause Menu allows you to scroll through all areas that you have visited to see where you stand on the x/y collectible count.
Collecting items via 3D platforming is a common design element in all three games. Usually, NPCs will give you goals/missions to achieve. You can have multiple active missions, or quests, active at one time, and the Pause Menu reminds you what it is your after. Jak II and 3 added their own additional features to the game, including the high jump which gave developers more creative flexibility in level design. Jak 3 includes an inventory system with multiple dune buggies and morph gun attachments as well; all three games have vehicular areas that fit in smoothly, not unlike the vehicle scenes in the Uncharted series.
Similar to Uncharted, and many great trilogies for that matter, these games, and even within the games themselves, take place in a variety of different settings. Precursor utilizes an island setting with lots of sun, but also volcanic activity and dense jungles, for example. Jak II is more industrial, taking place in a large futuristic city setting, while 3 gets back outdoors to a massive desert wasteland.
In all cases, the gameplay is top notch. I thought Naughty Dog did a superb job with the difficulty -- for many gamers, this series isn't very difficult, but, you don't get a lot of chances to make consecutive mistakes. The good thing is even when you do die, load times are instant and you are never too far back. Plus, you can save your game at anytime. This is the type of game that is accessible and enjoyable for young gamers and older ones. It has all of the right elements to make it enjoyable for both crowds. And actually a significant part of that enjoyment is derived from the comedy that is presented in animated cutscenes and in voiceovers, especially that of Max Casella, who voiced Daxter.
Now, in terms of an HD Collection, the Jak set gets the important stuff right, but leaves some things to be desired. First, when you start the game from the XMB, you are taken to a game selection splash screen. It looks great, and also shows percent completion for each game. When you select a game, it's just like you popped it into your PS2, although load times seem a bit long. But, once it's loaded (I didn't time it but would guesstimate thirty seconds), you're set. Load times are near instant from then on. That's great -- but, to switch games, you have to quit out, and then relaunch from the XMB. That's a fairly minor gripe ultimately, but I thought it worth mentioning.
A second gripe would be the lack of any extra content. I don't mean in-game content, but some extras, beyond the 100 Trophies. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the Trophies and I like how they are distributed within each game. But, some kind of interview or timeline or making of (either the original games or just this HD trilogy) would have been really cool. I see these HD Collections as a celebration of some great games of yesterday -- in reality, they're probably more so viewed from a business perspective as relative sure-fire sales for "easy" money. It is what it is, I suppose.
That aside, the presentation quality and overall job done here by SCEA, Naughty Dog, and Mass Media, is excellent. The visuals are bright, crisp, and wonderfully colorful. In terms of technical quality, each game is pretty darn close to one another. In other words, while you might expect Jak 3 to look way better than Jak 1, but that's not the case -- they're pretty darn close, with differences in art style and effects probably being the biggest differences (again, not unlike Uncharted). Regardless of what game you're playing, it looks great, and could honestly pass for a game released today, even if only a downloadable game like something from the PS Store or Steam. I was not able to test the 3D stereoscopic support, as I don't have a 3DTV, however.
Available today for only $40, Jak and Daxter Collection is a superb value. Three excellent games that are just as fun and charming as they were almost a decade ago.