Review / Jak & Daxter HD Collection (PS3)

When I was just a young’un, with my SNES and PlayStation keeping me better company than my three-legged cat or the goldfish in my pond that seemed to last about a week before they died, I didn’t really care much for who made a game.

Instead I made my purchases based off of a few things: demos, the dreaded movie tie-ins and box art. The latter of these options is what led me to Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. The Crash trilogy and its karting/party spin-offs would go on to define my original PlayStation career along with the likes of Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil.

But by the time the PS2 rolled around and I was bit less of a young’un (still pretty young, though), I purchased my first game for a reason other than the ones listed above. I bought Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy not because of a demo or its box art, but because of the people that made it – Crash’s developers, Naughty Dog.

Since then the Dogs have remained a favourite developer of mine, and while the Uncharted series brought them to AAA stardom, I’ve always held a place in my heart for the company’s platforming roots.

The Jak & Daxter HD Collection hits home, then. It features the three original games updated (as always) with sparkling HD resolution and trophies at a budget price. Even with the amount of HD updates starting to wear out our patience for them, it’s hard to admit it isn’t a good deal.

The original game stands out, simply because somewhere between development of the first and second games Naughty Dog crossed into uncharted territory (pun intended). While the first is reminiscent of the Crash games, filled with bright settings, traditional platforming and a billion collectables, both Jak II and III feel a lot closer to Nathan Drake’s adventures with their darker stories, mature characters and focus on gunplay, albeit a very different type of gunplay.

Most would argue Jak II is the collection’s high point, though there’s still something to be said about the way things used to be done with the first game. It’s seamlessly connected world is a joy to explore, packing a distinct, nearly animated look to its settings. Naughty Dog runs the gauntlet of vehicles, races, fights and power-ups to good effect. The campaign feels varied and fresh throughout, leaving a sense of it being over all too quickly. Maybe that’s just because I know each area like the back of my hand by now, though.

It’s startling to switch from the first game straight over to Jak II. The improvements in character modelling are put on display straight away. Orange ottsel sidekick Daxter looks like he’s had a generation’s worth of improvements made to him. It’s hard to believe there’s only a two-year gap between the two games at first.

Jak II also brings that seamless open world into a much more manageable format. A city hub features vehicles to steal and missions to tackle, much like in the GTA games being introduced around the same time. It’s a rather shocking turn for a series that had, up until this point, largely kept itself to the platforming norms. Jak even arms himself with a gun a short while in.

The additions make for a tighter, more action-focused sequel. If that’s a good thing is up to you. The first game will always remain my favourite in the series, but without the direction its sequels took we may never have seen Uncharted.

The third installment initially saw release just a year after Jak II. As such, the improvements and changes made didn’t quite reflect those seen in the gap between the original and its successor. But it was still a graphically stunning and completely confident platformer. I have little trouble in saying that Jak’s trilogy was the strongest of all of the PS2’s platforming mascots, ruining Ratchet and screeching past Sly.

As a whole, the initial wonder of seeing PS2 games brought up to HD specs has faded somewhat since the God of War Collection. And it’s pretty disappointing that, given 2011 saw three PSP games head to PS3, both Ready at Dawn’s Daxter and High Impact Games’ Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier haven’t made it into this set. Dualshock support for both of these titles would have been more than welcome.

But, hey, these three still hold up pretty well. So much so in fact that it’s a shame a true sequel hasn’t been announced surrounding the collection’s release. Maybe someday when there’s nothing left to chart and the last of us have gone, the Dogs will return to the boy and his ottsel for a throwback not just to a great franchise, but to their old selves.

Oh, and, Vita version? Anyone?