There’s always something from your past that you wish you could see brought back in a new and exciting way. Whether it’s a game series that ran out of steam or a television show that ended on an unbearable cliffhanger, there’s lots of properties out there that could use a revival. Thankfully, that’s happening more and more often these days. We here at Fandom think this is always a good thing for fans, and we’d like to look at stuff we believe they need to bring back.
SPOILERS may occur, so read at your own risk.
Previously: Are You Afraid of the Dark?
What do you get when Naughty Dog finishes their extremely successful Crash Bandicoot series dominating the PlayStation’s family market, but loses the rights as their contract with Universal ends, and goes on to make a similar series in the vein of Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie? Well, you get the Jak and Daxter series. In an era where platforming mascots were much more common, the Jak and Daxter series went on to sell over 12 million copies worldwide, win numerous Guinness World Records and, along with sister franchise Ratchet & Clank, really define the PlayStation 2 era. And then it just…faded away, on a whimper, rather than a bang.
Unlike their Crash Bandicoot series, Naughty Dog really made an effort with the lore and world building for Jak and Daxter, in an attempt to create a believable and convincing world. The series takes place on a fictional planet populated by humans with elf-like ears, which prominently features a powerful substance known as eco, which provides powers for humans who can channel it and for machinery. This world was created by the Precursors, a mysterious race who built many artifacts and temples, then due to unknown circumstances, vanished.
The Jak and Daxter series was known for its absolutely excellent cast and brilliant brand of humor. It stars titular heroes Jak and Daxter – a heroic human and a wise-cracking ottsel, respectively – joined often by the grumpy green eco sage Samos Hagai, and his daughter, the mechanic Keira and Jak’s love interest. Later, this group of regular allies expanded: Ashelin Praxis, the daughter of dictator Baron Praxis whose experience leading the military helps Jak on many occasions; Torn, the battle-hardened leader of a resistance against the Baron; Pecker, a moncaw (yes, part bird, part monkey) who fancies himself as Daxter’s rival; Sig, a wastelander who hunts for trophies; and Tess, weapons designer and Daxter’s love interest.
Though the series has six titles, its primary story arc consists of one trilogy, and is really the evolution of Naughty Dog’s storytelling from almost non-existent in Crash to being full of twists and told through hundreds of well-shot cutscenes. But there is a stark contrast between the first entry and the later titles. The first simply sees a search for Gol Acheron, the sage of dark eco, to return Daxter to his human form (not realising that Gol actually plans to flood the world with dark eco and rule it), while the later games take place in a darker, grittier future setting as they travel forward into a time that has been ravaged by a swarm of creatures known as the Metal Heads. From taking revenge against the tyrannical regimes of Baron Praxis, to being forced to prove their worth to Spargus so that they may let him live after being outcast, to stopping the corrupted Precursors known as Dark Makers, the two go on many world-saving epic adventures told through amazing storytelling. It really shows how Naughty Dog expanded as a company, and the series serves as a great precursor (no pun intended) to the storytelling that we would see in Uncharted and The Last of Us.
The gameplay was also fantastic. The series features third person action adventure gameplay with a great mix of platforming, puzzles, shooting and driving. All of which is done in a completely seamless open world with no loading screens. But there is a stark contrast between the first game and the later titles. While the first is more similar to collect-a-thon platformers like Mario 64 where each area featured challenges to collect Power Cells, the following games featured a more linear progression with missions assigned by the different characters, with the single hub world Haven City traversed by stealing zoomers from citizens, and only the second game onwards featured shooting with a small group of weapons that allow for different playstyles when fighting Metal Heads and Krimzon Guard. The driving was a very huge portion of the game, from driving zoomers around Haven to driving insanely fun buggies around the Wasteland. The developers took this experience and made Jak X: Combat Racing, much in the vein of kart racer games like Mario Kart and Crash Team Racing, but with a grittier world and a great heavy metal soundtrack.
The presentation for its time was gorgeous. Much like Ratchet & Clank, it featured an animated style of graphics, and the developers sought to take visual inspiration from both Disney cartoon styles and Japanese manga. The Precursor Legacy featured a beautiful planet with a very real and alive environment, while the following series featured a more cyberpunk inspired setting with the futuristic cities and the ancient, mysterious Precursor ruins left behind. Though the first title appears dated, the second, third, and the fourth had some of the best visuals on the console, and it shows, because the Jak and Daxter Collection re-release still looks great on the PlayStation 3.
The series just highlights how Naughty Dog evolved from their humble Crash days to the blockbusters of gaming and storytelling in Uncharted and The Last of Us. The thing is, that evolution is exactly what caused this series to fade. After completing Jak X, the team split into two: one for PlayStation 3 development putting together ideas for what would be Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and another for PlayStation Portable which create Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier. Many employees quit in frustration due to the difficulties of working with the PlayStation 3, and the teams needed to be combined, leading The Lost Frontier to be developed by High Impact Games, and go on to be the poorest received title in the franchise, while Naughty Dog released Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and lit the gaming world on fire, earning themselves several Game of the Year awards.
The series had a chance to come back once more when Naughty Dog split into two teams again. While one worked on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, the other worked on a new title – and initially, it was planned as a Jak title. But the plan to take what they’d learned developing Uncharted to Jak and Daxter only led to the team running into problems, as they went through many concepts and ideas before stepping back and realizing that what they were creating was only Jak and Daxter in name. They gave up, and worked instead on what would become The Last of Us, another highly acclaimed game.
It’s hard to blame Naughty Dog for pursuing the more commercially successful franchises when they were more used to creating realistic worlds. In fact, that same requirement to adapt to the gaming audiences’ average age increasing is also seen within the Jak and Daxter series, where the Grand Theft Auto inspirations in the second game, not just because the team had loved competing with one another to score five star ratings fastest in Grand Theft Auto III, but to create games for a more mature audience. While Naughty Dog have never ruled out a return to Jak, they have often stated that the team has changed to developing more realistic games with a different feel, and it would be difficult to return to Jak. Since the underwhelming The Lost Frontier, the two have received an HD remaster, appeared in PlayStation throwback titles such as PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, but otherwise gone ignored.
But things are different now. The Ratchet & Clank remake just launched to critical acclaim, with a movie to follow up. Its critical acclaim can be attributed not just to the fact that its gameplay, graphics and world were spectacular, but just how unique it is in this day of gaming. It shows that joyful experiences from 3D platformers can still feel fresh and exciting to play. And the gaming world has longed for bombastic, fun games with a wonderful setting and cast that can appeal to gamers of all ages. In a day when open world games are still dominating, Jak and Daxter did that, without load screens, before it was cool. And it has an opportunity to stand out because of how vibrant those open worlds are, with their excellent mix of driving and platforming.
There is some good news, however. Another related PlayStation platformer, Sly Cooper, is also getting a movie made following Ratchet & Clank. And if Ratchet & Clank proves to be a success in the box office, does this mean Jak and Daxter is next? And does this mean that Naughty Dog, when it finishes Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, will also go on to take their development experience from making fantastic award-winning titles to making a critically acclaimed reboot to accompany it? We may never know. But we do know this: the time is right for more Jak in our lives, because these games are underrated classics that need more love.