In between the crazes of Crash Bandicoot and Uncharted, Naughty Dog had Jak & Daxter, the heroic duo who never quite excelled to the same heights as the company’s prior and latter projects. However unlike Crash Bandicoot who has since been exchanged around multiple developers, Naughty Dog has kept hold of this series allowing us to question whether they will one day make a triumphant return. It’s not as though the thought hasn’t crossed anyone’s mind, as a reboot was in the early stages before the team would go on to make the masterpiece that became The Last of Us. The developers’ have admittedly struggled to decide what they’re aiming to create by revisiting the franchise and whether marketing is ultimately the reasoning behind it. So does this mean Jak & Daxter is a thing of the past or perhaps something waiting for the right moment?
The original game, Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was released in 2001 on the PlayStation 2 and even today the game is mighty impressive to behold. Over everything else I recall standing atop Snowy Mountain or Gol and Maia’s citadel and seeing the world I’d explored still living far onto the horizon. Platforms would still be going their merry way and all without the need for a single loading screen. And at the heart of it all was a solid 3D platformer, one that near perfected the genre. Despite the fact the story was a pretty standard collecting every last thing affair the game excelled on every other level to feel the story really didn’t need to be ground-breaking. Of course Naughty Dog wasn’t going to keep it that way for long.
Jak 2 (known as Jak 2: Renegade to us in Europe) was released in 2003 and despite the duo remaining centre stage, almost everything else became somewhat unrecognisable, even Jak was hard to recall. Thrust into a dark, almost dystopian future within the first few minutes of the game, we see Jak go from a silent, friendly fellow to an angry rogue bent on enacting revenge on his captors after several years of torture. Even Daxter proves hardened to this new setting, asking his friend to “remind me never to piss you off”. The next chapter in the story proved a much more mature affair, with dark turns and a disheartening realisation that the world that we explored in the original game has become this dark city before us. Still the world proved as immersive as before as the very idea of this radical change has sparked much intrigue as to how the past world matches its dark present (with the ruins of Sandover Village acting as a guidepost). While Jak 2: Renegade somewhat lost that open world feel, with the breath-taking views being replaced by large unpleasant city walls, the game really showed us that Naughty Dog had upped their standards.
It is this transition and this intrigue between past and present states that I’d like to focus on here, when considering the potential reboot of this most beloved series. Once Jak 2: Renegade has been wrapped up there’s a sense of no going back, the world is to change regardless of anything the heroes can do and therefore they decide to live the rest of their lives in the new world that is Jak’s original home. Yet allowing us a chance to perhaps recover what was lost, a chance to revert the decaying swamp that was Sandover back to something of a gorgeous coastline could be a narrative set piece within a potential reboot. Just looking at the maps online that fans have prepared reveals there’s a lot of interest in finding the beauty that lies dormant and forgotten in this world. Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier attempts to tackle this intrigue by returning us to more vivid environments and playing with the coloured Eco the PS2 sequels had lost, but it took us far away from Haven City and the areas we knew before, making the game somehow less interesting than its predecessors. However with the Eco reserves seemingly restored perhaps it’s time to see how this affects Haven City and The Wasteland and whether someone will put the world in peril again with these returning resources. Of course it’s always fun to speculate about potential plot points and we can never be sure where the developers will ultimately wish to take the series, but the idea for the series to juxtapose its origins with what it became would certainly be a point of interest to many fans who have invested in the series over the years.
However it’s what the gameplay could become that gives a game its identity and in effect will make us interested in a Jak & Daxter reboot. The original 3D platformer became more of an action/adventure title from the transition between the first two titles however the way the duo moved and their basic command set remained more or less untouched throughout the series. The big change ultimately came from exchanging the coloured Eco powers in favour of weaponry and a terrifying dark transformation (that was joined by a light one in Jak 3). However with the Eco restored perhaps a whole new combination of moves could be laid at Jak’s disposal somewhat akin to the system Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier played around with. On top of that as games have advanced to the next-gen level and giant living worlds have become common place (such as Grand Theft Auto V) seeing the world of Haven City open up to such powerful specs and how Jak could utilise his Eco powers to traverse it open up a variety of possibilities to update the original gameplay experience. Of course this isn’t even factoring in any new ideas the team at Naughty Dog might add but even without that the gameplay has the potential to prove itself versatile even to an audience who are no longer so welcoming to cartoon-like characters.
At the end of the day we could all speculate how we’d like the series to return and there’s been no doubt that the people at Naughty Dog have spoken just as spiritedly about the subject as I have here. Really if the series is to return, we want it return the right way and if Naughty Dog can’t visualise it yet we’ll just have to wait it out until the time is right. However the amount of depth the series has left behind even after 10 years is reason enough to at least contemplate bringing the duo back to our consoles. Regardless of your position on the return of Jak & Daxter I think we can all agree with Naughty Dog producer Sam Thompson in regards to the latest release Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier, that “I’m not happy with that being Jak’s swan song”. It was a game with some great ideas, but for something so warmly remembered by many, the series deserves at least one final triumph to send it off properly. Let’s hope a reboot, or at least a final instalment, is on the way in the foreseeable future.
Next time I’ll be discussing my time with South Park: The Stick of Truth whether all the glorious fan service on the surface reveals a great game underneath.