When the Jak and Daxter series' original development studio, Naughty Dog, moved on to Uncharted, and the studio responsible for the fantastic PSP game Daxter, Ready at Dawn, concentrated on God of War: Chains of Olympus, the series was left hanging. J&D and its two sequels were hits on the PS2 (we'll leave aside Jak X: Combat Racing since it's not really the same sort of game), and Daxter is still one of the best games available for PSP, so it was really only a matter of time before another game came out. This time, High Impact Games took on developer duties, and their experience with Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters and Secret Agent Clank shows in Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier
Title: Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier
Developer: High Impact Games
Date: November 2009
Rating: ESRB E10+ (Everyone 10+ - Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes), PEGI 12+, CERO B, ACB PG
Genre: Action-Adventure/Platformer/Flying Game
Other Platforms: PlayStation 2
Jak is Back
The story in Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier probably wouldn't win any awards for storytelling (unlike, say, Dead Head Fred), but it is sufficient to drive the story and provide motivation for the characters. For the player, it's enough to have new worlds to explore, planes to fly, and mini-games to master.
Run, Shoot, Fly, Collect
The gameplay in The Lost Frontier hearkens back to the very first Jak and Daxter game, The Precursor Legacy, at least in the ground-exploration levels. The style of play can be divided into two main components, each with its own secondary aspect. The first, and the most fun, is the platforming. At each new location, Jak and Daxter find themselves on the ground, looking for something, or fighting someone, or trying to unlock something. The familiar running and jumping--interspersed with shooting bad guys--is the main thing here. Explore each level, clear out the baddies, and beat the boss. It's a formula nearly as old as videogames, and it works really, really well. What brings the platforming up from good to really good is the addition of eco powers. There's no Dark Jak here, but there are four different colors of eco for Jak to collect, and as the game progresses each one grants him different abilities, from hovering to slowing time. Early levels require a single eco power, but later levels get more complicated, and you'll have to figure out not only which color to use, but in what order and when.
For most of the platforming, Daxter doesn't do much more than ride around on Jak's shoulder, cracking jokes. But there are a few places where he gets his own mini-game-like sequences. These are the only place in the game where dark eco makes an appearance, and Daxter uses it to become Dark Daxter, to smash and hurricane-spin his way through some basic puzzles. Though the Daxter parts are a nice change from time to time, they not nearly as much fun as the main platforming.
The second main type of gameplay in The Lost Frontier is flying. With five upgradable planes to pilot, this is almost as much fun as the platforming (no doubt many gamers will find it more fun, but I'm a platformer fan). Flying missions include major storyline events, like taking out gun turrets and big ships, as well as side quests to get paid, and missions to collect crystals for precursor statues that can gain Jak extra abilities. The controls in the flying sections are mostly pretty good, though at times sluggish. The targeting is definitely better than in the platforming sections (which have no proper lock-on). The missions can get tedious after a while, though, especially if you die a lot and have to re-do them. The side missions help break up the tedium somewhat, and if you really like flying, you'll probably like this aspect of the game anyway.
Like the ground-based sections, Daxter gets his own mini-game sequences in the flying sections, too. In these ones, Jak shoots Daxter onto enemy planes with a grappling hook, and then Daxter steals components, guided by the player's button presses. These missions are a nice change, but like some of the other sections, they get repetitive after a while, and at that point they begin to feel like they've gone on far too long.
It's 2012 as I write this, and Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier came out in 2009, but the graphics still hold up pretty well. They can't match the PS Vita, naturally, but the fun-factor more than makes up for what the graphics may lack.
The ground-based levels vary from city-scapes to jungle, and reminded me more of The Precursor Legacy than of the later games in the series. As far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing. Though I love the whole series, the first one has the biggest place in my heart. Some of the city areas seemed a little too homogeneous, but that's only a minor quibble.
The flying sequences have scenery ranging from stark islands in the sea, to more industrialized areas, to open sky and space without much more around than other ships. In some ways, many of these areas seemed too big, and too empty. On the one hand, you do want lots of room to fly in, but when you're playing fetch-the-crystal over water and rocks that all look pretty much the same, it can drag on when you have to fly back and forth for what feels like hours. At least the water and the crystals are pretty.
I haven't yet mentioned my one biggest problem with The Lost Frontier, the one that made it a 3.5-star game instead of a 4-star game for me. It's the same one I have with a lot of games, and not just PSP games: the camera. It's a problem that's often made worse by the PSP's lack of second analog stick. Through most of the game, the camera is reasonably good, and if it gets askew, you can center it behind Jak by pressing both shoulder buttons at once. You can also pan the camera around in a limited way with those buttons. But there are parts where the camera won't budge, and you're too close or at the wrong angle to see where you need to jump, or what you need to shoot. Fortunately, those instances are fairly rare, but they sure are frustrating when they happen.
Though Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier is not a perfect game, it's still pretty darn good, and it still makes my PSP-favorites list. If you like the other games in the series, you should definitely play this one (if you can play PS2 games, you might want to consider the PS2 version instead, just for the bigger picture). Now that the PS Vita has pretty much pushed the PSP aside, you should be able to pick it up cheap in the bargain bin.