After 4 games on the original PS2, the next Ratchet & Clank would see light on the PSP and be developed by new and old staff-members. Established by former members of Insomniac Games and Naughty Dog, High Impact Games took it upon themselves to make the next entry in the series and also re-release it one year later for the PS2. This brings up many questions, like: does the team make for a good mixture of styles? And being released for the PSP: does size matter?
A small adventure
While taking a vacation to the beach, Ratchet and Clank are met by a young robot girl who wishes to take photos of the duo doing hero-stuff for a school-report. After a decent intro-stage, the girl is kidnapped by mysterious robots, Clank finds an artifact of what he believes is from an ancient race called Technomites, and Quark meets up and tells about his search for his parents. This is all in one cut-scene. Looks like we got a lot of things to do.
The story is pretty streamlined, with objectives leading from one area to another. There is one really cool plot-twist, but generally the story doesn’t have much to it and is quite easy to sum up. Ratchet is still hot-headed and angry like in last entry, which makes him an unlikeable character. The other characters fare somewhat better, but are not really interesting. The only one that actually is memorable, is Quark, being delightfully silly and naive. The humor falls mostly flat unfortunately, due to it being based on one-liners or being plain forgettable. The story gives our heroes some reason to go on an adventure, but skipping cutscenes won’t make you miss much.
Story Score: 5/10
Playing it somewhat smart?
Ratchet plays a lot like the first three entries, with him having the ability to jump, double jump, long jump, helicopter float, attack with his wrench and of course: shoot with his guns. Having one less analog-stick, the developers really tried to make the controls work. You have the option to run around freely with the analog-stick or strafe with the D-pad, with the camera being controlled with the L and R-buttons. This is a really good setup and luckily, you won’t have to look up or down unless a puzzle or sniping is involved in first person view, so the game is well designed around its limitations. What is off however, are two segments where you can’t strafe. They aren’t a huge pain, but really reminds me of the major problem I had with the first Ratchet & Clank. The camera is also a bit too close and it would have been welcoming to have it a bit further away from our heroes. Shooting at enemies in general is satisfying and the autolock works at a long range. But when there are a bunch of enemies, the autolock can be finicky and a bit of a pain when you want to hit certain enemies. A button for changing targets could have easily fixed this.
Speaking of the shooting, the weapons are what made Ratchet and Clank famous in the first place and they still are a great addition to this game. There is a smaller amount of them than previous entries, but they are enjoyable and different from each other. Being able to level them up to level 4 as you use them and modifying them with purchases from a special vendor, makes them a joy to experiment with and no weapon feels useless, making you feel stronger each time a weapon is acquired or upgraded. The enemies can take a lot of damage, making the game at times challenging, so it becomes a necessity to differ your use in weapons. At least in the later parts. The enemies only react to where Ratchet is on the area and not if they can see him or not, making enemies easy to exploit early on. The bosses are good, with most being a fun challenge and testing your skills fairly well. The last boss can be a chore however, with attacks able to kill you in 2-3 hits unless you level up your health a lot by killing enemies. You can also level up Ratchet’s defense, by finding different armor-parts throughout the game. Having one whole set of a specific armor, will give you some powers, but mixing it up is not a bad option either if you have to.
The levels are well made, from going inside Clank and traversing through him with metal-boots to a dream-sequence that makes you jump, dodge and shoot your way through absurd visuals. The platforming is good fun, with the stages taking decent advantage of our heroes’ capabilities and swinging from rope to rope is still fun. A couple of stages can be forgettable though, but for the most part, you will have enjoyable shooting and platforming-parts to deal with. The other parts are really hit and miss however. You will at times have to guide a plant to certain areas with dirt and use first-person mode to look for the right way out of a maze. Both are enjoyable, but never really expanded upon, making them easy to forget. Gone are the mini-games for opening doors. This time, you will rail-grind through locks and try to unlock the doors. These segments are a delight, making you dodge obstacles, changing rails on the fly and hit switches to unlock the door.
However, not all parts of the game are as enjoyable. There are parts of the game where you will have to race and they have some decent stages, but the AI seems overpowered, ignoring obstacles that will affect you, and winning almost feels more based on luck than anything else. Clank also returns, but for only one section will you once again have the mini-bots to control. This segment is not bad, but it is underdeveloped and short, so it is more forgettable than anything else. Surprisingly enough compared to previous titles, the other two times Clank will be in control is actually enjoyable. One is where he will become a giant robot, flying and shooting at enemies, somewhat similar to Star Fox. It is not deep, but hectic, controls well and is fun. The other one is a battle-robot segment, where Clank is using a vehicle to bump-into and attack enemies, bumper-car style. It is a bit shallow, but it is somewhat enjoyable, even if it can be exploitable due to poor AI.
With all the other segments, it seems like Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters explores more additional aspects of what might work and what might not. Most parts don’t get much attention, some being a shame and others being for the better. Luckily, the focus is on what Ratchet & Clank does well: the shooting and jumping. The exploration of the stages has been limited due to having no movable camera in vertical motion (except in FPS-mode), so the hidden titanium-bolts are much easier to find, especially with the shorter levels and the helpful map. The checkpoint-system is a drag, due to not saving your progress in the stage if you happen to turn off the system. This makes it a good thing that the levels aren’t too long, even if it is still an annoyance.
Clocking around a bit over 4 hours, the game is short. It is however satisfying for the most part, with fun guns to play around with and good platforming. The enemies can be a bit exploitable early on, but thankfully get better. What is a shame, is that the other parts are really hit and miss and most don’t last for long. This is a shame, since some could have been greatly expanded upon. At least, those that are a drag don’t last.
Gameplay Score: 7/10
The little guy can still shine
While areas can be a bit barren and almost lifeless, it is still technically impressive for the system. The areas themselves shine the most and are varied and interesting, such as the farm that changes from day to night, and the obscure plant-factory, making it easy to recognize each world. They are well designed and creative, so they don’t feel traditional. The character models are decent, with the main-protagonist stealing the show, due to armor- and gun equipment being neatly designed. The enemies aren’t really anything to talk about, being easily forgettable more often than not.
Music is really good, with the same composer returning to give his take on this entry. It is a great soundtrack, with a lot of both techno-beats and classical instruments being used. Unfortunately, it fades away into the noise of sound-effects of guns and explosions, so it can be easily missed. The sound-effects can also be off and static if there is a lot of weapons firing, making it quite the earbleed. The voice-actors do a decent job, but the villains feel shallow and don’t really give a unique performance.
Presentation Score: 6.5/10
While short, can last quite some time
After the short campaign you will, as in previous titles, unlock challenge mode. Here, there will be tougher enemies, weapons can be upgraded even further and you can acquire some you might not have gotten from the previous playthrough. With bolts being easier to obtain through a combo-system, hidden titanium-bolts and skill-points to acquire for a few extra unlockables, there is a lot to come back to. It also makes for the perfect on-the-go gaming, being so short and easy to pick up and play. Some parts, such as the races and bumper-Clank parts have more missions, but is not really anything to go back for.
This entry also features multiplayer online and off. It is okay, with a standard deathmatch and fun VS mode against other owners of the game. It is however not anything that will last long, but a decent distraction nonetheless.
Extra Score: 8/10
Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, really shows the opposite of its title. With a dedicated team, they really gave their all to make this entry for the handheld-system. It definitely has its faults, with some minor parts not being explored enough or being poorly designed, uninteresting story and characters, and having some issues with the presentation. The weapons and traversing through levels are still a joy, and the controls are well made for the console it had to deal with. It really goes to show that size doesn’t matter too much. It is really how you use it. Especially since the PS2-version is more glitchy and has more visual hiccups than the PSP-version.