Daxter

Jacking in Jak seems to have worked.

Jak may be the one who says "how high" when we hit the jump button, but anybody who's spent longer than half an hour with a Jak & Daxter game will know only too well that it's Daxter providing the fun to temper Jak's oft-frustrating platform mechanics. The wily, ferret-like fulminator perches atop Jak's shoulder, continuously spouting witticisms that are often actually funny, and takes a leading role in cut-scenes with a sarcastic streak wider than the near-seamless game world he's come to call home.

And with Daxter, his eponymous PSP spin-off, he's rendered his increasingly testy green-haired pal more or less redundant. Whereas previous playable Daxter sections on the PS2 have been almost insultingly one-dimensional affairs (like the run-away-from-the-spider and whack-attack bits in Jak II), here the little chap is in full-on Jak The Platform Hero mode, double-jumps, combo attacks and all, the only real subtraction being the increasingly prevalent weapons, and thanks to the addition of a bug-spraying tool he's able to carve out a niche very much of his own.

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Within the confines of the, series that is. Anybody who sat down (well, stood) with the E3 Daxter demo last week will quickly point out that the addition of the rechargeable bug-sprayer, which can be used as a jetpack as well as it's used to splatter enemies with green goop, makes for a game that's distinctly Super Mario Sunshine-esque.

It makes for the same kind of safety net mechanic; when you misjudge a jump, hopping on the bug-spray button allows you to catch yourself and float back to where you were using the analogue stick - complete with the same anxious glances at the "goop bar" on the right of the screen. And the puzzles based on it work well, tasking you with spray-hovering your way over flame outlets to get a boost up to higher platforms and out of the top of the level.

Dealing with the two years that separated the end of Jak & Daxter and Jak II: Renegade, during which time Jak was imprisoned and experimented upon, Daxter presupposes that the furiously furry fellow spent the intervening period scrounging a living as an exterminator, rooting around the underbelly of Haven City - a facsimile of which developer Ready At Dawn is using as the basis for its level design - blasting smaller versions of Jak II/III's Metal Heads with gaseous green goop and collecting their golden gems as reward.

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Familiar Jak elements are evident wherever you look - characters, Crimson Guards, even those little Easter egg things which unlock various bonuses in the same manner, and usually lurk somewhat off the beaten track. With its amusing premise and the Mario Sunshine-esque sprayer, Dax finds himself in a pretty well-rounded platform game that preserves the feel of a Jak & Daxter game whilst carving out its own identity.

Only two levels were on display at E3, although the final game will contain some 24 according to the developer, but each had us plugging away compulsively, with fairly positioned restart points, the usual array of ducking, dodging and duking elements, and some fairly standard degrees of variation, including sections that see you climbing wire mesh fences and attempting to bonk enemies out of the way. Indeed, these bits owe something to Mario Sunshine too, with one of our hidden egg friends only reachable by leaping off the fence and timing a bug-spray burst to land in a fenced off section of, er, fence.

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Other variations include a J&D-standard mini-game, which sees Dax attempting to steady valve pressures by hitting D-pad and face buttons corresponding to various dials - where hitting a button that isn't lit up makes the whole thing explode - and the technology is very impressive. A tanker level noticeably sways from side to side (although not noticeably enough to give me seasickness, thankfully), trampolines propel Dax high into the sky allowing you to admire the whole level layout, the fur effects in some of the game's 20-odd minutes of cut sequences transcend those in the PS2 titles, and the camera doesn't appear to be thunderously annoying.

Details on the rest of the game, including multiplayer modes, are scant for now, but even with the game at just 30 per cent complete it's already one of the best platform titles I've played on the PSP. Admittedly the only other one was MediEvil, but the Daxter developers were nice enough to talk me through things despite my having no business cards on me and dying repeatedly, so I'm repaying them with a soundbite. But not a satisfactory end-of-preview joke: Chickens road other side etc.

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