During the era of the Playstation 2, Sony’s roster of franchise mascots represented some of the best videogaming the industry had on offer. Amongst the likes of Kratos and Ratchet and Clank, was Naughty Dog’s duo – Jak and Daxter. The elfish protagonist with the wise-cracking sidekick immediately came onto the gaming scene with strong delivery. The Precursor Legacy represents the sort of polished, high-quality entertainment that comes from a consistent game development studio working hard to better its craft further and further with each new game they put out. After success with their Crash Bandicoot series, Naughty Dog built a truly superb 3D platformer. Seeing as how a vast amount of the original Playstation’s and N64’s catalogue was of this breed, somebody had to get the formula perfected eventually. The Precursor Legacy is the culmination of the ideas set in late 90’s console gaming, and is a pinnacle of its genre.
In the world of The Precursor Legacy, the player controls Jak; the blonde, blue-wearing, mute, elf protagonist who is inhumanly agile and has the vertical leap of Michael Jordan in Moon Shoes. Jak is a pleasant and amiable character, if somewhat mischievous, and easily falls into the hero archetype. Because Jak is playing the part of the silent hero, the liveliness is beset on his best friend, Daxter. As well as being the catalyst for the story, Daxter goes along for the whole ride in their adventure. His personality seems like a relic of sorts, in retrospect, harkening back to the anthropomorphic videogame mascots so prevalent in the 90’s. Armed with quips (usually regarding his own well-being getting constantly put in jeopardy), sassy game over cutscenes, and a cartoony-style of animation to his face and gestures, he’s an excellent balance to Jak’s character. Imagining the game without him (the cutscenes in particular) would leave the story rather dry and ho-hum. He’s an essential X element, of sorts. Which is a good thing especially since comedy is often times a tightrope in videogames few developers can walk on. His interactions with the other two lead characters, Samos (the mentor figure who can control elements of life) and Keira (the inventive love interest), help build up the sense of connection the player has with them and adds motivation to get involved and care about what’s happening.
That being said though, the plot is fairly simplistic: After being exposed to Dark Eco, (a sort of raw, destruction energy that can take multiple forms of matter, but is generalized as purple-black ooze) Daxter (who previously looked rather malnourished) becomes an orange weasel-like creature with goggles and gloves who rides on Jak’s shoulder, and he needs to be turned back to “normal.” (Really, the transformation is an improvement.) Of course, it’s not so simple, as there’s only one man who could do it and he’s “far, FAR, to the North.” The way the story unfolds from there leaves things slightly mysterious until the 3rd act, but no one would knock you for saying it’s somewhat predictable. But just because it’s ending isn’t unexpected (spoilers: Jak beats the bad guys at the end) doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, the amount of creativity and world building Naughty Dog put into establishing the game universe almost requires these more recognizable plot points. The writing is far from lazy and the voice-acting is well done. Sometimes a simpler, tried and true story with a slight twist is just as enjoyable as the more complicated ones.
Advancing in the game revolves around collecting items called power cells. In order for the player to unlock the ability to go to the next hub world of the game, Keira will ask you to find a seemingly arbitrary number of these collectibles that are located in the levels, or to buy them off the denizens with precursor orbs (As with other games of the genre, the currency is just lying about the levels waiting for some protagonist to come pick them up). These other characters are mildly interesting, but seem rather disconnected from the main plot. They can give missions, and sometimes the dialogue between them and Daxter is worth a chuckle, but it is entirely possible to collect all the power cells from the levels without them telling you, just by using natural videogame logic. The levels do not put up barriers within themselves to prevent completion. For the most part, the stages are actually rather open-ended and do not require any specific tasks to be done in any particular order. This is good for first time players who are trying to just get the power cells Keira needs for her inventions, and allows a good degree of freedom in terms of what it is you want to do. (In order to get the secret ending however, players must collect all of the power cells, offering some initiative to go back through the teleport gates to collect them all.) The manner by which one earns a power cell is the best part of the game. Jak and Daxter is, at its core, a running, jumping, punching game. The amount of variety that Naughty Dog has put into its missions using this base structure is not only impressive, but manages to ward off any sense of fatigue or repetition, instead feeling fresh and compelling. Within a given level, you can find yourself interacting with various eco power-ups and different enemy types that change the way Jak plays, riding the Zoomer or Flut-flut (mountable bird creature) to access areas not traversable by conventional means, or any of the myriad of mini-game challenges or puzzles that dot the levels. Speaking of which, the levels are well realized and have an engrossing sense of setting, aided in part by the subtle, ambient soundtrack (a personal favorite being the Underwater Precursor City). Having something different to do, and never quite in the same way you did similar things before, keeps the game fun from start to end.
All in all, the first entry of the Jak and Daxter trilogy proved to be an enjoyable, refreshing experience in an industry that has had almost all of its AAA publishers inundated with making [generic shooter title of the year] and [competing shooter title of the year]. If videogames today have you feeling burnt out on the same-old, same old, this game will literally make you remember how games were fun. Not to say the game doesn’t have its issues. The camera can be a hassle to deal with, the health system show its age, and the generally bright tone can be off-putting if you’re an old curmudgeon or an emo-goth type. But considering the way video games have gone, every gamer with a Playstation console really owes it to themselves to play what can only be described as one of the best 3D platformer/ collect-a-thon games ever made. The Precursor Legacy clocks in at about 8-10 hours for completion, but it is a great ride all the way through and is one that (obviously) is coming highly recommended.
Obligatory Number at the End: 9.5/10