Developer: Ready at Dawn
Release Date: March 21, 2006
As long as there have been platform adventure games, there have been iconic platforming heroes. Mario, Sonic, Samus, Link, Alucard, Rygar, The Prince of Persia – all of these characters represent the evolution of platform adventure games and their various niches. Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter took a more Lethal Weapon 3 slant to their narrative by having the capable and slick hero Jak tempered by a wise-cracking and delusional Ottsel named Daxter (I don't know what an ottsel is, but he looks like a long squirrel or an otter with long arms and bigger eyes).
Jak has seen three games in his platforming franchise and even a combat racing game. In an effort to continually evolve the Jak franchise, Naughty Dog Studios has spun off a new series with Ready At Dawn Studios to create a whole new game for Jak's little buddy Daxter. Appropriately enough, this new platform adventure game will be based on the PSP, as if your PSP is your own little Daxter. It's a nice use of imagery and the system's iconography. I'm not sure Sony's so appreciative, but what Ready At Dawn has built so far ought to make Sony smile.
Daxter is based on your average platform gaming mechanics. Using a 3D camera in third-person view, you'll follow Daxter around each level as he zaps bugs with an electrified fly swatter and a rechargeable canister of bug spray. Daxter can turn this spray can into a flame thrower and use his fly swatter like a helicopter blade to hover across gaps. These are all gameplay mechanics that we have seen before. What's got me excited is that Daxter has some multiplayer capabilities which look truly innovative and will give PSP owners a very good reason to hang out with each other and geek out in public.
What I am talking about is bug combat. You see, Daxter has been enlisted as a pest control agent. The whole game revolves around the story of what Daxter is off doing when he's off-screen in the Jak series. Daxter takes place over the course of two years, and throughout these two years, Daxter is off fighting infestations of what amounts to a nasty case of termites and roaches. Seems easy at first, but throughout the course of the game, you'll be able to capture some of these little buggers and begin outfitting them with weapons and equipment and send them to the illegal arenas of bug combat. These arenas can be formed among four PSPs via the PSP's wireless connections. This alone looks really fun and makes great use of the PSP's key features in a really fun way.
Another aspect of Daxter that shows great promise is the game's looks. I am not always one to say that a game is not good because of how it looks, but graphics can make a good game great, and a great game a classic. Daxter is one of the best-looking games I have seen on the PSP, and this is based off on a preview build. Daxter's movements are lithe and smooth, and his face is nicely animated. Ready At Dawn makes good use of the game's limited ability to do higher resolution textures and creates a nice, almost cel-shaded look that lends itself to an animated comic book, especially since the title is played naturally without a heads-up display. Daxter can shift between a happy bounding gait where he can slap bugs and spray them with gas to immobilize or stun the little chiggers, and a slinky stealth mode where Daxter can get some Metal Gear Solid/Splinter Cell action going on. The controls are simple and very playable.
Even with playing with trained bugs o' death a la cockfighting, and with the platform adventure gameplay, Ready At Dawn doesn't seem content with letting the gameplay rest there. This bodes well for Daxter and fits perfectly with the main character. For those of you who know, Daxter is a loud-mouthed, yet lovable, coward. Shirking and cringing his way through Jak's adventures, Daxter nevertheless takes every opportunity to retell tales of fancy and woe as he single-handedly knocked the teeth out of a bunch of heavily armed villains. Well, in Daxter, you not only get to regale others with these tales of pure bs, but you'll also get to play the levels where Daxter imagines these little scraps.
These dream levels aren't exactly levels, seeming more like mini-games that involve timing and button mashing. The available dream level I played had Daxter dressed as Neo and some satirical green bunny-looking Agent Smiths that come at you from different angles. You have to time button presses in sequence to defeat them in a most comedic fashion.
My experience with Daxter was limited to the preview build, but from what I saw, I was dually impressed by Daxter's graphics engine and variety of gameplay. It seems that the formula of compartmentalizing levels and gameplay into little chunks no longer holds true for the PSP, which is great. Thus far, I've been disappointed with my PSP games, but Daxter shines with promise, and that's coming from someone who prefers racing, fighting, strategy and simulation titles over platforming adventures.
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