When you think of the developer Naughty Dog, quality and genre-defining are certainly two terms that come to mind. But for many people the Uncharted series on the PS3 was their first experience of the developer, unaware of the legacy of titles on the previous home consoles with Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. The later of these two series of yore received an HD re-release on PS3 last year, and The Jak and Daxter Collection has now finally come to PS Vita. Naughty Dog were creating excellent games years before Nathan Drake was even a glint in their eye, and you can now relive the whimsical charm and superb open-world platforming of one of their most beloved series on the go.
Unfortunately, it's not the definitive package; Jak X: Combat Racing, Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier and Daxter aren't included, and the main trilogy hasn't made the cleanest transition to the Vita. Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, Jak II: Renegade and Jak III have aged relatively well and still provide tens of hours of mostly joyous platforming, exploration and mini-games, but there's a few new and old frustrations that are difficult to look past.
The first in the series, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy, is a shining example of 3D platforming done right. The characters are whimsical and likeable, the dialogue humorous and upbeat, the open-world design is varied and meticulous. You'll certainly find it hard not to explore every nook and cranny for the precious Precursor Energy Spheres that power what little technology the inhabitants use and drive the plot forwards, as well as the Precursor Orbs that act as currency. Talking to towns folk, solving rudimentary puzzles and defeating mildly threatening enemies all makes for a relaxed adventure, one that is more about the journey than the challenge. It's unfortunate that many of the side missions and collectables are largely superfluous, but their inclusion provides ample encouragement for you to explore the engaging world.
Unfortunately, all this charm is threatened by its flaws. An unwieldy camera that frequently gets caught on the scenery makes accuracy a major issue when you're jumping on platforms — a appropriately major part of this platforming adventure. Add to that further issues with precision due to a slight input lag, which makes all actions that little bit more awkward. The double-jump frequently fails to work and clipping issues and problems hanging off edges — especially on moving platforms — can lead to a vicious cycle of death and retry that will test anyone's patience. The charm just about wins out, though. Dying is only the mildest of inconveniences, as you are almost immediately re-spawned at a nearby location with everything you'd collected still intact. You'll also occasionally get to witness Daxter's amusing responses to your deaths, as his face fills the screen while he stands over your prone body and vents his frustrations at your failures.
Jak II: Renegade takes the duo to a new location with a drastically different mood. The whimsy is still present — thanks largely to the amusing consistency of Daxter — but a new, dark version of Jak and the more mature and violent location within a large open city strips a lot of the charm away. There's also a more ferocious melee combat system, which combines with projectile weapons to offer a far sterner challenge. The focus is on action rather than exploration but it's still a top-notch platfomer at heart. Better yet, the controls suffer no input lag whatsoever, making everything feel smoother that its direct predecessor.
Sadly an auto lock-on system for your weapons means that shooting enemies is often a chore and makes an already difficult game a nightmare at times. Moreover, checkpoints are rare and with the amount of deaths you're bound to fall prey to, replaying lengthy sections over and over again soon becomes tedious.
Jak III brings another new location but dials down the darker theme a little, making it feel much more in line with the original's design but still leaving the previous sequel feeling incongruous. Projectile weapons, vehicle driving and platforming find a nice balance here, and visually it returns to the original's brighter palette. It's also the longest story of the trilogy as well as featuring the best pacing, design and complexity. There's certainly an interesting curve as you experience the trilogy and the new ideas implemented in each entry.
Mini-games are spread throughout the trilogy, many of which can now be controlled using the touch screen. These new touch controls are a favourable alternative to the analogue sticks, granting better speed and accuracy. Beyond that, however, the Vita version only gains extra trophies over its PS3 brother, and the R2 and L2 inputs are mapped to the rear touch screen - which often proves to be awkward. The Vita also doesn't support the same 60 fps that the PS3 version does — however, the widely reported frame rate dips didn't make themselves known to us at all. Everything was visually smooth and beautiful, with Jak III in particular looking stunning on the Vita's AMOLED screen.
Each title brings new elements to the series that keeps the experience fresh throughout the dozens of hours on offer. The variety on offer is outstanding, although it does distract a great deal from the core platforming which is by far the most enjoyable aspect. Still, this is a terrific package of classic adventure platformers and a great chance for newcomers to familiarise themselves with some of the PS2's most revered titles. It's just a shame the genre-defining original is such a frustrating title to play on Vita, the second is so impenetrably hard, and the third a little unfocused.