Daxter may be the fifth game in Sony's flagship Jak and Daxter franchise, but it's still responsible for many firsts. It's the first game in the series that doesn't star Jak, the once-mute-turned-brooding protagonist. It's the first game in the series to appear on a system other than the PlayStation 2. And it's the first time the PSP has ever looked so good. Simply put, fans of Jak and Daxter who were disappointed that the latest console release, Jak X: Combat Racing, strayed from the franchise's formula need not be disappointed any longer. Daxter is every bit as entertaining as its PS2 counterparts, looks absolutely stunning, and manages to pack the full console experience into a handheld without being dumbed down in the slightest. Frankly, the bar for PSP games, in terms of graphics and gameplay, has just been raised. Though Daxter is a little formulaic, especially for those familiar with previous Jak games, the formula works, and it works surprisingly well on the PSP.
Taking place directly before Jak II, Daxter follows the story of the so-named hero during the years that his buddy Jak was imprisoned, learning how to be an angst machine. Fortunately for you, it appears Daxter had plenty to do during that time: getting to star in an adventure all on his own to save Haven City from nefarious and dastardly...bugs. Yup, bugs. And to nail the point home, Daxter's primary weapon is a fierce...electric...flyswatter. From the game's entire premise to some of the more minute details, you'll experience a lot of the series' typical brand of irreverent humor, maybe even more so in this game because Daxter has always been the driving force behind it, and now you don't have to worry about sullen Jak bringing the mood down. It's in this way that the game is particularly endearing--not because it's unique or innovative, but because of how cohesively and effectively it takes an existing franchise and gives it a new spin.
If you've played either Jak II or Jak 3, you'll feel quite at home with Daxter, because the layout of Haven City and the mission-based structure of the gameplay are identical to those of the previous games. When the adventure begins, Daxter is...well, he's telling tall tales in a bar again, but shortly thereafter he begins employment at the Critter-Ridder Extermination Company. Since it's the only remaining exterminator shop that Haven City has left, and since there's suddenly a real infestation crisis (two problems which are not unrelated), Daxter has his hands full trying to pull his weight and prove his worth to the Critter-Ridder shop manager, Osmo.
In each level, you have several objectives to complete. There's the main objective that has been laid out for you, which might consist of killing enemies, destroying insect hives, or collecting objects. As you're playing through, you can also choose to do two optional secondary objectives, which are reminiscent of Jak games of old, collecting Metal Bug gems and precursor orbs. Though the mission is generally straightforward, completing the secondary objectives can sometimes prove to be a real challenge. Fortunately, you only need to clear the main objective to progress the story, so you can always return to collect all the items later. Playing cleanup is also easier later, since you'll often have better weapons and moves to get through the level more quickly. In fact, the way this works is done extraordinarily well, giving you quite an incentive to play through again to hunt for all the items.
The two tools at Daxter's disposal are his previously mentioned (very fierce) flyswatter, and an insecticide sprayer that gets some righteous upgrades in the later levels, to become a flamethrower and then a sonic blaster of sorts. Daxter is also able to do some light platforming, including double-jumping and scaling climbable-looking surfaces. The dynamic that is most interesting, however, is that his sprayer also serves as a propulsion device, allowing Daxter to hover or boost up in the air, giving him more distance and height than merely jumping would allow. Although this is mighty reminiscent of the water pump from Super Mario Sunshine, the mechanic works extremely well, if not better, in Daxter. You'll spend most of the game switching between the sprayer as a weapon and the sprayer as a platforming device, and it all works quite effortlessly.