Developed by Naughty Dog – creators of the critically acclaimed Uncharted trilogy on PS3 – the Jak & Daxter series has enjoyed about as much success as a 3D platforming franchise is capable of achieving, short of donning blue dungarees, growing a moustache and taking lessons in Italian. True to form, the series' debut on PSP more than lives up to the Jak & Daxter name in practically every area.
In a not so surreal twist, however, as the name of the game implies, Daxter sees you taking control of the motor-mouthed, trash-talking, sarcastic little ottsel (that's half otter, half weasel, of course.) Up until now, Daxter has remained solely a second fiddle sidekick to the series’ main protagonist, Jak. Daxter’s game takes place between the events of Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and Jak II: Renegade. Jak has been imprisoned and Daxter sets out with the intention of rescuing his long-time buddy from his unfortunate incarceration. However, things suddenly go south and Daxter unwittingly finds himself the newest employee of the Critter-Ridder Extermination Company, the only pest control organisation left in Haven City. The metropolis has found itself in the midst of a robotic bug infestation problem, a situation that turns out to have far more sinister origins and ramifications than our hero realises.
While all this essentially boils down to another familiar – yet no less enjoyable – 3D platforming adventure, Daxter is nonetheless a ton of fun to play, and the wit, charm and skilful execution of developer Ready at Dawn make this one of the most enjoyable and technically impressive games the PSP has to offer. The running around and platform hopping that has always been the main focus of the Jak series returns in spades but, as mentioned earlier, Daxter now has to free various parts of the city from the clutches of bug infestations.
Your main weapon is a peculiar electric fly-swatter contraption, which you use to attack the myriad of bugs you encounter In addition to this, you also wield a bug pesticide disperser and various attachments which allow you to not only spray noxious green gas in the faces of the creepy crawlies, but seeing how Daxter is a miniscule, light as a feather ottsel and not a six foot tall, two hundred and fifty pound, Mexican wrestling fan with BO and a southern United States accent (like the majority of pest exterminators, if television hasn’t lied to us), he can also use the bug spray to hover when in mid-jump in an eyebrow-raisingly similar fashion to F.L.U.D.D. in Super Mario Sunshine; handy for crossing over large gaps as well as dealing out death to anything with more than four legs. Later on you also get your paws on further pesticide disperser attachments, allowing you to hover further and to turn the disperser into a flamethrower and a sonic blaster.
Each of the game’s 18 or so levels require you to fulfil a specific objective for your employer, navigating your way through treacherous terrain and zapping the hell out of any bugs you meet along the way. As was the case in previous Jak games, collecting a plethora of items also plays a fairly big part in Daxter. Each bug you kill drops a gold orb and you need to collect a specified amount – although usually not all – of these on most levels. You also collect Precursor Orbs (the reasons for which we'll get to soon), as well as green glowing orbs that replenish the gas in your pesticide gun and serve as the basis of a vast number of the game’s puzzles. When using the gun to hover, you’re only able to do so for a ridiculously short time before you plummet towards either the ground or certain death. However, grabbing a green orb whilst hovering resets the time you have left before falling. So, in countless parts of the game, you stumble across gargantuan gaps or chasms with these green orbs floating above them and you need to suss out which order to grab them to prevent yourself from falling to your doom, sometimes unhindered, although more often than not with enemies and other hazardous obstacles swinging in your way or threatening to slap you in the face.
While platforming and puzzle-solving make up the bulk of the game, there are plenty of other tasks thrown your way, all of which help to vary things and keep you on your toes. You can find yourself spraying and mowing down larger bugs on a clapped out hover-bike contraption, jumping around and across the tops of some speeding trains, or taking on some ridiculously oversized bugs in a few obligatory boss fights.
Collecting the aforementioned Precursor Orbs also opens up dream sequences. Periodically, Daxter goes back to Critter-Ridder Extermination Company headquarters, takes a nap and has a dream where he kicks the living snot out of people and comes across as a total hero. These dream sequences are all essentially identical, each simply requiring you to perform well-timed button presses and not get trounced; each is based on a famous movie series too, including Indiana Jones, The Matrix and Braveheart. They’re not particularly hard to begin with, but the more time you spend without dying, the faster and in larger numbers the enemies attack you. While it’s fun to find out what movies Ready At Dawn decided to parody in these sequences, they’re never as much fun as the main game and players probably won't spend that much time with them.
Everything looks absolutely spectacular, setting a high standard for PSP visuals. Every environment is gorgeously detailed and radiates the appropriate atmosphere, while the outlandish trademark characters of the Jak franchise also animate with just as much quality and splendour as they did on the PlayStation 2, with lip-sync and character behaviour perfectly nailed, especially in Daxter himself, who is complemented excellently by the stellar effort that has been put into the game’s sound along with a fantastically funny script. Many of Daxter’s remarks and reactions are genuinely hilarious, a quality that is rarely found in videogames; even more rare is a game that pulls humour off so flawlessly.
From a gameplay standpoint, the game is also for the most part technically sound, with any problems in terms of control stemming from the PSP’s lack of a second analogue stick, resulting in a camera that can sometimes get a little stuck in spots, but it’s by no means terrible and rarely – if ever – spoils the game at all. Daxter is a relatively short game; it shouldn't take any longer than ten hours to finish the main story mode, collect every Precursor Orb and complete every dream sequence, although the game is such a joy to play that it’s perfectly feasible to go through a second time and enjoy it almost as much.
Daxter is one of those games that pretty much everyone will enjoy. The mixture of tried-and-tested 3D platforming, quirky new gameplay elements and sublime presentation, coupled with the laugh-out-loud humour of Daxter himself and the charm that very few games can provide, all comes together to make this a stellar platformer that apes its PlayStation 2 counterparts almost to a tee. Only the issues of its periodically dodgy camera and short lifespan – along with the rock-paper-scissors-esque two player bug fighting game, which is frankly not much cop and not really worth a mention – even come close to bringing it down, and even with those minor faults, you really should make sure you pick up Daxter as soon as possible.