It has been just over 14 years since the original release of the last home console Jak and Daxter in the main series of games. Jak 3 released on the PlayStation 2 in November of 2004 and has subsequently been remastered and re-released several times on newer consoles. Naughty Dog‘s last Jak and Daxter effort was Jak X: Combat Racing, a spinoff from the main series that followed up on a few story arcs from Jak 3, and was released less than a year after Jak 3 in October of 2005. After this, two games developed by different studios were released: Daxter on PSP in 2006 and Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier in 2009. Daxter followed the events that Daxter experienced before rescuing Jak in Jak 2. Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier takes place after Jak X: Combat Racing and makes some largely unwelcome changes to the Jak and Daxter formula. We haven’t had a full-fledged game since Jak 3.
Fan clamoring reached a fever pitch around the time that Naughty Dog revealed that they had kicked around some ideas and art regarding a possible reboot for the franchise in 2014. Fans were largely taken aback by the art that was released, showing designs for a more photo-realistic world and characters, but were excited that the franchise had not been completely abandoned.
The simple fact that Naughty Dog released their artwork for a proposed Jak and Daxter game came as a bittersweet pill to fans. It indicated that the new management and project leads were still open to working on the franchise after Naughty Dog Co-Founder and Jak and Daxter co-creator, Jason Rubin, left the company. That’s the sweet part. The bitter part is that there is no new Jak and Daxter game.
With the official retirement of Nathan Drake from the Uncharted franchise, the future of the series is a bit uncertain. So much of Uncharted was defined by Nathan Drake. It was his story and it was elegantly wrapped up at the end of Uncharted 4. It’s quite possible that it could be continued with games featuring Drake’s brother Sam or even another game with Chloe and/or Nadine, but I think like many fans, Naughty Dog is beginning to feel worn down by the Uncharted franchise. They have been working almost non-stop on it for 12 years, after all. This was more or less echoed by none other than Evan Wells, the current co-president, who said in an interview with Game Informer that they don’t have any plans to continue Uncharted serially since Nathan Drake’s story has ended.
Typically, Naughty Dog splits their workforce into a large production team that is focused on a game that is in full development and a small pre-production team to work on their next project. Currently, the only thing we explicitly know of that Naughty Dog is working on is The Last of Us Part II, leaving room to speculate about what their pre-production team is doing. With the 2017 digital release of the remastered Jak and Daxter games on PS4, the even more recent limited physical releases of the games for PS4, and the renewed interest in the franchise, it’s the prime time for Naughty Dog to reveal a full-fledged sequel or reboot.
The Jak and Daxter Trilogy
The Jak and Daxter series began with Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy which released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, expanding upon the 3D platforming traditions of Crash Bandicoot that cemented Naughty Dog in video game infamy.
By all means Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy was well within already established tropes of 3D action platforming games like Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and even Super Mario 64. It had over the top characters and enemies, a large, colorful world with many areas that offered unique platforming experiences, and a tongue in cheek attitude (mostly provided by banter between Daxter and Samos the Sage of Green Eco).
Despite the critical and commercial success of Jak and Daxter, Naughty Dog saw a changing game landscape with the release of more seriously toned games like Grand Theft Auto and felt they had to keep pace by taking a different approach with the sequel. Jak II released in October of 2003 and had been changed substantially from its predecessor. In The Precursor Legacy, Jak was a very typical 3D action platformer protagonist. He was mute, young, naive, but supernaturally talented and chosen by Samos to save the world. At the beginning of Jak II, we see our friends (Jak, Daxter, Samos, and his daughter Keira) goofing around with a precursor device when things suddenly go wrong. This results in the crew being thrown into another world and Jak being captured and subsequently tortured and experimented on. This, in turn, leads to a dramatic change of character for Jak. Separating himself from the protagonists of Ratchet and Clank, Spyro, Crash Bandicoot, and Sly Cooper, Jak transforms into a true anti-hero wanting nothing more than to exact revenge on his torturer, Baron Praxis. Jak II took on a more serious bent, but it left the humor and silliness from the first game intact. About a year after Jak II, Jak 3 released and continued the balance between seriousness and comedy that was previously established.
After Jak 3, the franchise began to suffer from an identity crisis, spawning a series of spin-offs that had varying success. Jak X: Combat Racing (the last Jak and Daxter game developed by Naughty Dog) was a spin-off racing game that took place after Jak 3 and expanded on it in some fun and interesting ways. Daxter was a spin-off developed by Ready at Dawn that followed Daxter on his quest to find and rescue Jak over the two years that he was being tortured by Baron Praxis. Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier tried to start a new arc involving Keira becoming an Eco sage and the team’s attempt to stem a worldwide Eco shortage. Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier ran into some trouble during development. Naughty Dog was initially working on it (presumably as a spin-off because it was intended for the PSP), but was having difficulty finding time for it while working on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, so they passed development off to High Impact Games.
The Lost Frontier had some pretty interesting story arcs, particularly the one dealing with Keira becoming an Eco sage as it had come up in previous games that she should follow in her father’s footsteps. These story arcs are fertile territory, but I didn’t find them to have been executed particularly well, or at least not in Naughty Dog fashion. The Lost Frontier almost smacks of an Uncharted game with the opening featuring Jak, Daxter, and Keira traveling in an airship to find a new Eco source to replenish the world when they are hijacked by pirates looking to rob them of their Eco. Keira states that no one has any Eco and a classic action movie style fight ensues between Jak and the pirate leader on the wing of the airship. In addition, Jak feels too “friendly” in The Lost Frontier. From Jak II on he was the quintessential anti-hero. Speaking seldom, having few opinions, motivated more by his desire for revenge than his desire to save the world (which was more of an incidental consequence). In The Lost Frontier, the objective was to save the world and help Keira become a sage. There are dramatic reveals/monologues, unlikely alliances, melodramatic discussions about how dire the situation is, and a more subdued Keira. Not to mention an unflattering and artistically out of place redesign for her.
Hope for the Future
I’m going to be frank. I love the Uncharted series to death. I’ve played every game multiple times (with the exception of the mobile title), but I’m tired of it. I’m tired of the (mostly) real-world settings, the similar narratives involving treasure hunts gone wrong, and I’m tired of the action movie vibe that they exude. I’m also getting tired of the more dramatic bent that Naughty Dog has taken with its games in recent years. It would be refreshing to see another fantastical outing with the Jak and Daxter gang meeting strange and creative characters, living the mercenary life that they’ve established for themselves. In playing through the Jak and Daxter games again to prepare myself for this article, I’ve realized how well they’ve held up and how much I’ve truly missed colorful, funny, action-packed experiences like these.
We’re at a point in video game history that is seeing a tragic death of these kinds of experiences (besides remakes and remasters). With the runaway success of Insomniac‘s Spider-Man, a sequel to the Ratchet and Clank reboot of 2016 seems like a far off dream. Sucker Punch is almost certain to never return to Sly Cooper after having given development duties to Sanzaru for the fourth entry in the series. And who knows if Sanzaru is even going to make another Sly Cooper? Maybe they’ll make a new Spyro because of their work on the Reignited Trilogy? The only big game that we know exists in this realm is Psychonauts 2. Most studios who created games like these in the past have moved on from them, seemingly never to return. Naughty Dog may be the one current exception. Even after about five years of not touching the Jak and Daxter series, they returned to try to do something with it in the form of the now defunct Jak 4 reboot. Their efforts ultimately didn’t bear fruit, but the growing attention to the re-releases of the trilogy (in limited physical form, no less) and Jak X: Combat Racing on PS4 could signal Naughty Dog‘s openness to developing a new Jak and Daxter.
My hope for a new Jak and Daxter game is to continue the narrative and character traditions that were established in the original trilogy. Because it’s been 15 years since we’ve had a true main entry in the series, my standards are quite low. At this point, I would take a new game with Jak 3 assets and mechanics in a heartbeat.
So, is Naughty Dog working on Jak and Daxter? What we know is that they’re working on The Last of Us Part II, and rumor has it that they had a casting call in October 2018 with a specific body/facial type in mind for the main protagonist in a game they’re supposedly working on that would be right at home in an Uncharted game. In addition to this, earlier in 2018, it was revealed that Sony had put together a new development team out of San Diego to work with a major Sony studio. Rumor has it that studio is none other than Naughty Dog. Based on the job listings cited in the post, it sounds like this new team is going to work on projects similar in scope to Uncharted. It makes sense to pass off the franchise, as Uncharted is a massive money maker for Sony, but Naughty Dog employees and management seem to have expressed disinterest in revisiting it anytime soon, as was seemingly alluded to by Evan Wells.
If it’s true that this new studio is working on the next Uncharted game, it leads me to believe that Naughty Dog is working on The Last of Us Part II and something else. Is the something else Jak 4? Rumors are in large supply, but there’s nothing out there with much credibility, let alone any information that’s concrete. With Sony having canceled PSX last year and with them skipping E3 this year, it’s anyone’s guess as to when information on Naughty Dog‘s next project will come out. Until the day that it does, I will cross my fingers and hold out hope that we finally see a new Jak and Daxter.