And we’re back with the next “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn” where I will finish my discussion on the Jak and Daxter series. As I mentioned in last week’s article, this series didn’t last as long as I would have liked, with its entire lifespan lasting for only as long as the PS2. I covered the main trilogy last week, so let’s finish up with the last two games of the series.
Jak X: Combat Racing (PS2)
Once again, Naughty Dog proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are fans of racing and likely spend their weekends watching lots of NASCAR. It wasn’t enough that the fourth and final game they made for the Crash Bandicoot series, Crash Team Racing, was a racing game, but they repeated history and made their fourth and final entry in the Jak and Daxter series another racing game as well. Thankfully, this repeat in history was a favorable one and Naughty Dog made another racing game that I actually enjoyed, despite the fact that I don’t particularly care for racing games. I’ll start off with the least interesting aspect of this game, which is the story. After all the adventures Jak and Daxter undertook in the original trilogy where they dealt with soldiers, monsters, robots, and aliens, things kind of go backwards here with the duo mostly dealing with gangsters and hoods (and one evil robot) in high stakes combat racing.
There’s actually a good reason as to why Jak, Daxter, and their other allies have to take part in a racing competition: They were poisoned in accordance to an old dead enemy’s will and the only way they can get the antidote is by winning the Kras City racing championship. They’re racing for their lives. Aside from a late game plot twist, the story isn’t that outstanding, but given that this is a racing game, Naughty Dog did a pretty good job providing a story that actually works.
Thankfully, the gameplay largely makes up for the straightforward story. It’s fast paced and the fact you get to blow up other racers with missiles, mines, and machine guns really adds to the fun factor. Aside from standard circuit races, Jak and Daxter also take part in arena battles, item collecting challenges, time trial races, and more, so there’s plenty of variety. The different types of racing vehicles that Jak and Daxter gain access to, some built for speed and others built to take more punishment, can be upgraded with points you gain from completing races and challenges, and their cosmetic appearances like paint jobs and tires can be adjusted to your liking as well.
The game is also challenging, sometimes frustratingly so. One race in particular has Jak competing against other racers without the use of weapons, which had a similar brutality to it reminiscent of the most difficult missions in Jak II and Jak 3. Also, when taking part in standard circuit races, it’s nearly impossible to get a decent lead on other racers for very long since they pretty much always catch up to you at some point, even if you blow them up multiple times and get a huge head start on them. Some more of that crazy voodoo that occurs in games where NPCs perform at superhuman levels only when it’s clear that you have the advantage. Only Naughty Dog could make a racing game this fun for someone like myself who normally doesn’t care about racing. Even so, it’s still a racing game so it simply doesn’t appeal to me as much as the other games in the series. Jak X: Combat Racing gets a score of 80%.
Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier (PS2)
The final Jak and Daxter game was also the weakest game in the series, and much of that was due to it not being developed by Naughty Dog. Once again history repeats itself as a very similar fate occurred with Crash Bandicoot and the last game in that series. At least Daxter’s name was added into the title in this game, the little furball really does deserve the recognition. This game revolved around Jak, Daxter, and Keira journeying to the ends of the earth, a place called the Brink, where the planet is not so well put together and pieces of it break away and fall into nothingness. The rest of the world is running low on Eco, so Jak and his friends went to the Brink in order to find some more since it’s the only place left with any Eco to spare. Things get complicated when Jak and his friends get dragged into a war between a group of people known as the Aeropans and their enemies the Sky Pirates, with all sides seeking to find the Eco for themselves. While it’s decent enough, the story just doesn’t quite live up to those in the previous games.
The gameplay for Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier goes back to the usual shooting and platforming that was so popular with the original trilogy, but it feels rather scaled back. Jack could no longer roll, roll jump, duck, crawl, or even holster his weapon like he could in the original trilogy, and while these aren’t necessary functions, the fact they’re missing just makes it more obvious that the game was optimized for the inferior PSP and ported to the PS2. Jak’s Gunstaff functions very much like his Morph Gun, only now he’s back to using four gun mods like in Jak II as opposed to twelve like in Jak 3, and the fact the Peace Maker mod was replaced for some reason with the less cool and destructive Lobber feels like yet another (and confusing) step back. Due to the unstable nature of Eco in the Brink, Jak can no longer transform into his Dark Jak or Light Jak forms, but fortunately he does gain access to new Blue, Red, Yellow, and Green Eco powers, which include increased speed, throwing a large ball of explosive Red Eco, surrounding himself with an Eco Shield to absorb damage and roll over pools of Dark Eco, etc. Many of these new powers can be aquired and upgraded in a new skill tree, so that’s one decent addition.
One other addition to the game is being able to fly a number of upgradeable and customizable planes in some Ace Combat or Star Fox-like levels, as well as in some special racing and shooting challenges. These flying missions make up about half of the core gameplay alongside the usual platforming; they work well enough, and some are actually rather challenging, but they’re nothing out of this world either. Although, I do kind of like how Daxter can be shot out at enemies and you control him through quick-time events as he takes an enemy’s plane apart and brings back spare parts that can be used to upgrade your own planes and their weapons. Finally, Daxter becomes fully controllable in his own play sessions where he comes into contact with Dark Eco yet again and transforms into a large, beastly version of himself known as Dark Daxter. These play sessions have Daxter going through corridor-like levels where he destroys obstacles and enemies with new abilities like throwing balls of Dark Eco, a ground smash, picking up and throwing enemies, and spinning around like the Tasmanian Devil to form a Dark Eco tornado attack. Like the flying missions, these missions were entertaining enough, yet more repetitive and very linear.
Despite all these new additions to the Jak and Daxter formula, nothing about this game really stands out. Even the boss fights, while decent enough, have artificially inflated difficulties due to the bosses having long health bars, whereas boss fights in the previous games were more challenging from a tactical standpoint. And while previous locations can be revisited from a main hub, the game is not a free-roaming sandbox like Jak II and Jak 3 and is far more linear, which felt like yet another step back. I don’t find this game to be as horrible as many other Jak and Daxter fans find it to be, but it is definitely a step back from the previous games overall. The fact the game had a rather open-ended conclusion that never went anywhere made the whole affair even more disappointing. Basically, the game is not bad, but certainly not great like Naughty Dog’s previous efforts. Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier gets a score of 63%.
It really is a shame that the Jak and Daxter series, much like Crash Bandicoot, started out so well but then faded away into a distant memory without a proper conclusion. This shit seriously happens entirely too often with the series of games I choose to follow. Fortunately for those gamers who got into Naughty Dog’s later and far more successful Uncharted series, they will get a proper ending to their beloved series. I still (mostly) love the Jak and Daxter series and will continue to enjoy future playthroughs of these games. Join me next week for Part 16 of “D.G.M.’s Gaming Life Before Gaming Respawn” where I will discuss the Zone of the Enders games, but in the meantime check out these other bits of classic literature on Gaming Respawn:
Jorge’s latest “Have You Played…?” focuses on Okami, a game I’m sure most of you have at least heard of. If you’re like me and haven’t played the game before, perhaps Jorge’s recommendation for the game will persuade you to give it a go, so check it out right here.
Kane and yours truly offer our personal opinions on whether or not we believe the highly anticipated indie title No Man’s Sky will be the game changer it appears to be. Check out our joint opinion piece here…if you dare.
Ian, still apparently running on a tea and Red Bull fueled rush, brings us another review, this time on Resident Evil Zero HD. Check out what he thinks about this next gen update here.
Michael’s old “Rings of Saturn” feature, the older brother of his “Retro Respawn” feature, was brought back from retirement last week, which you can take a look at here. Afterwards, check out this week’s article here.