1st of April this year, Sony did something insane. They announced a game; a new Jak and Daxter game for PSP, all of a sudden all the Jak and Daxter fans in the world stepped into a world of confusion, celebration, anger, bewilderment and disappointment. It wasn't being developed by either Naughty Dog or shockingly, the superb team Ready at Dawn responsible for the incredibly faithful Daxter and GoW:Chains of Olympus but High Impact Games of R&C: Size Matters which ported Ratchet action to handheld perfectly and the somewhat controversial Secret Agent Clank. The reception of the announcement wasn't any better when the first batch of less than average screenshots were shown.
It seems like HIG is following in the footsteps of RAD, High Impact Games is steadily becoming the 'hired gun' for Sony franchises on PSP, first 2 Ratchet games, now they've moved onto Jak and guess what...they've done a damn good job. What they've created is basically Jak and Daxter meets Cartoon Network celshaded CG show, Stormhawks and it works brilliantly.
First of all the story, the cinematics are done in true Jak and Daxter style and the witty dialogue all Jak fans have liked since Jak 2 is still here. Jak and his tough guy attitude, Daxter and his mishaps and one liners, right from the start, you KNOW you're playing a Jak and Daxter game. Jak, Daxter and Keira are immediately thrown into danger and thrust into an adventure, shot down by sky pirates.
If you're all clued in on the Jak and Daxter mythos you would know a lot about the substance and force of Eco, this game is completely focused on the stuff and it seems that Eco is running out, something that would truly devastate Jak's world and the Precursors have left the world completely since Jak 3, meaning the inhabitants of the world have to figure out how to restore the flow of Eco themselves, to do this, Jak, Daxter and Keira (who is now a sage in training) fly to where the precursors stopped building the world, 'The Brink', the brink is basically a collection of small islands where the precursor technology is old and in some instances, incompleted. Two seperate factions are fighting over the restoration of the eco vents and Jak is caught up in the middle of it as usual.
One would think that Jak and Daxter now containing pirates like the Ratchet series recently has would be a bad thing, actually this isn't, what would seems like a cliche is a welcome addition, for one, pirates actually fit in perfectly in the Jak universe and airships are welcome in the increasingly steampunk inspired Jak series. The newly introduced characters aren't quite as memorable as Torn or Ashlyn in the past games but there are some pretty interesting characters involved within the game, including someone who seems possibly related to Vin from Jak 2 and 3. Also, everything isn't quite what it seems and for the short tale the game tells, there are some surprising twists and turns. I can tell you, personally, I think that High Impact Games nailed down the Jak universe perfectly, quite often you might forget that Naughty Dog had nothing to do with the production of this game.
This is the bit everyone is probably wanting to read in this review, did High Impact Games pull off the Jak gameplay, well, yes, no and yes...the platforming is here intact and the eco powers are clearly inspired from a mixture of J&D:TPL and Jak3 and some of these powers you acquire throughout the game are actually pretty handy and can be used in a number of different situations, rocket jump, Shield, slow down time, a orb which you can shoot to make to make weak walls explode, crystals that come out the ground and act as temporary protection from projectiles, basic swapping teleportation all very welcome. Quite often you will find secrets, little chests that contain gunstaff upgrades or build up your armour, dark eco is also collected to upgrade your abilities by Keira who acts as an 'ability shop' in the small hub areas throughout the game which can upgrade each different type of main coloured eco ability of course, Precursor orbs are present and make that great little 'groink' noise.
One thing I must criticise is the fact that the gunplay in the game is quite frustrating and so are the boss levels. Having the lack of a second analogue stick really stands out here, the auto aim is quite welcome since you can't quite aim yourself, but it makes it near impossible to shoot something at behind you as you can't shoot and move nor move the camera, the bosses are defeated by basically using up all your ammo and eco powers to the max and hardly have no real strategy or pattern, these kind of boss levels are very annoying because it just leaves it to a matter being fast and luck.
The best standout part of this game and the most unexpected is the new open world of Jak this time around. In Jak 2, you stole and drove cars throughout Haven city or used the hoverboard, in Jak 3, you drove around in Mad Max style cars across the wide desert. In this game, you have a selection of hubworld islands to dogfight in and explore with your plane 'Crimson Skies' style which you can upgrade the weapons using shot down enemies scrap metal or 'Daxter-Jack' which involves a minigame of Daxter being grappled onto a plane and basically tearing it apart stealing good parts from the plane which you can then attach to your plane, this part of the game is the most enjoyable and intense and really makes you wonder why the heck Naughty Dog never thought of doing something like this and continues the tradition of each Jak game playing differently in the hub world than the previous game. A good few boss battles are in this mode.
The controversial side of the game is the Dark Daxter sections which is like a pinball inspired isometric selection of levels which can only remind me and possibly being inspired by 'Sonic the Hedgehog Spinball'. The Dark Daxter levels usually begin with a section of sliding down a pipe, which at first I expected obstacles to be in the way and control Dark Daxter from crashing into things, sadly this didn't happen and just wasted my time waiting for a slightly interactive animation of a big grunting brown thing sliding down the sewers for kicks, THEN the actual level begins, you bounce around like a maniac, hit things, throw spiders and solve very basic circuitry puzzles and sometimes fire and forcefields, all can be figured out pretty fast and it's quite tricky to let Dark Daxter die. Then you get another pointless screen of Dark Daxter standing in the elevator and the ability to walk around and smash it, it's all very pointless. A wasted opportunity again, is near the end of the game where Daxter (normal form) is put inside a shield and rolls about ala 'Super Monkey Ball', it really makes you wonder why THAT gameplay mechanic wasn't taken any further instead of Dark Daxter's bouncing around like a maniac sections.
Anyway, maybe that'll be sorted in the next game, yeah, that's right, you read that correctly, the NEXT game. Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier ends on a note that Jak and Keira want to do more exploring and Daxter is probably going to come along. Well done High Impact Games, it really does make you wonder why Sony haven't spent anymore on marketing the continuation of the Jak and Daxter series. High Impact Games are one to look out for and I eagerly await the next game, also, sadly, this may put a nail in the coffin for the idea of Naughty Dog ever revisiting the series and seeing Jak in HD on PS3, but with the care HIG put into TLF, I'd say the franchise is in pretty good hands and hopefully if camera and shooting issues are addressed in the PS2 port, PS2 gamers could be in for a real treat for what could be the PS2's swansong since God of War 2 and this could lean against the rest of the PS2 Jak games in your library.