Let”s face it Naughty Dog”s “Crash Bandicoot” franchise for the original Sony Playstation sucked. Attempting to match the 3-D platform experience of Nintendo 64″s “Super Mario 64,” the games” developers created nothing more than straightforward platform games with spiced up graphics (think “3-D World Runner” after being flushed down the toilet and without the cool glasses). Realizing that the franchise was going nowhere, Naughty Dog jumped ship on the “Crash” series (allowing Konami to pick up the trash for the PS2) knowing that the games only succeeded due to Sony”s brilliant marketing campaign. Thankfully Naughty Dog has grown from their “Bandicoot” days with the recent release of a true 3-D platform game for the Playstation 2, “Jak and Daxster,” which succeeds in bringing a fresh new look to the genre.

To the surprise of no one, “Jak and Daxster” puts you in control of Jak and his good friend, Daxster. The story unfolds with the two curiously exploring the jungle until Daxster falls into a magical black pool that causes him to transform into a four-legged furry creature. Distraught and panicked, Jak and Daxster run to the town”s wise man, who explains that the two must go on a long quest of collecting precursor orbs, which are powerful, sought-after items that will help them in various ways through their journey to a far off land to cure Daxster.

While the very original storyline of the game brings new life to the genre, the gameplay of “Jak and Daxster” is very similar to games of the Nintendo 64 era, especially “Banjo-Kazooie.” With fuzzy Daxster resting on the shoulders of Jak (similar to Banjo the bear and his feathered friend Kazooie), players are given a variety of moves in which the two team up to attack enemies. Between the two characters, gamers will be able to pull off at least a dozen different moves necessary to get through certain situations. These moves will seem very easy to pull as they are performed in a matter similar to moves of “Super Mario 64” and “Banjo-Kazooie.”

Also similar to Nintendo and Rare”s famous platform games, “Jak and Daxster” features expansive 3-D environments in which players must find various items and solve puzzles. While this concept was fun and original years ago, the task of finding X amount of one item and even more of another item in each area becomes very tedious and repetitive. This, however, does give the game more replay value, as gamers are rewarded for finding all of each item in each area of the game.

Fortunately for “Jak and Daxster,” the integration of humor and great character interaction allow gamers to forget that they are playing a game much like many others of its kind. This can largely be attributed to Daxster”s character. Similar in appearance and personality to Timon of “The Lion King,” Daxster brings many laughs to the game during cut scenes and even during gameplay. Upon reaching certain points in the game, Daxster will run off puns and one-liners that not only deliver a laugh or two, but also give hints on how to solve some of the more difficult puzzles in the game. As for the game”s cut scenes, gamers will forget they are playing a game and instead feel as if they are watching Disney classics or Saturday morning cartoons.

The cartoon-like feel of the game definitely benefits from the power of the Playstation 2. While Naughty Dog was unable to develop proper 3-D environments in the “Crash Bandicoot” games with the underpowered PSone, “Jak and Daxster” sets new standards for the genre. The game features great character animations and beautifully designed environments that are totally interactive and some of the system”s best lighting effects. Combined with a silky- smooth frame rate of 60 frames per second, the game is a graphical marvel that shows that the Playstation 2 is not ready to be the ugly duckling when compared to the GameCube and the Xbox.

In addition to top quality graphics, “Jak and Daxster” excels in the sound department. Most notably, the game features great voice acting that is as good as any game on the market with the exception of the “Metal Gear Solid” games. This element of the game allows “Jak and Dakster” to stand out of the crowd in the 3-D platform genre. Additionally, the game”s theme music and sound effects complement the atmospheres of the game. Hopefully, if Naughty Dog decides to continue this franchise, it will continue to push the envelope to prevent the series from devolving as the “Crash” series did.

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