A good mechanic is hard to find.
It seems like platforming video game characters come in pairs. Banjo
, 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
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
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
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.
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