Daxter Review

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Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Ready at Dawn

Platform: PSP
Reviewed on PSP

What really happened to Daxter between Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Jak II, while Jak was enduring years of torture and was infused with Dark Eco? Daxter hunted bugs – armed with a spray gun full of poison and an electric bug swatter. Working for Osmo at the Kridder Ridder Extermination Company in Haven City, Daxter killed a lot of nasty bugs, and uncovered some of the horrifying intrigue festering beneath the surface of Haven City. But mostly... he killed a lot of bugs.

Kyle Ackerman

At first, Daxter has much of the same feel as Jak II, occupying a familiar part of that game's world. For fans of robust platformers and the Jak franchise, Daxter offers plenty of entertainment on the PSP. The only real concern is for casual gamers. Daxter's difficulty is comparable to that of Jak II. There are plenty of easy and straightforward platforming sequences, and the game typically provides convenient continue points, but occasional long sections requiring precise timing. Those parts of the game need to be executed straight-through and perfectly, such as a sequence of train surfing and zip lines, or several of the game's final moments.

That aside, there's a great mix of platforming, arcade-style racing and simple vehicular combat. All of these are interspersed with button-matching mini-games that prevent any one style of play from becoming monotonous. And, of course, there's always Daxter's snarky and sarcastic wit. Sony describes Daxter as "Half otter...half weasel...all trouble." In truth, he's a vaguely amusing pest hired to exterminate other pests. As a form of vermin, Daxter is well suited to hunting bugs, as he can scamper through ducts and other tiny spaces.

Daxter does a particularly good job of slowly introducing new moves and weapons to gradually change the nature of gameplay. Daxter rapidly upgrades from a simple swatter to a spray gun that lets him hover across gaps. Further upgrades and conveniently exposed flames let Daxter kill bugs more easily and use his spray gun as a portable rocket engine.

The levels are pleasantly varied, and range from a hotel and construction site to a cargo ship filled with high-altitude sites to sinister municipal locations. Between missions on foot, Daxter takes control of bug-hunting vehicles, cruising around to take care of infested flowers or pursue massive, metallized pests. Steering is never difficult, and these levels are typically easy, fast to complete and fun.

The main irritation of the game is the area of Haven City that connects all of the mission areas. As in Jak II, it doesn't add a lot to the game, but it does take a lot of time to move between missions, and delaying the fun is never a good game design decision. What really compensates for this is that the game engine is incredibly solid. The engine does a great job of rendering huge environments filled with animations and enemies without slowing down the PSP.

Dreams of Stardom

As in the other games of the Jak series, Precursor Orbs are the collectibles that are scattered around the landscape, but Daxter does a glorious job of making the collection process more than just a compulsive activity. If Daxter collects enough Precursor Orbs, the next time he lies down for a nap, he'll experience movie-inspired dream sequences. These dreams unlock new combat moves for squashing bugs, additional health and so forth.

These are also button-matching mini-games, but each is inspired by popular films. In one sequence, Daxter dons dark sunglasses and a long leather coat to defeat countless enemies with Matrix-style slow-motion martial arts. In other dreams, Daxter plays the hero in sequences that evoke Braveheart, The Lord of the Rings or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Most gamers can easily make it through the game without most of the upgrades, but it's worth collecting Precursor Orbs just to see Daxter envision himself as a movie star.

Bigger and Badder Battle Bugs

Precursor orbs aren't the only collectible in Daxter. Scattered throughout Haven City are combat bugs hidden in cages, tokens and vials of bug juice. All of these are part of the bug combat mini-game that can be played against AI opponents or live foes using the local wireless Ad-Hoc mode.

Vials of bug juice can be used to permanently power up your combat-ready bugs, and tokens can be brought into battle to offer quick switches and special attacks. Sadly, the mini-game is still just rock-paper-scissors, and it's hard to get all that excited about. Fortunately, bug combat is just icing on the cake of Daxter, and the rest of the game is easily worth the play time.

Whether or not you choose to play the combat bug mini-game, Daxter is a lengthy PSP platformer that provides plenty of great jumping and swatting action and fills one of the greatest gaps in the Jak franchise: what did Daxter do while Jak was imprisoned? Now we know he was an exterminator. Who'd have thought that swatting bugs was a great way to pass a few years in a strange city?

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 7, 2006 3:45 PM.

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