Random Game of the Week #4 – Daxter

Action News Retro Ramblings Platformer PSP Sony

Daxter – PSP – 2006

When I started choosing random games to play, I was worried that I would get unlucky and there would be very little variety. Sometimes randomness doesn’t end up appearing all that random after all. I think it turned out pretty diverse though. My first game was Solaris, an arcade style space shooter for the 2600 that I knew nothing about prior to playing it. Second was Metroid Fusion, a GBA title which I’ve played several times and I consider one of my favorites. Next was Sentinel Returns, kind of a lame duck among PS1 games. It was a puzzle-type game that I couldn’t get the hang of. What will today’s game be? Let’s find out!

The random number generator says 27, and system number 27 is my PSP. This could turn out well. Most of the games I have for PSP are ones I specifically picked up because I really wanted to play them. So we’ll roll again and see what we get: number 3. Let’s see, the third game on my list for PSP is Daxter. Well this should be interesting. I got Daxter for free from Sony through their Retail Loyalty Program while I was working for a video game store, and I think I played a little of it but I never really got very far. There were just too many other games that needed playing and it got lost in the shuffle.

I think I prefer this European cover art for Daxter to its American counterpart.

I’m a huge fan of the first game in the series, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, which was an immensely fun 3D platformer for the PS2 by Naughty Dog. Naughty Dog is best known lately for its PS3 franchise Uncharted, but to me they will always be the creators of Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. While I did buy Jak II when it came out, I was kind of turned off by all of the changes to the formula so I sort of lost interest in the series, choosing instead to replay the first game whenever I was feeling the itch. I’ll be glad to give Daxter another chance though. While I remember it being a little clumsy due to the PSP’s shortsighted lack of a second analog stick, it should be a fun little excursion.

I’m not so sure about this Japanese cover for the original Jak and Daxter though.

So far no complaints. The opening cutscene was pretty good. At first I was worried when I heard the green sage talking so positively about Daxter, but he quickly returned to form by the end of his speech. The only thing that bothers me is the premise. Why is Daxter working as an exterminator? I guess there isn’t much money in being the sidekick of the savior of the city? After the first game involving Jak and Daxter saving pretty much the whole world if I remember correctly, it’s strange to see half of that team resigned to squishing bugs.

My first mission has me clearing out bugs from a local hotel, but once I arrive and talk to the concierge he informs me that he’s lost the elevator key and wants me to look around for it. Ok, excuse my attempt at logic for a second, but this would never happen! Video games do this sort of thing all the time: someone sends you on an errand that has little or nothing to do with you, and is really something they ought to take care of themselves.

Let’s imagine this in real life. An exterminator arrives at a hotel to do a job he was hired for. Upon meeting with an employee of said hotel, they say, “Oh sorry, I know we called you to come help us get rid of pests, but I lost the key to the elevator. What? Why does our elevator need a key? Nevermind that, can you look around the lobby for the key that I lost and waste your valuable time that I’m playing you for?” On what plane of existence would that happen? If I were that exterminator, I’d tell that concierge what he could do with his lost key.

F@%@# that noise. Get your own key.

Anyway, back to the game. Ok wait. I just found the elevator key, and do you know where it was? Literally like 10 feet away sitting under a flashing beacon. I’ll forget about the real world implications of this right now, but why did they even do this from a game design perspective? Why even bother making me walk like 2 seconds out of the way to grab a key just to then tell me to go straight to the elevator? I know it’s a small thing, but sometimes I can’t help but wonder what’s going on in a game designer’s head. That objective was specifically put in place by someone for seemingly no reason. I can keep mentioning silly video game logic moments all day (like why exactly Daxter needs an electric fly swatter), but I think I’ve had my fun. Time to get to it.

Video game logic to the rescue!

After completing a few more missions, I’m beginning to notice that there is a lot of variety to this game. Or at least some variety. There was a mission where I had to ride around on an antique speeder named Ol’ Betsy spraying swarms of bugs off of plants, followed by a trek through a bar’s basement where you were forced to use your bug sprayer as a jetpack-type hover apparatus. My feelings about these two segments could not have been more different. I felt that speeder level was a terrible attempt at making Daxter feel more like one of the earlier Jak titles by adding in a similar element. Ol’ Betsy is nowhere near as smooth to control as the speeders in games like Jak and Daxter for example.

One of the biggest problems is the control scheme. I understand that when designing controls schemes for portable systems, you sometimes don’t have a lot of options because of a lack of ample input methods, but the only thing the PSP is really missing is that second analog stick. This isn’t too much of a problem in Daxter because they map the swing of the camera to the shoulder buttons. However, when on the speeder they also mapped jump to L and your bug spray to R. This means that the same buttons are used to jump and attack as are used to turn the camera. I hope it’s clear why this can be a problem in a level where you are riding a hover bike and even worse, a level where you’re timed to eliminate all of the bugs. Another problem is that the speeder doesn’t spray its green mist ahead of itself, but rather releases it to the rear like a snow plow dropping rock salt. This all made for an awkward and really unpleasant experience.

As hard as it was to get used to, I actually miss Monster Hunter’s “claw” control scheme

After that disaster of a level, you can imagine my delight when the next level told me I was now able to use my sprayer as a jet pack (ok, really more of a hover ability, but shut up) and a flamethrower (as long as there’s a source of fire nearby). Alright, so there are some contingencies, but it was still cool. In this mission, Daxter had to clear out bugs from the basement of a bar and repair their water pressure system (which he knows how to do apparently). By holding circle while in the air you’re able to get some lift and hover for a few seconds with your sprayer. This air time can be extended by picking up globs of pesticide which are floating all over the place, and you can get a height boost by spraying it over flames to ignite your green stream. This mechanic can also be used to turn your sprayer into a flamethrower to burn down cobwebs and attack enemies. This made for some really fun platforming segments and a few tricky precursor orbs to collect. I’d like to see more of this mechanic and less of the awkward but obligatory fan service speeder levels, because after all, that’s what I loved about the Jak series: platforming!

I won’t make it a secret that I’m a huge fan of platformers, both 2D and 3D but probably favoring 2D just a little. It’s one of the oldest, and in my opinion most fun, genres of gaming and unfortunately there really has been a bit of stagnation among platformers for the last few years. Thankfully that seems to perhaps be ending, with the recent releases of New Super Mario Brothers, Lost in Shadow, and the superb Donkey Kong Country Returns, not to mention reboots of some of my favorite classics like Rocket Knight, Bonk: Brink of Extinction, and Sonic 4 (I liked both it and Sonic Fan Remix) all starting to sprout up.

I never thought we’d see a new game starring the loveable PC Genjin.

Yes, these are all 2D, but that’s exciting to me because that’s what’s really been missing this last decade was the plethora of 2D platforming that could be found in the previous decades. Hopefully this revival isn’t just a trend as companies start to see that this genre still has a lot to offer financially. This rant does have a point though, I swear! What I’m trying to say is that while the Jak series did offer variety, and there have been lots of changes and additions throughout the franchise, it was always rooted in very solid platforming. I think that Daxter would have been better off had it focused more on that basis, because the foundation is definitely there.

The next level was in a subway station, and involved jumping around between moving trains and dodging obstacles, all while collecting precursor orbs and fighting a few bugs. I really don’t know where all of these orbs are supposed to be, because I’ve been looking pretty thoroughly in most of these areas and I’m still missing a good deal of them. Anyway, this level was another disappointment. I just finished the level and the boss fight with a giant queen bug which makes up its finale, and it was just frustrating. The momentum shift when trying to jump between trains is not only disorienting, but it makes it almost impossible to make it to the next moving platform before it either disappears or you slam into an electric fence. The boss fight was fine, and it actually worked pretty well. The only odd thing was that out of the four phases, numbers 3 and 4 were literally identical, but it was a pretty decent boss fight.

Every game needs a giant spider queen boss. Side Note. I honestly read this as “Plastic Armored Arachnid” on my first playthrough. Addendum: Kids are dumb.

I’d say the low point of the level though was probably the “train chase” segment, where you’re riding a zoomer (speeder, zoomer, hoverbike, whatever they want to call it) down a tunnel while a train follows close behind. The reason I put train chase in quotes is because this was the easiest escape sequence I’ve ever done in a video game. You just hold the accelerator, hit some speed boosts which are almost always directly in the middle of the tunnel, and avoid electric obstacles, which are usually placed at the left or right edges. Therefore, if you just hold X and stay in the middle (which is exactly what I did) you’ll be perfectly fine and will barely have to touch the analog stick. in the video at the bottom, this childishly easy segment begins at around the 6 minute mark.

I think I’m going to stop this thing here. While I don’t think Daxter is a bad game exactly, it’s also not very good. There are just too many other good games that need playing that I can’t see myself spending any more time on this one. If Ready at Dawn had cut out all of the “variety” stages like the zoomer levels and stuck to good ol’ fashioned platforming, I think they really could have had a pretty good game here. The problem for me is that once the game strays away from platforming, it becomes very tedious and mediocre. So all in all, there were definitely enjoyable moments, but they were punctuated by segments that didn’t match the quality of the rest of the game.

That’s four games down and about 600 to go. Of course, since I add new games to my collection all the time this could potentially go on forever. For now though, I’ll be saying goodbye to Daxter and hello to whatever the dice throw at me next time.

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