You know what they say about small packages.
It seems like all great platform adventure characters come in pairs. Mario has Luigi, Jak has Daxter, Banjo has Kazooie, and Hall has Oates. Wait, that’s not it. Ratchet has Clank. Yeah, that’s what I meant. Anyway, with Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters, our favorite unidentifiable mammal (a lombax, apparently) and glum robot sidekick pairing are back once again for the sixth installment in this long-running series.
The game opens to find our heroic heroes heroically engaged in that most heroiffic act of heroism: lounging around on the beach, sipping margaritas. But of course, the wise game developers recognized that nobody was going to shell out their hard-earned cash to play a game about sunbathing and sipping fruity cocktails.
Sadly, Ratchet and Clank’s well-deserved break is doomed as soon as Luna, a young budding journalist (who sounds suspiciously like Mad TV’s Nicole Sullivan
, though I couldn’t confirm that), asks the relaxing Ratchet to show off a few of his moves for an article she’s writing. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, Luna is captured by robots and Ratchet and Clank are off on another interplanetary adventure. Don’t you just hate it when that happens on your vacation time?
With that, you are launched into one of the best PSP platform games to be released so far. The plot is more complex and interesting than your typical adventure, which is a good thing. At the end of every level, instead of simply winning another jewel or whatever for your collection, you actually advance the storyline further, unraveling the mess that our heroes have found themselves in.
The levels themselves are chock full of battles and puzzles that are challenging enough to keep you entertained, but not so tough that you get completely stuck. To mix it up, they’ve thrown in a decent sized number of mini-games, from skateboard races for cash prizes to shrunk-down rail-hopping mazes to pick locks from the inside. They even let Clank bust out on his own for the first time, solving timed puzzles and participating in full-throttle demolition derbies.
If you do get stuck in story mode, or if the game’s subtitle has you feeling a little low in the self-esteem department, or even if you’re simply tired of playing just with yourself, you can always hop online and join a networked multi-player game, battling your online counterparts in such standard multi-player fare as Death Match or Capture the Flag. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of online content, so it gets old pretty quickly. What’s there is fun, however, and it’s a great way to try out the different weapons and gadgets to see how they all work.
Because, of course, one of the trademark features that has always set the Ratchet and Clank series apart from its peers is the awesome gadgetry. You can collect and swap out elements from the five different armor sets you find along the way to meet the specific needs of any situation. And then there are the weapons. Ah, yes, the weapons. As always, Ratchet is armed to the teeth with the most deadly and unusual weapons of mech destruction this side of a James Bond movie.
If you’re feeling a bit conservative, you can stick with the more straightforward armaments, like the Lacerator, or the Concussion Gun. But why let your enemies off so lightly? Why not unleash the explosive power of stinging insects with the Bee Mine Glove, or subject them to your udder domination with the Moo-tator, which turns them into teeny harmless little cows? Feel my bovine wrath, heifer!
As you use the weapons to pulverize more and more of your enemies, the guns themselves gain experience, eventually upgrading into bigger, better, and badass-ier destructive devices.
Fighting itself isn’t complicated, but can be challenging when you’re facing multiple enemies. While the basic controls and camera angle management are pretty intuitive, the game lost me at strafing. I eventually figured out how to switch to the directional pad to strafe, but I never really mastered it. I realize that the PSP controls are more limited than a console system’s but it seems like there must be a more elegant solution than the one they came up with.
Size Matters looks and sounds great, and makes really good use of the audiovisual capabilities of the PSP. The graphics flow smoothly from scene to scene without ever dropping a frame, and the animation allows for surprisingly realistic facial expressions from the goodguys and badguys alike. The level landscapes are distinct and good-looking. I particularly enjoyed the Dreamscape level, in which Ratchet wanders the surreal depths of his own subconscious.
Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters is not a groundbreaking game. It won’t change the way you look at platformers, and it won’t inspire a generation of young gamers. But it’s a well-done, good-looking, and most of all fun game, and it really shows off what the PSP is capable of.