Ah, Jak and Daxter. I have a solid appreciation and more than a handful of fond memories for this disc. Mike and I are nearly in perfect agreement on the title, which is no surprise, really. It's something of a running joke that you could switch his name for mine (or mine for his) on our reviews and we'd likely not notice. Surprisingly, there is one area where we break ranks, though: the game's camera system.
Personally, I thought the camera system in Jak and Daxter is the most flawless one I've ever seen in a platform game. On my highly enjoyable path to 100%, I can't recall even one instance where the viewpoint could be called awkward or annoying, quite unlike another recent high-profile platformer that I wont soil this review by mentioning.
The excellence of the camera system is also indicative of the rest of the game. Granted, Naughty Dog didnt really innovate or bring many completely new ideas to the table, but everything they attempted was done to near-perfection. The graphics are stunningly smooth, the art design is mostly excellent, and the games locations flow seamlessly together, creating one huge cohesive environment. With almost no distinct beginning or ends to the levels, exploration takes on a very organic and natural feel that I greatly admire.
An often-overlooked feature that represents Naughty Dog's advanced sense of game design is the bit of code relating to difficulty. Originally devised for the Crash Bandicoot series, the game has the ability to modify itself on the fly according to how the gamer is doing. It's nothing too drastic, but if a certain area is being repeated over and over, the A.I. picks up on this. It then subtly alters the items or frequency of enemies, among other things. It's hardly noticeable unless you're specifically looking for it, but an extra life here or one less enemy there makes for smooth progression and a significant reduction in frustration. This quiet feature is nothing short of genius, in my view.
That's not to say the entire game is flawless, however. I am in no way a fan of the "silent protagonist" archetype that always seems to pop up right when I think its gone for good. I believe that Naughty Dog actually missed a huge opportunity for witty repartee and deeper characterization when they (unfortunately) decided to make Jak mute. Mike's right on the money when he says that the game would be pretty anonymous without Daxter's motormouth or fly breakdancing maneuvers.
I was also a tiny bit disappointed about Daxter's general uselessness besides comic relief. I do appreciate the jokes, but he doesn't really do anything. I'm hopeful that the sequel will give him some abilities ala Banjo-Kazooie. I could easily imagine some stealth levels that would be perfectly suited to his small size, or perhaps a few minigames to add even more variety than the already plentiful amount. Heck, even something as simple as Jak rolling Daxter up into a ball and tossing him to reach high places would be welcome.
Those things are nothing more than extremely minor quibbles, though. Overall, Jak and Daxter may have obvious roots in other platformers but remains an enormous amount of fun any way you slice it. Games simply don't come any more polished than this. It's beautiful to look at, its easy to control, there's enough variation in the objectives to satisfy the most jaded gamer and it earns itself a spot near the top of its genre quite handily. Its a clear winner and a required entry in any platform fans library.
As a final note and something of an indulgence to myself, I'd like to recommend the "Road Bob Hope and Bing Crosby that Mike referenced. If you havent seen them (which is 99.9% of you) and you like smart comedy, you wont be disappointed.