Developer: Naughty Dog
Submitted by: Retro Gamer
Following the close of the PlayStation era, the completion of Crash Team Racing and the sale of the Crash Bandicoot licence, the successful Sony-owned dev Naughty Dog set itself the goal of creating a new fictional world that was completely seamless on the incoming PS2 hardware. Naughty Dog asked its artists to envision what the world of their new game might look like – Aladdin would be counted as one of its stronger sources of inspiration. Jak And Daxter had high-end animation for an early PS2 title, part of the studio’s drive to master the hardware in a way that no other developer had, which also entailed creating a whole range of in-house custom tools for the project.
Mario 64 was a huge influence on the staff, too. Instead of collecting a lot of random elements into one unruly world, creating a sense of continuity between environments and objectives was really important for Naughty Dog, and this is reflected in the way that there’s a miniature story to every side-quest across the game. Some members of staff at Naughty Dog felt they had brought a title with elements normally associated with Nintendo to the PS2. Ultimately, The Precursor Legacy was a critical and commercial hit, spawning sequels that were solidly made, yet lacking the same spark in overall design.
At the time of release, members of the press often declared that Jak And Daxter was a mixture between Crash Bandicoot and one of a few Nintendo games – Zelda and Mario 64 being the most prominent examples. That was high praise for The Precursor Legacy, which very much had the same accessible interface and lighter tone of a typical Nintendo title, adhering to the rule that the main character simply has to feel satisfying to play as you manoeuvre them through any given level. While Crash was a structured platform affair, Jak And Daxter encompassed a wide range of different environments and challenges, yet grounded it all in the same constant experience.
The ultimate objective in Jak And Daxter is to gather 101 Power Cells – read: stars – but the quests to attain all of them are exquisitely diverse, challenging the player to explore, race, fish, gas plants, destroy flying elephants, herd creatures and loads more, justifying these bizarre scenarios with amusing cut-scenes featuring the world’s many residents. The range of objectives was nothing extraordinary in the wake of Mario 64, but there’s such a passion in the way they dovetail with the creative game world, which subverts a lot of the clichés that dogged 3D platformers during the previous two generations, due to the amount of detail invested in this backdrop.
Like Naughty Dog’s range of Crash games on the PSone, the developer infused Jak And Daxter with its own identity, and a kind of irreverence in the cut-scenes that you wouldn’t normally see in a Nintendo title. Daxter is a typically annoying sidekick, true, yet there is something endearing about the pairing of him with Jak, thanks to the occasional funny bit of dialogue and enthusiastic voice-acting.
Yet it’s the artform of building an action-adventure world that is on display here – Naughty Dog deliberately set out to make something moreish, and they succeeded, filling every pocket of the world with Power Cells that demanded a combination of persistence, precision and a little logic. As a result, it’s still a clear highlight of the genre, and in its updated HD form, has been contemporised for today’s gamers. One of Jak And Daxter’s finest features is that the pace is set by the player; no matter how deep into the game world you get, every objective remains wide open at all times, which makes Jak a compulsive game to revisit, another smart way that Naughty Dog manages to replicate the Nintendo effect.
Why It’s A Future Classic
In The Precursor Legacy, Naughty Dog created a high-end pastiche of different gameplay ideas, some of which it pioneered, and others that were obviously Nintendo-inspired. Far from a rehash, however, it’s one of the strongest platformers ever made.
Today, when this type of game sadly no longer seems to have a place in the shooter-heavy industry, it remains exactly as distinctive as it did in 2001. Jak II would absorb a trendier open-world carjacking template, which would create a more monotonous rinse-and-repeat mission style, deviating from the mindset that made Jak the collision of different genre ideas that we love.
Jak’s advantage is its anti-repetition; the world is built for the purpose of variety, whether the player bombs through it or pores over every detail. Naughty Dog is one of the strongest brands associated with PlayStation hardware, and Jak And Daxter cemented that reputation beyond the much safer Crash Bandicoot titles. That early ambition with the PS2 technology brought the very best out of the developer.