Jeremy Jastrzab
05 May, 2006

Daxter Review

PSP Review | Small in size but no compromise.
It was bound to happen. Come on, you didn’t seriously think that Sony were just going to let their littlest member drift off into obscurity on the back of some dodgy ports did you? It’s taken some time but they’ve had to reach into their own stable before something of decent pedigree was found. Up until now, there have only been a handful of platformers on the PSP, with the recent Mega Man games being the only 2-D standouts and the closest game to a 3-D fix being the erratic Medievil. Despite the fact that he’s on his own, Daxter of Jak & Daxter fame is out to prove that there’s life in 3-D platformers on single analogue systems yet.

After staring aside Jak in a trilogy of games and a racer, Daxter gets his chance to shine in his self titled adventure, Daxter (for those who are unaware, Daxter is an orange fury rodent known as an Ottsel). The game takes place just before Jak II and tells the story of how Daxter got Jak out of the Haven City prison. The game starts with a sequence showing Jak being hauled away and Daxter escaping. Sometime later, Daxter is recruited as a Bug Exterminator by an old man named Osmo. Bug Exterminator, aye? Well, the story is fairly straight forward as you discover the secret behind an unusually large horde of metallic bugs, the way Jak got out of prison and a bunch of other things about this world, all in the typically back-handed, crude humour that fans are no doubt accustomed to. Daxter is definitely one of the more colourful protagonists around and it adds a lot of personality to the game.

While the games in this series have never been “traditional” platformers, they have been something of a forefront of amalgamated platformers that oozed in a variety of jumping, shooting, driving and exploration activities. Where as Mario scarcely has made an appearance outside of leisure activities and former players like Crash and Spyro falling put of the reckoning, it’s been left to the likes of Jak, Clank, Ratchet and Sly to pull the genre forward. What makes Daxter stand in line with these modern front runners is how well the development team has been able to apply the successful principles of these games and still make it enjoyable on a handheld. A lot has been made of the fact that the PSP is trying to recreate a console experience on the go. This is a lot easier said than done, but Daxter would have to be among the few titles currently available that really epitomizes what this concept is all about. In fact, Daxter is probably the best title to encompass this concept so far.

Your friendly neighbourhood exterminator

Your friendly neighbourhood exterminator
Your location, Haven City, acts as a hub to the levels of the game. As Daxter, you are told to go to each level as the time comes and you follow the icon on the mini-map. At first it’s a little tedious because Daxter is so small in comparison to the rest of the world, but you soon get a scooter to help out. There are about ten to twelve levels, but you’ll visit some of them more than once – thankfully, they’re very different each time. The general objective is to follow the path of the level and wipe out any bugs, collect the gems they leave behind and any other goodies along the way. Often the objective will vary with the need to destroy certain objects or bosses or collect a minimum amount of gems.

The game excels in terms of level design, variety, pacing and progression. Despite being somewhat small, the levels are big enough to keep you interested and hold enough goodies to make exploration worth your while. That, and you have to take into account that Daxter is a lot smaller than your usual protagonist. They require a bit more actual platforming than other comparable games but it’s compensated in that you do less fighting. Two aspects of the level design stand out. The first is the variety of the levels and what you see within levels, even as you go through the second time. You’ll visit hotels, construction sites, power stations and lumber mills. Each of these areas has been carefully tailored to look normal to someone normal but to a pint-sized exterminator, it’s a platforming jungle. The second is that even though the levels aren’t huge, they are relatively open yet you’ll almost never be required to backtrack.

There is a fair amount of variety within the gameplay itself. The levels start off a bit slow but you’re initially treated to some stealth action and it won’t take long before you’re racing through narrow tunnels, flying down zip lines jumping from train to train. The beauty about it all is that within the level, the game is almost never standing still and you’ll almost always be on the move. Traversing between levels is almost a breather in itself. Despite the fact that the game is on the easy side, there is a steady progression of difficulty that matches the stage of the game pretty well.

Burn, baby burn!

Burn, baby burn!
What makes Daxter the current stand out amongst 3-D platformers on handhelds is that it is probably the first to successfully employ an unpretentious control scheme that actually works and works well. It is all done in conjunction with the game’s design and shows that when a game is designed well, a second analogue stick is not a necessity. The game’s camera is simple and doesn’t try to do anything too fancy. The L and R buttons will simply turn it around Daxter so it feels like the camera is literally floating around him. When you’re not controlling it, the camera obediently follows Daxter around and doesn’t jump all over the place when you suddenly turn or jump. You can free look by pressing up on the d-pad, but it is not often necessary. Frankly, as simple and limiting as the camera is at times, it actually works better than a lot of console cameras.

Combat in the game is simple but it doesn’t need to be anything else. As a bug exterminator extraordinaire, you start of with a weapon that resembles a fly swat crossed with a tazer. You’ve only got one attack button but it initiates a four-step combo. If you are surrounded by multiple bugs, the final combo step can be used to branch and instantly defeat an other bugs by pushing the analog stick in their direction. It isn’t long before you earn your spray pack. It will eventually have three different functions - it will be used as a weapon, to solve minor puzzles and even as a makeshift jetpack. Of course, the jetpacking is limited to how many of the floating gas bubbles that you can collect but it works well enough to keep the player on their toes. Using it makes scenarios easier but if you’re a bit too trigger-happy and you may be in a tad spot of bother when you really need it. Still, the game is fairly reasonable when if comes to power-ups and respawns.

The rest of the controls are fairly straightforward. In a good move, the developers decided to let the game specialize in what it does rather than cram a whole lot into very little. X is to jump, square is to attack with your tazer/swatter, circle controls you spray pack and triangle is for crouch and jumping onto vehicles. Simple, sweet and despite a tad bit of a learning curve, they do a good job. You have vehicles as well, and they control well, if a bit floaty. They have dual functions mapped in the L and R buttons sometimes and it can get a little crammed, but it’s nothing too bothersome.

There are some pretty big bugs

There are some pretty big bugs
Alongside of the main quest, there a lot of things to collect. Precursor Orbs unlock “dream sequences” and extras. The dream sequences are sophisticated rhythm mini-games where Daxter actually gets to play out his fantasies as a great hero. They’re ripped straight out of popular movies but they are challenging and rewarding, as they unlock moves and health increases. Within each level, you can also collect numerous hidden parts and participants that are used in Bug Combat and there are very rare items that unlock in-game cheats. The Bug Combat is a mode that plays like a very stylized version of rock-paper-scissors. Basically, you pit two bugs against one another and you choose between three attacks. A couple of twists include tokens that you can use if the draw is unfavourable to you and there are many different bugs to collect throughout the game, each with their own stats. You can play against the CPU or against someone in a network. It’s more fun with another person. though the pacing is a tad on the slow side. In the very least, it's a reason to go back and keep playing for quite a while, even once the initial stint is over.

The only real issue with the game is that it is probably a bit too much on the easy side. That said, it’s not a game that you’ll wipe through without a single restart. The controls aren’t exactly up to Mario standards but they are not far off, though Daxter does seem to have a lack of prowess when it comes to grabbing ledges. It’s hardly a major quip but it actually takes a bit of time to get used to the fact that this game is a really good portable title, not just a good console imitation. Aside from this, there are rare instances where the game doesn't make itself clear enough and once we encountered a glitch where it didn't tell us where on the map we needed to go.

It’s amazing that the game has achieved an almost perfect balance between playing like a console game and accommodating for portability. It may not quite have the depth of console game but even what you’re left with is more than adequate to put a lot of console games to shame. An excellent design means it is portable enough to be played in short bursts or in lengthy stints and you’ll get just as much out of both. There is enough story, content, variety and potential enjoyment to allow Daxter truly stand out.

This really is as fun as it looks

This really is as fun as it looks
Graphically, the game is very impressive though at times, challenged. Often you’ll believe that you’re playing through a PS2 title, as the work done on the sheer details and style of the game is astounding. Little things like lip-synching and the fur on Daxter’s body show how well the game performs. The style is very reminiscent of the console versions and each area in the game is unique, highly detailed and a pleasure to go through. Technically, it’s solid for the most part but there are times, especially when exploring Haven City and other surroundings that the game will slow down quite dramatically. Then there are instances of pop-ups and other minor technical glitches. Thankfully, they don’t appear often. The only issue is that at times, the game tries a little too hard and it results in some ugly metallic interiors. However, for a game in full 3-D, it has some excellent load times – making it even better for portability.

The sound department was definitely a surprise. One way to measure the quality of the sound is by what it does wrong. And in Daxter there is actually very little that can be said that is wrong with it. It all comes from the subtle details, such as the different sounds made as Daxter walks across different surfaces or the differences in the spray pack nozzles. To top it off, the music is great and suitable while the voicing is excellent. The only minor issue is that sometimes the sound comes out after a delay, another minor technical issue but nothing that is truly detrimental.

Daxter is arguably the best game currently available on the PSP. It’s completely original, its exemplory design works to the systems strengths and is truly the one of the first PSP to epitomize the philosophy behind this machine. It gets the balance of being a console game tailored for portability just right and it sacrifices very little along the way. There is so much to do and see, as well as being techincally proficient, that it actually puts a lot of console games to shame. That and it’s a game with a whole lot of personality and charm that can be enjoyed by pretty much everyone that picks it up. It looks like the rest of the games made for the PSP have a very high standard to draw upon.
The Score
As the first game to truly establish the balance between a console game and portability, Daxter is arguably the best game on the PSP. 9
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Daxter Content

Daxter in action
21 Feb, 2006 Who knew a PSP game could look so impressive?
E3 2005: Daxter PSP Images revealed
18 May, 2005 Where's Jak?
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Review
26 Apr, 2006 You'd best book some time off for this one.
7 years ago
Daxter looks good. I've seen a few commercials of it and all reviews have been positive. Guessing this will be my next PSP game.
7 years ago
I just wish Sony will release Daxter Demo, so that I can try out before putting my money in it
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