By MisterBananaFoam 0 Comments
For those of you who don't know, or need to be reminded, since it's been so long, the reason I'm doing this retrospective in the first place is because I managed to find a used copy of the Jak and Daxter HD Collection for the PS3 at my local GameStop for pretty cheap during a B2G1 Free sale. It's been a while since I even touched the first game considering I had already completed it 100 percent in about the time-span of a week or so a while back, and since then I've been working on beating Jak II. Which leads me to a slightly off-topic point that I'll elaborate on later, but for now, I'll just get this out of my system.
Jak II: Renegade is surprisingly bad. I'm not even talking 'so bad it's good,' it's more in the camp of 'less entertaining than a stool sample.'
It feels nothing like the game I had previously remembered from my childhood rentals. It is just about one of the most tedious, degrading excuses for a sandbox game that I can think of. I can't play the game for more than a half hour at the time because of the ridiculous amount of questionable design decisions I manage to run into every time I boot it up. Believe me, I have a whole laundry list of complaints about it, and I'll be sure to elaborate more when its time on the chopping block comes.
That's another time, however. For now, we reminisce about the first game some more, and what better a level to reminisce than the Lost Precursor City?
And yet, alas, I have to question something first before we begin. Let's take a look at the level entrance real quick.
This giant, ancient bathysphere has been sitting in front of Rock Village for who knows how long, in plain view of all of Rock Village's (admittedly very few and not very motivated) inhabitants, and they even have floating rafts leading up to it... and this is the Precursor City? Has anyone checked the definition of the word 'lost' lately? I'm pretty sure it doesn't say 'floating in the ocean right goddamn in front of you.'
But I digress. What's inside this place anywa-
Anyone who has their cap on straight can tell you that underwater levels in platformers are a gamer's worst nightmare. Shoddy maneuverability, dense control over your character as if he or she has just jumped into a large vat of syrup... they're generally no fun with a few exceptions. So what does Naughty Dog do?
Well, for one, they don't give us the ability to dive underwater for more than ten seconds, eliminating that possibility right then and there - because shit, even Jak's gotta be able to breathe, right? - but for two, they create a level that looks like goddamn Atlantis and Rapture combined. Mind you, this was way before Bioshock came out. That's right: Jak and Daxter TPE revolutionized ancient underwater cities filled with death traps before it was cool. Suck it, Ken Levine.
The Lost Precursor City is up there on my list of favorite levels in platforming games. The technological atmosphere, the puzzles, the crazy Eco-powered contraptions and traps... This level is like Waterworld if it wasn't a boring mess. The pits of water that litter the vast halls of the city light on and off, and you can only safely wade through them when the water isn't glowing green. which does well for some neat puzzle-platforming alongside the hot yellow ring bars seen above. In fact, a good chunk of the level is hot-footing it across several suspended platforms that take advantage of the obstacles present. For example, that platform next to the glowing yellow bar in that picture above slides under the bar from left to right, requiring you to time your jumps so you don't get hit. It seems like I'm making it sound better than it actually is, and maybe I am, who knows, but the level's chock full of neat platforming sections that you don't see in much of the other areas of the game.
The circle discs in the pic above are also a cool mechanic. When you step on one, the other rotates around the one you're standing on. You have to kinda use that to bridge your way to the other paths across the pit. It takes some time, but it's a nice touch and helps you get across some of the larger gaps in the level.
The Lost Precursor City is segmented between rooms and hallways. Yes, I know what you're thinking, "but didn't you hate Donkey Kong 64 for doing the exact same thing in all of its levels?" That is true. However, it makes more sense here. I'd expect an underwater facility to not be quite as open-ended as, say, a forest or a desert, of all things. Plus, the hallways between the rooms aren't nearly as featureless. There's some challenging puzzle-platforming elements to each of them, and I'm not talking about the stupid bullshit that DK64 tried to pull where they just put a few enemies in the room and called it at that, I'm talking honest-to-Godzilla ingenuity here. There's even slides between certain rooms to break up the monotony. What more do you want?
The first room you'll likely come across is the room with the three colored containers that have collectibles in them. There's 3 buttons in front of each container, and pressing one drops the collectible off at its corresponding colored endpoint. You have to race over to the endpoint quickly and retrieve the collectible before it gets sucked back into the container. Some can find it annoying, and I've been beaten by it my fair share of times, but at least it does require you to think and plan ahead.
This level also introduces us to a new hazard: Dark Eco. Contrary to what the opening might have you believe, Dark Eco pits don't turn Jak into a silly-looking walrus or anything like that. Oh no, you so much as brush that pit and it's instant disintegration for you, buck-o. Later on in the series, this becomes almost nonsensical since Jak literally gets gallons of Dark Eco pumped directly into his bloodstream at the start of Jak II and yet the only thing that sets him back is that he can turn into a dark elf that can rip through tanks whenever he collects enough of it. But again, we're getting ahead of ourselves.
I've been talking all about the levels and the story so far, but there's also some other tidbits in the game that I missed that kinda set this game's attitude apart from the rest. They're very minor parts of the game, but they're still kind of iconic to it. Whenever you collect a Power Cell, Jak and Daxter go through one of several victory animations. Jak's is almost always the same fist-pumping success pose, but Daxter always does some kind of different dance. Sometimes he shakes his butt, does the robot, moonwalks, breakdances, and sometimes he even dunks the Power Cell into Jak's shoulder. Daxter also looms over Jak's corpse whenever you die to an enemy or a normal hazard, and usually makes sarcastic comments about your death Sierra-death-screen style. They featured one of these in the advertising of the game, and some of them are pretty damn funny, to boot. Takes the sting out of losing progress a little.
Getting back on track, I will say this: if there's anything truly wrong with this level, it's the rising Dark Eco section at the bottom of the level. The camera is just slightly off kilter enough that you have little time to react to the platforms and the enemies rushing at you from ahead. That, and the fact that the Dark Eco likes to cheat and speed up when you're significantly far ahead of it, and at one point it speeds up and doesn't slow down, basically requiring you to book it on the last half of the climb.
That just about covers the whole of Rock Village's level set. Next up is the game's first mandatory boss fight against General Klaww, and right afterwards is another Zoomer section that is much more frustrating than Fire Canyon. But first, here's a glimpse of Klaww.
The fight against Klaww is about as tough as any of the boss fights ever really get in this game, and that's pretty sad considering he's really only moderately difficult to kill. He spends his first phase throwing boulders at you while you jump between platforms on top of a lava lake. The last boulder he throws contains Blue Eco, which forms a pathway to a couple clusters of Yellow Eco in front of him. At this point, he starts to summon a big boulder to crush the platform, but if you shoot him enough times with the Yellow Eco while he's charging up, he drops the boulder on his head and falls into the magma. The boulder also fragments the bridge, making you retreat to the lava platforms again. Rinse, lather, repeat, dead boss that is never spoken or heard from again. My advice is to wait for nighttime before fighting him - it looks a lot cooler.
Mountain Pass is up next, and if you thought racing against an overheating engine was fun, then get out of here and never play another video game in your life.
For the rest of you, there's no bed of hot coals to worry about this time, so your engine's not at risk. What IS at risk, however, is the entire mountain being nuked with explosives set up by the Lurkers. Yes, you heard right, the Lurkers, the big freakazoid lycanthrope/demon people you've been beating up that look like they don't have the mental capacity to operate a stick... somehow rigged the entire canyon with dynamite.
Fortunately, they're not entirely bright - they left the detonator switch at the bottom of the mountain and forgot to push the plunger. You have to beat them to the bottom to ensure that they don't. The level really isn't as difficult as people make it out to be, but it does require a lot of trial and error to succeed. There's several trees in your way during the first half, as well as some precarious ramps and barrels adorned with TNT. Those barrels are the worst part of this Zoomer section; colliding with them means instant death and having to restart the race from the very beginning. Thankfully, the race at most is about 3 minutes long, so faulty runs don't take too much time away from your progress.
After passing the pass with a passing grade, Jak and Daxter wander into the molten confines of the Red Sage's laboratory. Luckily, Gol and Maia have also stopped by to have a quick chat with our heroes. They're such a nice couple, really. They already took the liberty of inviting the other three Sages of the land to their Citadel to work on their 'project' which couldn't possibly be some kind of insane ploy to corrupt the land using Dark Eco. I'm sure it's just an art project or something.
That concludes another segment of a long-overdue and long-delayed retrospective of Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy. Next time, we'll spelunk into the Spider Caves and surmount the summit of the Snowy Mountain, and maybe cover the last Zoomer stage, too.