Certain people are destined to be sidekicks their whole life. This may seem a simple statement, but it still remains one that Hollywood seems to forget from time to time leading to large monetary debacles. I won't name names, but you know who they are. Well, the video game industry is a little more forgiving, but can we really expect a wise cracking rodent to take center stage, on a handheld system no less, and compete with his own venerable series? The answer, surprisingly, is a loud and resounding yes. Daxter's first foray into solo gaming not only places him at the top of the PSP's gaming library, but makes quite a few console platformers envious in the making.
Released almost day for day to coincide with the PSP's first anniversary in North America, Daxter (along with a slew of quality titles being released as of late) helps to finally justify the handheld's existence. While Lumines, Hot Shots and even Metal Gear Acid kept us entertained, the PSP was sorely lacking a title that could not only compete with Nintendo's handheld library but with console games as well. Sony's answer, while not the most obvious one, was simple: make a Daxter game that rocks. Make the controls perfect. Have tons of unlockables, multiplayer, great graphics, enjoyable gameplay, a lengthy adventure with loads of replay, a good camera, and for the love of all things green (or the color of your choosing) eliminate the dang loading times! Daxter nails all these things without breaking a sweat and leaves us all to wonder: why did it take so long?
Except for a few second cameos that tie this sub-adventure into the great Jakk universe, this game belongs to Daxter. The game has our rodent friend working as an exterminator (oh the irony) and collecting precursor orbs. The story, while entertaining, is really just a means to keep the levels and the wise-crack humor flowing. As such, this is a much lighter feeling game than the darker outings we've seen from Jakk. The worlds here are colorful, with funny people populating them and many funny comments to be heard, which surprisingly never get old.
Daxter takes the best qualities from past platformers and puts them all on display for us. Great level design, which may seem a little linear from time to time but to no big detriment, a camera that hangs at just the right angle (and is fully rotating with the shoulder buttons), easy but enjoyable jumping/fighting/swatting system and loads of variety. There are even some vehicles to navigate and while they don't control as well as Daxter himself, they don't overstay their welcome and are a fun diversion. The levels require several play-throughs to acquire all the precursor orbs, gems and bugs and while this may put some off, the levels are so well constructed and inviting of repeated visits that you'll never think twice about it.
For the majority of Daxter, you will be using an electrified fly swatter and a spray gun to dispatch enemies. While this may seem restrictive compared to the Ape Escape outings, Daxter features plenty of combo attacks, jump actions and game mechanics that the two weapon restriction never seems contrived. It should be noted that the spray gun can also be used to hover and can be upgraded for flamethrower and sonic attacks. Bonus! Heaven City also features small little out-of-the-way places that our Daxter must sneak/crawl into, fences to climb, lines to rappel, etc. The action never gets old or too repetitive.
Besides the overall mission mode, Daxter features several alternate modes of play including dream sequences/mini-games which are fun and hilarious, and even connectivity to Jak X: Combat Racing on the PS2. The other general mode of play is Bug Combat, which is a mini-game using collected Combat Bugs to play head-to-head against CPU and human opponents. Bug Combat is a fun addition that plays slightly like a cross between a card game, a Worms game and a rock, paper, scissors game. A nice diversion and one that furthers collection within the game proper.
One of the biggest accomplishments that Daxter quietly manages to achieve is that is finally proves that loading times don't need to always be evident if a game is well programmed. While the PSP's had a few great graphical games thus far, they all seemed to suffer from excruciating load times. Daxter, on the other hand, while one of the best looking games on the PSP cleverly hides all it's loading in elevators, dialog scenes and during menu selections. This is a brilliant move that is not only appreciated but enticing for gamers who despise having to sit through long load times for a few seconds of gameplay.
As mentioned, Daxter is one of the best looking games of the PSP and even manages to give console platformers a run for their money. Brilliantly laid out levels, intricately detailed and animated world and fun character movement. If this wasn't enough, there are tons of background animations and objects everywhere which not only help create the illusion of a real city, but extract awe in gamers looking for slowdowns and finding none. Daxter proves to be the epitome of brilliant programming on the PSP in all its shapes and forms.
In the audio department, Daxter remains just as strong. Brilliantly colorful music, pleasant and funny voice-acting and tons of dialog to behold. The audio helps create an air of levity and fun that complements the gameplay perfectly. An outstanding achievement (again) on all fronts.
In the end, it's hard to find any real fault with Daxter. While some cynics may claim that it's a carefully planned game that takes few risks and simply gives gamers what they really want, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. From its perfect gameplay and fun story to its also complete elimination of loading times, Daxter raises itself to the top of the PSP library and seems to do so effortlessly. This is what PSP owners have been waiting impatiently for and it's finally here. A brilliant game that not only justifies the PSP's purchase, but one that also raises the bar for all other PSP titles and console platformers. A must own and reason enough to buy a PSP.