In the AAA space there are few companies with the stellar record that Naughty Dog has enjoyed. With Naughty Dog’s work dating back to the mid-80s and the Apple 2 computer, its history is varied, but the California-based developer hit its stride when it was acquired by Sony before the release of the first Jak and Daxter title in 2001. The relationship didn’t start there, though, as Crash Bandicoot was the first property to capture the hearts of PlayStation fans around the globe, adding to an already impressive slate of previous works.
Naughty Dog has had four major franchises under its belt since the turn of the century. Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, Unchartedand The Last of Us have each garnered critical acclaim dating back to the original PlayStation. While each have a handful of similarities, they all prove that Naughty Dog can deliver high quality experiences using different hardware and under ever-changing circumstances. Some of them have had success that has been inescapable, and some have flown under the radar in comparison, but plenty are worth revisiting before the inevitable next project is announced.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Taking the fundamental gameplay elements of Uncharted 4 and bringing a new, fan-favorite protagonist in the form of Chloe Frazer, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy offers something that the other games never did. The story remained rigid, but whereas the mainline titles are limited in their exploration, The Lost Legacy was more non-linear in its design. Environments are huge, and secrets can be found in all its corners. This was a welcome change, and did well to show that the mechanics in other Uncharted games can also make for enjoyable moments in a semi-open world release.
Where the game truly shines, is also the reason so many players didn’t give it a chance. The absence of series staple Nathan Drake was made obvious by the announcement trailer, and with the game being set after the events of Uncharted 4his inclusion would have meant unraveling A Thief’s End’s beautiful conclusion. Room for this, Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross carry the story with ease, and while Drake is still a top Naughty Dog character, The Lost Legacy didn’t feel like any less of an Uncharted game without him. It’s an experience that is worthy of more recognition.
Crash Team Racing
A 2017 remake from developer Beenox did well to recapture an audience, but the 1999 original of Crash Team Racing still offers so much fun, even 23 years after it arrived on the PlayStation. It was the first racing game developed by Naughty Dog since the incredibly simplistic Ski Crazy released in 1986 for the Apple 2. Like Mario Kart, Crash Team Racing takes a company icon and brings them to the crucible of the racetrack in the form of small, gutsy karts. It takes a lot of cues from Nintendo’s pioneering series, but differs in many critical ways resulting in it amassing a niche, yet dedicated audience.
Most obviously, Crash Team Racing is faster. The gameplay is far more focused on speed and prioritizes delicate, precise racing over frantic fun and party-esque unpredictability. It does have all of that, but the hook that makes it so loved is that it takes so much skill to the master, and any items usually only serve to make the game feel less balanced. The racing genre isn’t what Naughty Dog is known for, but Crash Team Racing‘s quality could almost convince players that the company could rival Polyphony Digital in the genre. Crash Team Racing: Nitro Fueled only proved that Mario Kart could have a potential competitor should it ever return.
The Last of Us: Left Behind
Though the name of the 2020 sequel would indicate that there are only two The Last of Us stories to be told, this isn’t the case. The Last of Us: Left Behind is a standalone adventure set before the events of the first game, and prior to Ellie’s introduction to Joel. It follows her journey with Riley, a fellow survivor with whom she sparks a beautifully realized friendship. Set years before her emotionally intense quest in The Last of Us 2it presents a radically different side of Ellie that is almost unrecognizable from the personality players are most familiar with.
Whereas The Last of Us feels hopeless at times, and its sequel fully submerges itself in themes of hatred and revenge, The Last of Us: Left Behind is playful, and wonderfully captures the innocence of youth, which is all the more prevalent as the world that Ellie and Riley are in is crumbling around them. There are moments when their antics make players forget that this is from a survival-horror world, and its gut-wrenching conclusion molds Ellie into the character players came to know in the original game. It’s essential for anyone who wants to experience the franchise’s bigger picture, as it shows just how severely the world has forged the character Ellie inevitably becomes.
Uncharted Drake’s Fortune
By no means the best in the series, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is the game that has aged the most of all four mainline Uncharted entries. In addition, it provided the foundations for later games to build upon, and did so in spectacular fashion. That means that Drake’s Fortune has quickly become one of the most important games of its franchise, even in the face of well-loved games like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
The difficulty is inconsistent, graphics are outdated, and the environments are repetitive, but Drake’s Fortune still has a lot of potential. Knowing how much Naughty Dog took advantage of that potential makes it a game so many players simply must return to. A game doesn’t have to be exceptional to justify going back to it, but with the new Tom Holland-lead film still on the minds of many, returning to the island situated at coordinates UK2642 could be a worthwhile time investment. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune shows that greatness truly does come from small beginnings.
Naughty Dog’s strong reputation has been the result of a multitude of fantastic games over the years that it has been operating. It’s earned, and while The Last of Us 2 Presenting something polarizing, there was so much to love, and the same can be said of the majority of the studio’s projects. However, while the likes of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and The Last of Us are rightfully revered, there are a handful of Naughty Dog games that were largely overlooked or overshadowed, and deserve a second look. Aside from The Last of Us 2‘s Factions Multiplayer, nobody knows where Naughty Dog will go next but hopes are high, as they should be.
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