Microsoft’s agreed acquisition of Activision Blizzard for close to $70 billion is a monumental deal that's thrown up all manner of talking points about the way we play video games, and the balance of power between the world's biggest gaming brands.
But amid all the speculation about the future of the industry, debates over on Microsoft's business practices, and the ongoing controversy over Activision Blizzard's alleged exploitative working culture, the deal, if it goes through, has one particularly significant – if rather more flippant – implication for PlayStation fans: Crash Bandicoot and Spyro will be owned by Microsoft.
Once the poster boys of PlayStation, Naughty Dog's spinning marsupial and Insomniac's purple dragon will likely soon be owned by the creator of Xbox. It's a stark sign of the extent to which the gaming world has been turned upside down; things simply weren't meant to be this way. Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time .
It does, though, throw up a pressing issue. With Crash and Spyro set to fly the PlayStation nest, it leaves a mascot-shaped void at the heart of its empire. Which long-standing character should become PlayStation's new cheerleader? What recognizable face should Sony build its gaming brand around?
For my money, it should be none other than the long-forgotten platforming duo Jak and Daxter. And what better way to thrust them back into the limelight than with a brand-new game for the series.
What's in a mascot?
Naughty Dog creations that first appeared in 2001, Jak and Daxter are PlayStation veterans of the PS2 era. They're a odd pair: Jak is a human boy that sports a tower of yellow hair and weirdly massive toes, while Daxter is an ottsel – a chimera of an otter and a weasel. Although later games morphed them into battle-hardened warriors, in their first outing they were soft and playful, the kind of cartoonish characters that could bring an air of snark when it suited them.
While Sony has no shortage of exclusive characters under its belt, it's Jak and Daxter who, in my opinion, deserve to take on the mantle of PlayStation's mascots in chief. Consider the alternatives: Aloy of the Horizon series, Ellie of The Last of Us, Ratchet and Clank, Uncharted's Nathan Drake, Sackboy from LittleBigPlanet, God of War's Kratos (he only made it to PC, not Xbox, so he still counts), and a load more on top.
That's a cracking list of much-loved old and contemporary characters, but few of them could be genuine mascots. To achieve that status, a character needs to have enough universal appeal that Sony could happily plaster its face over all PlayStation marketing material without alienating too a large portion of fans. A mascot needs to charm you the first time you see it, and pique your interest. Better yet, it should be malleable enough that it can be leveraged to engage in questionable marketing tactics, such as shouting abuse at Nintendo headquarters .
Nathan Drake's rugged jawline has a certain appeal, but when I look at a muddy middle-aged man carrying a handgun, my mind isn't transported to the sprawling worlds of creativity and imagination that games offer. I've seen a thousand men shooting guns on screen, a handful of demigods in games, and plenty of heroes kitted out in various flavors of weaponry. But I've only ever seen one ottsel – and when I see an ottsel, I want to see more of it.
The right kind of character
Perhaps the strongest argument in their favor is that Jak and Daxter continue an unspoken tradition of gaming mascots. Think of a random mascot, and there's a good chance it will be a character from a platformer. Nintendo's Mario and Kirby, Sega's Sonic, Capcom's Mega Man, PlayStation's Crash and Sonic – all platformers. Microsoft turned that tradition on its head when Halo's Master Chief and Gears of War's Marcus Phoenix become the main faces of the Xbox, but there's no need for Sony to reinvent the wheel. The company is trying to fill a space created by Microsoft's acquisition of its longstanding franchises, not beat it at its own game – and it should keep the platforming mascot tradition going with Jak and Daxter.
Let's return to a couple of the aforementioned other contenders for the PlayStation mascot crown. Why not Sackboy? While he's certainly a charming character and comes from a line of venerated platformers, he's too young and doesn't bring the all-important nostalgia factor that mascots depend upon. LittleBigPlanet released in 2008, a whole seven years after Jak and Daxter, and Sackboy shouldn't be getting ideas above his station when his elders have yet to have their time in the sun.
Ratchet and Clank are a trickier question. The pair have served PlayStation well over the last two decades, and arguably tick many of the same boxes as Jak and Daxter. But the lombax and his robotic friend have had too easy a ride for my liking, stealing the spotlight from other, more varied contenders. While Ratchet and Clank excel at wacky sci-fi shooting, leave it to Jak and Daxter to bring the fantastical, wide-eyed exploration.
Platformers aren't dead
It's easy to look at contemporary triple-A gaming and conclude that Jak and Daxter missed their shot. In a world where annualized first-person shooters are all the rage and live-service games increasingly dominate the industry, the space for a pair of cartoon mascots from a single-player title might seem to have been closed off altogether.
That's too cynical a take in my opinion. Platformers aren't the huge money-makers they were 30 years ago, but they're no small-fry either. In a world where Metroid Dread can stir up plenty of excitement, and Sackboy: A Big Adventure is made a launch title for the PS5, don't go telling me that the simple act of running and jumping has had its day. Genres have always come in and out of fashion, and platformers are no exception.
It's questionable whether PlayStation actually needs a mascot. It's been getting on just fine without an affable face promoting its content for the last several years, and Phil Spencer's talk of expanding multiplatform content might signal the end of console-specific characters. If nothing else, though, reviving Jak and Daxter will provide another talking point for a decade's time, when Microsoft goes on another buying spree and we find ourselves reacting with astonishment to the news that Jak and Daxter are now part of team Xbox.
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