Posted on 21 August, 2016 at 12:27AM
I've been a fan of Naughty Dog for a long time. As a kid, I played the hell out of the Crash Bandicoot games, until I 100%'d each one. (I never got the full 105% in Crash Warped though, shame!) However, when the sixth generation of consoles came around, I decided on a Dreamcast... and then when that died, a Gamecube, since I was 9 and all the games I cared about were coming out for it. This meant that post-PS1 I missed out on the games Naughty Dog went on to make. See, after the PS1 Naughty Dog was bought by Sony, which meant that they had to leave behind their intellectual properties they created under Universal Interactive. This meant no more Crash Bandicoot from Naughty Dog, and Universal would get other companies to make games like Crash: The Wrath of Cortex. No, Naughty Dog moved onto greener pastures with Jak and Daxter, which I didn't play until years later.
Which is a shame, because Naughty Dog went on to create a pretty fantastic game, I would have really enjoyed it back in the early 00's. Everything I liked about Crash is here, and better. There's the platforming, the spinning, the collectables, the list goes on. However, Jak tends to be much less restrictive than its older brother. There is no map, or 'warp rooms' from level to level, there's a beautifully created overworld. I would come to realize later that the overworld in Crash Team Racing was basically the prototype for this one. Levels are no longer linear, but conform to more of a Spyro or Banjo Kazooie type structure, including all the collectables spread around. The controls give you your standard 3D platforming fare, especially compared to Crash 3. You have two attacks: a punch and a spin move (sound familiar?) You can double jump, ground pound, roll. It's all pretty standard for the time. However, there are a couple combo moves: If you roll and then jump you leap further, and if you punch and then jump you do an uppercut.
Eco is a glowing particle effect substance that comes in many forms in the world of Jak, all color coded. Basically, eco is how this game does powerups. Green eco is most common, and is your health. Actually, this one of my main complaints with the game, how hard it is to regain health in this game. You only have three hitpoints, and if you want to restore one you have to collect fifty green eco balls, which can take a long time depending on level. Sometimes there's a larger eco ball that restores a hitpoint, but these are few and far between. The nice thing is if you collect fifty while you have full health, you effectively get an extra hitpoint. Yellow eco allows you to shoot fireballs, which is pretty fun. Blue eco makes you run faster and magnets collectables to you, pretty handy. Red eco increases your attack power, and it also gives a larger area of effect to your ground pound, which is pretty cool. Dark eco isn't a powerup, but is something to be avoided, a la lava.
The graphics are very colorful, but fall somewhere between the PS2's best, and the PS1's best. You can't really fault them, since this is an early PS2 title. Let me put it this way: They don't have the crispness that they would later lay down in Jak 2, but are quite a step up from Crash on the PS1, which had some of the best graphics on PS1. The animations are standard Naughty Dog fare: Great! Naughty Dog was known for good animation starting with Crash 1 (and was a huge selling point for that series), and it's no different here. The character models are very expressive, the dialogue always matches up with their mouths, and the cut-scenes are never pre-rendered. This is in stark contrast to the games I was playing at the time, such as Sonic Adventure 2, which admittedly is pretty bottom of the barrel in terms of animation. Though sometimes the animations, especially on NPC characters, can be a little too bouncy.
The story isn't really much to talk about. The basic premise is that Jak falls into a pit of dark eco that turns him into a ottsel (a mix between and otter and a weasel), and the quest begins to change him back. Meanwhile, an evil guy name Gol is planning to cover the world in dark eco, along with his partner in crime Maia. Gol is voiced by Dee Snider, singer of the band Twisted Sister, which is interesting. There's no delicate way to put this: Maia has huge knockers. This seems to be a trend for Naughty Dog, the same company that had a topless woman easter egg in one of their earlier games. Really the story is just an excuse to get you from one place to another. For example, once you leave the first area you see the next one had been ransacked, and you have to move a giant boulder out of the way to proceed. How? By collecting stuff of course!
Yes, this game is a collectathon, but it feels less structured than something like Banjo Kazooie. For one, there's absolutely no loading at all. I mean, sometimes when you're walking down a winding cave, you know what's going on, but it's still impressive nonetheless. It's still kinda obvious which parts are the "overworld" and which are the "levels", but they feel connected like few platform games had managed to do before. A natural evolution of the castle from Mario 64. Collectable wise, there's less to get than Banjo Kazooie, and definitely less than Donkey Kong 64, so it doesn't really feel super tedious or anything. Nothing is hidden super crazily, but somethings make you really proud to have found on your own. The main collectable is the power cells - basically the stars from Super Mario 64, which are used to power the machine to get to the next area. There is a completion bonus for collecting 100 powercells, naturally. The other collectables are precursor orbs, basically coins used to buy powercells, and the scout flies which award you a power cell if you find all of them in an area.
Overall, I'd say this game is definitely worth a shot. It's a pretty nice evolution of the Crash Bandicoot games, though it's not as polished gameplay wise as the sequels Jak 2 and 3. It's a essentially a spiritual sequel to the Spyro the Dragon series, funny enough.