I decided it was time to settle the debate, once and for all. It's been the subject of human conflict for generations, with more blood spilled over this matter than the world's religions combined. Unrest in the Middle East, uprisings in South America, and territory disputes within the second Mars colony have all been inflamed by one topic. Which is better, Ratchet & Clank or Jak & Daxter?
It's Ratchet & Clank.
There, that was easy. But before a thousand improvised explosive devices are delivered by my postie, first class, I should probably point out that Jak & Daxter is utterly great.
Both games have a lot in common. In both you ostensibly play as one character who's giving a shoulder ride to another. In both your task is to run around large open levels, completing tasks in the order you see fit, while collecting everything that bobs just above the ground. And both are beautiful, lavishly designed and ingeniously constructed.
However, Jak & Daxter is a much less complex affair. In a very successful way.
The story is of four sages, one evil, magic goo, end of the world, collecting some stuff. You know how it goes; a novelisation wouldn't exactly be gripping. Right at the start, Jak and his sort-of-human buddy Daxter are pratting around near a pool of evil purple "eco", when Daxter falls in. When spat back out, he is some sort of cat/fox/weasel thing. (I just checked - I thought I was being facetious, but he's an "ottsel" - half weasel, half otter.) Because, well, something something.
But none of that matters a jot, because now you're tasked with travelling the many lands to collect as many Power Cells as you can. These are used to power machinery and transport to access further reaches, and act as the reward for completed tasks and exploring the farthest reaches.
There's all manner of "ecos" to find - these are strange bubbling emissions of various colours, each giving you special properties. Blue to speed up and power objects, red to hit harder, green to heal things... You're also gathering Precursor Orbs in their hundreds, exchanged for Cells, and more importantly, an incentive to run around collecting things. Which is very much the point.
And what there is to run around! The variety and detail in each of the connected lands is just stunning. So there's never a feeling that you're running down prescribed corridors, or making your way through the only available path. There's such a spread of options before you, a buffet of options, a menu of... gosh, I'm hungry.
Enter Rock Village, say, about midway through the game, and there's so much choice about what to tackle first. Perhaps search this area for Orbs, Cells and the other collectable, freeing Scout Flies. Or maybe you'd like to take a wander through the Boggy Swamp, exploring its sludgy wastes, and discovering the yellow eco, which allows you to fire fireballs. But better yet, head into the Lost Precursor City - a labyrinth of puzzles and platforming challenges.
In fact, well over halfway through the game I realised I hadn't visited one of the earlier stages, Misty Island, at all. It's amazing to be offered such freedom in an action platformer, so generously opening up around you without demanding you have completed every millimetre before the next closed door opens up.
Of course, when you look at the pedigree of the developer, it's not hard to realise why the game's so strong. Defining PSX platforming with Crash Bandicoot, Naughty Dog is now of course more famously adored for the Uncharted games. And it's a focused team. In the nineties it produced Crash games (after very early forays on the Megadrive and 3DO). From 2001 to 2005 it released Jak & Daxter games. Since then, it's been Uncharted.
And of course the similarities with the Ratchet & Clank series extend far further. Naughty Dog and R&C's Insomniac shared a building, and have always existed in friendly rivalry. When Naughty Dog was making Crash Bandicoot, Insomniac was making the PlayStation's other enormous colourful platformer, Spyro.
Then came R&C and J&D for a few years. And then as Naughty Dog put out the Uncharted series, Insomniac was working on Resistance. Clearly slightly more divergent, there's no doubting they're two of the major players in the PS3 market. I would like to see them fight.
But why do I put Ratchet & Clank ahead? There are a few reasons. Jak & Daxter is undoubtedly the more ingeniously laid out game, and far more generous in the freedom it offers. But it makes a few mistakes that tinge this with a hint of frustration.
While I absolutely love the lack of weapons and equippable items in J&D - instead focusing on the two main melee attacks and occasional bonuses from the ecos - its execution of the combat feels a little wayward.
It is mostly, I think, due to the fixed camera angle. If it would only tilt upwards ever so slightly, the game would be transformed. But as it is, and forces it to be, the shallow angle makes it remarkably difficult to judge distances accurately. This makes using melee a little hit or miss (I made a joke there), and of course can make platform jumping sometimes horrendous.
Its militant controls are idiotically not possible to change at all, meaning there's no way to invert the camera's X or Y axis, let alone reassign buttons. What a strange, strange oversight. But most of all, and this is getting into personal territory here, the double jump is so messed up.
Double jumps are important. They make a statement that I adore. That is: this is a game. Unashamedly, unrealistically, about having fun. Once a character can jump, and then midway through that jump, jump again, you've abandoned nonsensical goals of realism and accurate physics and all the other curses on our cartoon platforming, and embraced the importance of fun. But you still have to get it right.
The perfect double jump lets you execute the second leap at any point before you land/fall. This means you can either use them for height, by jumping again at the absolute apex, or for distance, by riskily leaving it until the last second of the arc. It's a pleasure, a dreamlike wonder. But Jak & Daxter's second leap is a shambles.
You have to execute it before some ambiguous midpoint, which is nightmarish to judge thanks to the aforementioned low camera. And missing means plummeting. While the game's checkpoints are extremely generous, it can often lead to niggling repeats of the same sections over and over. It's not fair to offer half a double jump. It's mean.
And while the story is obviously of minimal importance, there's no doubt that Ratchet & Clank's daft tale is more entertaining than Jak & Daxter's forgettable narrative. So forgettable, in fact, that I was playing it this morning and I've already forgotten.
While Ratchet was insufferable in the first R&C game, that's still more interesting than the complete nothingness of Jak. The voice acting in both is absolutely superb, and Max Casella's Daxter is perfect (and especially exciting when you learn that he's the same guy who played Vinnie in Dougie Howser MD!)
Both are brilliant games. Both are gorgeous, funny and deeply imaginative. We really don't need to continue the wars about it. Can we all just live in peace? But the Ratchet & Clank people are definitely right, and are better.