Daxter doesn’t just look good, but proves he has the stuff to make a decent hero in his own right. That’s mostly because the controls couldn’t be better mapped to the PSP’s odd layout. Character movement is on the analogue nub, with jump, crawl and attack buttons on the face and camera controls on the shoulder buttons. Meanwhile, the additional face button is used for the game’s signature gadget – an upgradable bug-spray which acts much like Mario’s water-jet in Super Mario Sunshine. Introduced as a weapon, it also finds use as a hover and rocket-jump boost later on, and can even be transformed into a handy ad-hoc flamethrower. With just these ingredients – neither too complex nor too simple – Ready At Dawn has given you all the tools you need to complete a thrilling platform adventure.
Now, personally, I would rather have seen something closer to the spirit of the first game, with its exotic fantasy world and lost-civilisation artefacts, and not the sequels where Jak took a more adolescent, dark and industrial path. However, I have to admire the way the team has squeezed Daxter into the existing storyline, with the furry critter moonlighting as a pest exterminator in Haven City during the run-up to Jak II. Early levels see our hero swatting bugs in a grand hotel, a high-rise construction site and a subway system, and neatly set up the basics of the game: a fairy traditional platform formula of daredevil jumps, rail riding and close combat, spiced up with simple puzzles. Before long, Daxter’s also involved in the sort of jet-bike sequences we first saw in Jak I, not to mention dream-sequence digressions into parodies of Braveheart and The Matrix. In later stages, the storyline even sets the stage for Jak II, with sightings of Jak and the introduction of characters who become important in the PS2 sequel. In this respect, Daxter doesn’t feel like a bolt-on, but like a new chapter that adds to the existing story.
As with any good platformer, the key to Daxter’s success is not only the way it steadily increases the challenge level, but in the way it drips out new tools or capabilities, then places you in situations where you’re required to use them. There’s nothing here that you haven’t seen before in Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, Sly Racoon or any grade-A platform game of recent years, but it’s all done with real wit, elegance and style. The transit system level is an early highlight, with its split-second jumps and train-surfing antics, but later sections in a strip mine or a fish-cannery – where blocks of ice impede your progress until melted with your trusty flamethrower – are just as packed with memorable moments. It’s the gaming equivalent of a good pizza; just because the elements are familiar, it doesn’t mean that they don’t taste fantastic when mixed in exactly the right combination.