PSP Previews: Daxter Preview

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Daxter Preview

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Scheduled release date:

March 21, 2006

Set for release March 21st, Daxter for the PSP is an action-filled 3-D platformer based on Sony's popular Jak & Daxter franchise. Instead of focusing on Jak, the hero of the franchise, this new game puts the spotlight on Daxter, his foxlike sidekick.

Events in Daxter take place in-between the original Jak & Daxter and Jak II, and tell the story of what happened to Daxter before he concocted his plan to spring Jak out of jail. Apparently, he decided to become a superhero bug exterminator and rescue a planet that had been taken over by robot insects.

Despite the change in focus, fans of the franchise won't have to worry about the characters or story changing for the worse. Even though development of Daxter is going on at Ready At Dawn Studios, and not Naughty Dog, many of the original Jak team members are working on the game. In particular, Dan Arey, who wrote the scripts and directed the voice acting for the PS2 Jak games, was enlisted to make sure the same style of dialogue was retained in Daxter's game. They even recruited the same voice-actors to voice the characters from the Jak games that feature prominently in Daxter.

Equipped with a lightning powered fly swatter and a 200-horsepower bug spray cannon, players that choose to bring Daxter home will have to help the confident fox-dude (he's an ottsel, actually) crawl, jump, climb, swat, and spray his way to victory over an army of mechanical bugs. Since Daxter is an animal, the controls and his abilities reflect his own unique skills. He can crawl on the ground and access tunnels that Jak's big ol' self could never navigate, let alone enter. Thanks to his lithe body and super-sharp claws, Daxter can climb up surfaces and hoist himself up to spots that a heavier mammal couldn't. Main levels will task players with crawling, jumping, and climbing their way through large levels that stretch upward and outward, doing battle with insects using Jak's two main weapons. Flashy combos are possible with the fly swatter, while the spray cannon can be used to stun bugs or to fly for short periods. Daxter likes to take naps once in a while though, and they've taken that into account in his game by including dream levels where Daxter can do battle with the Krimzon Guard and other large-sized baddies from the other Jak games. Finally, just for kicks, there will be a few vehicle levels included where players can help Daxter pilot a crop duster to eradicate bugs wholesale.

Multiplayer will also be present, in the form of a local WiFi 4-player battle mode. Players can collect and train bugs in the main mode and then see how their creations fare in multiplayer battles.

Connectivity with the PS2 game, Jak X: Combat Racing, is another selling point that is being played up. If you happen to have both games, and the proper USB cable to connect your PSP to your PS2, you'll be able to unlock bonus characters and levels in Daxter and new vehicles and decals in Jak X.

A few days ago, Sony passed along a playable demo of Daxter, so we thought we'd bring you some honest to goodness hands-on impressions of the game. Keep in mind, this is from an early version of the game, so any bugs or annoyances we encountered probably won't be present in the final game. Also, the demo only offers access to two selected levels, so we can only speak about those two levels.

To be totally honest, the two levels in the demo didn't provide a big amount of "wow" in terms of play mechanics. The dev team at Ready At Dawn has been unapologetic in saying that Daxter is a throwback to the days of pure platformers. Judging from the demo, they weren't kidding.

One level features a labyrinthine storage area where Daxter has to jump and climb his way to the top in an effort to locate a machine that has flooded the basement of Krew's bar and is somehow helping the bugs do their dirty work. While there are some spots where we were able to swat multiple bugs with flyswatter combos, major portions of the level involve jumping between platforms, floating across large gaps, and hunting for places to crawl and climb. That stuff is all old hat. Admittedly though, the platforming and exploration are solid, even if they're rather unoriginal. Jump sections kept us busy mixing up Daxter's jumping, floating, and ledge-grabbing techniques. The versatility of his bug spray gun seems pretty neat too. In the demo, we were able to use it to float and as a flamethrower (by setting fire to the spray). From what we've been told, the full game will include numerous upgrades for the sprayer that will enhance it's output, distance, and overall "coolness."

Also on the demo disc is a dream level, which places Daxter, dressed in a black trenchcoat, in a rainy square surrounded by Krimzon Guard clones. Anyone that has watched Neo face-off against the clone Smiths in Matrix: Reloaded will recognize the scene. Unlike the platforming level, the dream level doesn't involve any roaming around or fighting in the standard sense. As the guard clones approach Daxter, icons appear that tell the player what buttons to press. In order to dispatch the guards, the player has to press the buttons indicated by the icons when the guards step onto them. We're all familiar with pattern recognitions minigames such as this. Daxter (the game) will have dozens of them, we've been told, and they'll all put Daxter (the character) into fantasy situations involving scenes from past Jak games and popular movies.

Not available in the demo were any vehicle based stages. According to the information we've been given, and from some of the screenshots we've seen (check our archive), Daxter will have opportunities in the game to climb behind the wheel of a racing vehicle and a cropduster style aircraft. We certainly expect that these portions of the game will flex the graphics engine's ability to continuously spool an expansive environment without any load time or stuttering.

It really does seem like the folks at Ready At Dawn are striving to put together a very old school, extremely straightforward platformer with Daxter. While that doesn't impress us, we're also aware that a lot of people have been hoping for an old school platformer done up with modern-day graphics. To that end, we can most adamantly say that we were mighty impressed with the visuals present in the Daxter Demo.

People that didn't think the PSP was capable of better-than-PS2 quality graphics are going to have to eat crow when they see Daxter. Ready At Dawn has come up with an engine that can handle the same lengthy sight distances, large-poly models, and constantly-spooling levels as Jak's PS2 adventures, and has somehow managed to upgrade the texture quality and detail in the process. The storage area beneath Krew's bar is a twisty, tunnel-filled place, but we were awed on many occasions at how far upward we could see when taking advantage of the first-person camera view. The sheer volume of details evident in the environment is stunning. While the storage area is mostly outfitted with kegs and boxes, and the architecture primarily resembles 1500's classic dilapidated inn, what struck us was just how many different types of kegs, boxes, fallen beams, furnaces, and other props have been placed in the environment. There's just so much to see and do. "Interesting environments" is what we'd call them, when you take into account all of that detail and consider the fact that Daxter can climb many of the walls and crawl into various nooks in the environment.

Daxter and his enemies are a treat to gaze at too. We've always known that Daxter is a smoothly animated, colorful little ottsel, but the bad boys making this game have somehow managed to throw extra polygons into the character, giving him the same furry look that he previously only had in the PS2 games' cutscenes. His various flyswatter combos are a hoot to watch. Unfortunately, there were only a pair of enemies present in the demo levels--a spider and an arachnid reminiscent of Starship Troopers--but they were all nicely animated. The engine doesn't seem to have a problem with a half-dozen of them visible at one time either, even when they're crowded around Daxter and doling him some serious hurt.

Like most early demos, the one we received can really only be taken as a proof-of-concept more than an indicator of how the final game will turn out. Obviously, the graphics are going to set a new standard for the PSP. That's a very exciting prospect. The levels in the demo, though, while enjoyable to look at, are uninteresting from the perspective of gameplay. Of course, Daxter doesn't have all of his swatter combos or spray can upgrades in the demo, and there were only a few enemies to interact with, so we're hopeful that the final game will prove more engaging with the variety that those embellishments should provide.

Again, Daxter (minus Jak) for the PSP ships March 21st.

2/2/2006 Frank Provo

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