Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier marks the sixth game in the Sony franchise and the first time the duo has teamed up for an adventure on the PSP. The previous entry in the series, Daxter, only featured Dax's friend-turned-ottsel (half otter, half weasel), but this time out, players will get to control both of the core characters from the series. This is also the first true follow-up in the story for the franchise since Jak III, whereas Daxter was more of a stopgap between the first and second games in the series. The developers at High Impact Games have done their best to return the series to its roots with Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier, putting a heavy focus on the platforming and puzzle elements, and taking away the racing and Dark Jak material from the previous games. The title still has some carryover stuff that I don't care for and incorporates a couple of new additions that don't fit the gameplay very well, but all in all, it's a pretty good bite-sized adventure for the famed duo and is worth checking out for long-time Jak fans. If High Impact Games sounds familiar to you, they're also responsible for bringing the Ratchet and Clank series to the PSP, so they have a certain pedigree when it comes to bringing triple-A Sony titles to the handheld system.
As this game begins, you are re-introduced to the three main characters: Jak, Daxter and Jak's girlfriend Keira. The story is pretty much an all-new tale and stands apart from the rest of the game series, so there's not a whole lot of backstory that you need to be filled in on. Apparently, things aren't going too well on Jak and Daxter's planet, and Eco, the lifeblood of the world, is in short supply. Without Eco, the planet is falling apart and dying at a rapid rate, so Jak, Daxter and Keira have taken it upon themselves to find a new source of energy — or hidden reserves of Eco — to save the world. When the game begins, the trio is heading toward the edge of the world in an effort to find a new energy source. However, they quickly run afoul of the Sky Pirates, who are also eager to find their own source of Eco for money-making purposes, and the trio is quickly shot down. You'll get a quick grasp on the game's basic combat and platforming mechanics, and longtime players of the series will most likely feel at home with Jak's opening arsenal of abilities.
Jak comes equipped with a couple of melee moves that mainly use Daxter as a weapon; he can also perform a double jump and a spin attack to extend his distance while in the air. These are the basic building blocks of the game, and they're the primary form of offense that you'll use throughout the adventure. As the game progresses, Jak will gain access to Eco powers, which are tied into various Eco colors and will help him overcome the different puzzles and obstacles. The blue power slows down time, allowing Jak to cross fast-moving platforms and gears. You'll find a yellow power that grants Jak boosted jump abilities, provided you're standing in the yellow pool of energy that powers it. You'll get a red power that allows you to shoot out a mass of energy; you can then shoot the energy mass to cause an explosion that will take out armored enemies and weak walls. Finally, there's a green ability that will cause crystals to sprout from the ground, allowing Jak access to previously unreachable locations. For the most part, the powers are pretty well telegraphed when it comes to using them. The green and yellow powers go so far as to have specially designated areas, so their use is a little too limited for my taste. The blue and red powers aren't tied to specific locations, so you'll be able to use them a little more often, making them far more useful additions to the gameplay. All of these abilities are tied to a separate energy meter for Jak, so you can only get a few uses out of them before the power is depleted, but they'll recharge on their own over time.
Aside from the platforming elements, the addition of flight is a new gameplay element that sort of replaces the racing segments from Jak II onward. When the game begins, Jak starts off controlling a pretty basic aircraft, and you're quickly introduced to the basics of dogfighting and taking down larger aircraft, usually by targeting various areas until you've whittled it away to nothing (or to the necessary story point). This new element actually handles quite well on the PSP, and the controls are basic and thankfully easy to pick up. You simply control movement with the analog nub, barrel-roll with the d-pad, accelerate to top speed with the left shoulder button, and shoot at targets with the right shoulder button. Some of the flight combat stuff tends to go on a little longer than I'd like, and while the action is broken up by the occasional mini-game that has Daxter launching himself at an opposing ship to take it down piece by piece, it's not quite enough to alleviate some of the boredom you'll feel. There are often way too many basic enemy ships to take down, and they're pretty much mindless drones. When you run into the bigger air ships or bases, you're simply taking down a series of guns and parts over and over again, a process that usually requires you to circle back for multiple passes. If you're down for the repetitive task, it controls really well, but I'd like to see this feature spiced up a bit if it's used in a future game down the line.
There is also another addition to the gameplay that comes in the form of the Dark Daxter segments, which are generally pretty bad and unnecessary. Basically, at one point early in the game, Daxter falls into a pool of Dark Eco, and it transforms him into a big, bulky version of himself with purple skin and spikes. He mindlessly destroys things through a side-quest. The controls and enemies for these sections feel thoughtless, and it almost feels like a way to boost the overall game length without adding any meaningful content. Daxter has a spin attack, which is necessary to break down barriers to progress, but to do so, you need to maintain a certain amount of Dark Eco energy. To get that, you need to kill the constantly respawning enemies that drop it, and that's pretty much all there is to this section of the game. There's little in the way of platforming or puzzle-solving that populates the Jak sections, and I can't see any great reason to include these Dark Daxter sections, since they don't impact the story in any meaningful way. Heck, Jak doesn't even pay attention to the fact that Daxter just emerged from a beast form the first time it happens, which seems really odd and out of place. Thankfully, these sections are pretty few and far between, so they don't hamper the overall gameplay that much.
Altogether, Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier feels like a decent follow-up for the series on the PSP handheld, but it doesn't exactly get me excited for their continued adventures. The story is fun and lighthearted and doesn't require much franchise knowledge, but at the same time, I had a hard time caring about any of the additional characters who are introduced to the title. The gameplay is solid, but some awkward camera issues kept a few platforming elements from performing like they should and offered up far too many blind jumps. Likewise, the combat, which starts to get a little too gun-heavy toward the tail end of the adventure, feels bland and uninspired, especially when it's compared to the Ratchet titles that High Impact Games has done previously. The Lost Frontier is worth checking out if you're already a fan of the series, but for newcomers looking to pick up a Jak game for the first time, you'd do better with one of the earlier PS2 titles. This is an OK romp on the PSP, but it's certainly a far cry from the best that the series had offered in the past.
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