Reviewed by Jacob Spindel, June 2008
Batman has Robin. Sonic the Hedgehog has Tails. Even Sherlock Holmes had Watson. Practically every popular character has had a sidekick at some point. PlayStation protagonist Jak is no exception; his sidekick Daxter has accompanied him throughout his adventures. This time around, the half-otter, half-weasel stars in his own game for the PSP (which I guess you could call the PS3's own sidekick). Although it doesn’t accomplish much in terms of storyline or character development, Daxter is a welcome addition to the action-adventure genre and provides some seriously entertaining gameplay.
Ottsel? Is That Even Legal?
Daxter’s storyline is essentially a subplot that fits into Jak II to provide additional details about the events of that game. However, even if you haven’t played any previous games in the series, it’s really pretty easy to follow; all you really need to know is that Dax takes on the role of an exterminator in order to battle metallic bugs and ultimately rescue Jak. The game consists of a large overworld that is used to access to most of the game’s levels. Dax battles through each level either on foot or by using one of several hovering vehicles, with the goal of getting insect infestations under control while collecting special eggs and other items while finding his way to the exit.
Besides brute-force battles with bugs, the levels also include a variety of puzzles and mazes, a few of which are of almost Zeldarian proportions. Most of the puzzles are not all that difficult, but you may sometimes find yourself wandering aimlessly or asking, “Now what?” until you figure things out (or consult a strategy guide).
Dax starts out with only a flyswatter, but he soon obtains a bug-spray shooter that can be used both for fending off insects and also for flying short distances. As he progresses through the game, the shooter gains upgrades that make it attack enemies easier or thrust Daxter along faster, but these upgrades also consume fuel more quickly when in use, so Dax will also need to collect refill orbs whenever possible. Additionally, Dax can unlock “Dream Sequence” bonus games, which are parodies of The Matrix, Braveheart, and other popular films in terms of their appearance, but the dreams are actually played more like a music/dance game in which you match on-screen button patterns. Completing the bonus games successfully gives Dax upgrades such as more health bars or new attack moves.
Daxter’s controls are responsive, load times are short, and each level presents challenges that are unique and creative. The game is a little short, but the levels that we do get are so much fun to play that completing a task or solving a puzzle feels like a true accomplishment. The sprawling level designs can occasionally leave you feeling a bit confused, and once you get the hang of it, the overall game is a little short, but otherwise, the gameplay is entertaining throughout the story.
The game immediately drops you into a lush, three-dimensional environment that is expansive and detailed. Each level has its own colorful and unique design. The game’s characters are also detailed and smoothly animated, with each character demonstrating mannerisms that match his/her personality.
Even the game’s camera, which can be a bit of a sticking point for many games, works pretty well. Most of the time, the camera follows Dax’s moves accurately and keeps your point of view in a location that is actually helpful for playing the game. Even if it does miss what you were looking for, the handy “Free Look” feature lets you look around at any angle and any direction. Unfortunately, “Free Look” is disabled in some areas, but otherwise, Daxter’s graphics are solid.
The game’s sound is also impressive. An unfortunately large number of PSP games have background music that is either totally forgettable, or just so annoying that you wish you could forget it. Daxter, however, has well-written background music that not only fits the mood of each scene, but also includes catchy melodies that are actually fun to listen to. Overall, the background music is polished and sophisticated, rather than just being filler material.
The characters are also voiced by professional voice actors, including Max Casella reprising his role as the title character. Their performances are good, but most of the cut scenes’ jokes fall flatter than Daxter himself after he bounces off a springboard. Daxter tries to incorporate the same kinds of quips and witty dialog that is present in games like Crash of the Titans or The Simpsons Game, but unfortunately, it’s just not very funny. The game does have a few laughs, and of course humor is always subjective anyway, but even though Daxter has strong gameplay value, its comedy value is pretty limited.
If you like action/adventure games (and who doesn’t?), Daxter for PSP will not disappoint. Gameplay is varied and includes polished graphics and sound effects that successfully create a world of their own. The storyline has only one linear path and is a little short, but even if the game doesn’t last as long as you may have wanted, the time that you do spend playing will be exciting and thoroughly entertaining. Now, I must depart in order to obtain a backup battery for my sidekick (not the phone).
Hints & Tips
-When dodging obstacles on a zipline, such as in the first construction site level, dodging upward is the most difficult direction because Dax only stays in a safe position for a very short time. In some cases, you can actually use a left or right swing instead of the upward dodge to avoid having to deal with it, but when you do perform an upward dodge, you will need to wait until the last second before the obstacle and then react quickly.
-You can still use your flyswatter when you are climbing on a wall.
-When hopping across the platforms on the second Tanker level, you must land on each one in sequence to make the next one appear. Don’t try to take any shortcuts, unless you want to drown.
-Keep your eyes open for surfaces that Dax can climb on – almost everything that has straight lines going across it is climbable (with one or two exceptions).
-Is the Hive Queen 2 boss driving you up the wall? Do the same to her – literally. The only way to attack her successfully in the last phase is to blast her with ultrasonic pulses, which will cause her to climb upward on the wall until she eventually has nowhere to go and must relocate to the center, where she becomes vulnerable to attack.