A good mechanic is hard to find.
It seems like platforming video game characters come in pairs. Banjo and Kazooie, Jak and Daxter, Lara Croft...ahem. Even Mario, who spent years trying to get rid of Luigi, is getting back to the buddy act with his talking watergun, FLUDD.
Now another duo enters the fray: Ratchet and Clank. This team comes from the folks at Insomniac Games, the same people who gave us the excellent Spyro games. And while R&C does what it sets out to do very well, it doesn't shake all the rust off the genre.
Ratchet is some kind of striped cat creature with a penchant for mechanics. Clank is a diminutive and articulate robot. Together, this odd couple must put an end to the exploitative Chairman Drek, who plans to build a new planet by dismembering other planets and combining the choicest selections into one uber planet.
It's refreshing to play a platform game that doesn't fall into the traditional item hunt with forced backtracking. There are no quotas of sunshines, magical orbs, or bonkerjerks to collect as you traverse your way across 18 intergalactic planets and locales.
Rather, each planet has a set of straightforward missions to accomplish. A given planet may have a fork or two in the layout, but each branch entails another mission of navigating from Point A to Point B past a variety of obstacles and villainous threats.
When Ratchet and Clank finally arrive at Point B, they are rewarded with either an Infobot or a shiny new weapon device. Infobots are small, data robots that open up access to new planets. As you dart about from planet to planet, load times are disguised as flight sequences - not too lengthy considering the size of the different planets, but still noticeable.
During Ratchet and Clank's interplanetary escapades, you'll load up on some 36 weapons and devices. Ratchet begins with his trusty wrench, which he can swing about as a melee attack or toss forward like a boomerang. He's vulnerable while the wrench is flying away from him, which can get a little frustrating. I wish he could move around more after throwing the wrench.
Most of the other weapons must be purchased via Bolts, the galaxy's monetary unit and the only real things you must collect in the game. Bolts are found whenever you bust open alien menaces, robotic guards, or the ever-nefarious crates. Find a kiosk and spend some bolts on new gear.
Weapon usage mainly involves pointing Ratchet in the direction of the enemy and firing away. The basic machine-gun Blaster casts a green cross sight on the enemy and the Bomb Glove casts a target on the floor. The Visibomb Gun shoots missiles that can be manually flown and directed.
There are some especially fun accessories found later in the game, like the Morpho Ray which will turn your enemies into Chickens (obviously) and the Hologuise Gun that transforms Ratchet into a rambling, clattering Sentry Bot for some stealth style gameplay. The other Sentry Bots will mistake you for a fellow robot and let you through all sorts of security clearances. You can even give them a friendly wave, and the completely unaware Sentry Bots will just wave back. Just when their backs are turned, you can switch back into Ratchet and start wailing away on them. Evil fun.
However, the control can be a little tricky. When Ratchet is shooting one of his various weapons, his turn around time isn't quite quick enough. It should have been slightly faster, allowing you to whip around quicker to deal with enemies behind you. As it stands, it's a bit sluggish.
Enemies become invulnerable for a moment after you hit them. This means you are better off burst firing. That just isn't as fun as going nuts with guns blazing, but it does push the need to conserve ammo.
While Ratchet is blowing stuff up, Clank serves as a backpack of sorts, with helicopter and jetpack upgrades that bolster Ratchet's jumps. There are also a few areas where Clank goes out on his own, undergoing some Pikmin style adventures with a small band of tiny robotic grunts. These bits aren't as frantically fun as the Ratchet sequences, but offer a nice respite.
After you beat the game (which clocks in at more than 15 hours), you can elect to keep all of your artillery and seek out game extras while building up your bank account. This is really the best way to access the R.Y.N.O. (Rip You a New One) gun, which is set at an exorbitantly high cost. And if you do feel like searching for rarities, there are a few scattered Golden Bolts on each planet that can be used to purchase additional bonuses.
In another nice move, you do not have a set number of lives, so you can hack away as long as you like without stressing over how many more tries you have.
The environments are well detailed, with a smooth cartoon look and an equally smooth framerate. There are moments where the skies are just completely filled with flying objects, teeming and overflowing with a Fifth Element vibrancy. The characters themselves fare decently, but aren't remarkable.
The camera controls are for the most part adequate as well, but it does get a little frisky and the distance from Ratchet is not adjustable. Annoyingly, you cannot re-center the camera behind Ratchet without pausing his stride. He has to momentarily stop, recenter, and then progress on. It's not as fluid as re-centering while still moving.
Ratchet & Clank sounds terrific. The music is fitting, with plenty of 'metal' sound effects cleverly mixed in. The different voices are done well and lend humor to the game.
And for the most part, the rather straightforward "unwilling hero versus evil" plot is peppered with some moderately funny bits, mostly revolving around silly voices and hammy supporting characters. Ratchet starts out with a blue-collar attitude, but he's mostly there for deft observations and cutting remarks. I appreciate how he hasn't been pigeonholed as the typical goody-goody, but he's not very fleshed out.
Clank is somewhere between Gir of Invader Zim in form and chatty C3PO in function. He's the straight man to Ratchet's jokes, offering clueless intellectualism to contrast Ratchet's pissy humor. The two work together nicely, but they're not truly memorable among the pantheon of video game heroes.
Which is a fair comment about Ratchet & Clank in general. The game is a solid platformer, a well-oiled machine with all the proper nuts and bolts, but there are several things that could use some work. A more deeply developed plot and some tweaks to the control would have given more heart to this tin man.