Full Review: What the hell is Ratchet supposed to be, anyway?
Over the past couple years, Sony has seen fit to create numerous replacements for their 2 largest platform franchises from the PlayStation days, being Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. Now that the rightful owner, Universal Interactive, took back the rights, the company moved forward, with 3 huge, original franchises, each with their own distinctive attitude and style. The first, Jak & Daxter, was an outstanding 3D platformer, which is getting a sequel this fall. The second is Sly Cooper, a cel-shaded stealth-oriented platforming game that hasn't been a huge hit but has its fair share of acclaim. Finally, and possibly hugest, is Insomniac Games' first PS2 release, the anticipated Ratchet & Clank. While the whole ?lead character and witty, tiny little buddy show stealer? gimmick isn't new (see Jak & Daxter), the crazy twist on the platform/action genre of numerous weapons of smashing and destroying is as fresh as can be, and the lengthy playtime will definitely appeal. As one of SCEA's largest games of holiday 2002, Ratchet & Clank is a fun, tough, and completely entertaining take on platforming.
R&C begins on Ratchet's home planet ? as he's doing his business, he encounters Clank ? a form of robot who's actually more like the runt of the litter given his small size. It's then when the main storyline is unveiled ? Drek, leader of the planet Blarg (no, really, this isn't a vomit sound effect test) is looking to take over the world (gee, sounds awfully familiar). Clank badgers Ratchet into helping him hunt down Captain Quark, a superhero who's extremely famous, and apparently the only one able to take down Drek. Finding him won't be easy though, as you have to encounter numerous enemies and perform many tasks before catching up with the rather dim-witted Captain.
Ratchet & Clank's game structure is mission-based, along with numerous platform elements and a healthy dose of action. Each planet (which is unlocked when you find the Infobot that reveals something about the planet) contains various objectives to complete ? some you can't get to until later in the game, when an objective on another planet is completed. There's not as many as, say, Jak & Daxter, but then again, there's around 15 planets, so it evens out.
For the most part, these planets require a lot of force to complete, and thankfully R&C are able to get their hands on some high-end weaponry. For a video game anyway. Both Ratchet & Clank can get equipped with different things ? Ratchet can get the weapons like a standard ray-gun-thingy, all the way up to the glove of doom (where he shoots off little mini-Clanks that laugh uproariously and mercilessly hunt down enemies and detonate around them), and the famous morph-o-ray, that turns enemies into, guess what, chickens. Clank's accessories mostly revolve around things that benefit Ratchet, such as extra jumping ability for reaching tough platforms & the like. On the whole, there's plenty of different weapons to wreak havoc with.
Acquiring the funds to buy these weapons revolves around collecting bolts around the worlds. Beating enemies, or smashing crates and setting off exploding crates will reveal these bolts. You can use them to buy new weapons as well as purchase ammo for your existing weapons (no infinite ammo here). Also, you can find some hidden gold bolts, which are used to buy a mega-weapon. These aren't easy to find, so you'll be well-rewarded for finding them.
For a platform game, R&C is more action-based than platform based, like a certain Dr. Muto that was reviewed last week. Unlike that game, the objectives, game variety, and the sparse platform elements are executed excellently and the gameplay as a whole is tightly polished into something infinitely playable and enjoyable. The levels are also unique in that they aren't the same repetitive structure over and over. While you do collect lots of bolts, it's not a requirement to collect a set amount before beating the level. The only requirements are to complete tasks on the unique levels. For one, you have to find a shipwrecked hoverboard racer, who gives you his board to take his place on a different planet, once you find the Infobot to get to that planet. Once you get there, you can race the hoverboard race and win a special prize (as well as a very important encounter). There's never any ?kill all enemies? objective as well, so nothing here is really repetitive as you play through the game.
There are plenty of platform elements as well, but they're a bit different. While the standard leap to a spot gimmicks exist, it's extended by a few things. First off, Clank's hover trick helps the pair reach hard-to-reach areas, if executed properly. Ratchet can get a hookshot-like weapon that lets you play Spiderman and swing over to ledges or whole areas. It keeps the elements of platforming interesting and never too repetitive, nor too easy.
All told, Ratchet & Clank is not wholly original, but all the different gaming elements mixed in create something fresh and interesting, and the oddball characters and objectives (as well as the cool weapons) really stand out as something special. Little doubt that Insomniac Games put a lot of thought into creating a platform game that stood out from the crowded crowd.
Graphically, Ratchet & Clank doesn't break new ground, but for a cartoon-style game, it looks solid. The worlds are gigantic in spots, and you can usually see what's ahead from a long ways away. Despite that, the levels don't take time to load, as they're apparently loaded in the background of gameplay. Ratchet & Clank are animated and detailed well enough with different expressions and movements in different situations. The cutscenes in particular show some really good effects like moving eyes and body language.
There's quite a bit of enemy variety depending on the level, so that visual effect doesn't get bogged down in repetitiveness. Explosions from the different weapons look good too, and come across as cartoony as you'd expect. It's a polished looking game, and not the PS2's best, but it's no slouch.
The sound is exceptionally strong, though. It starts off with the funny voice acting ? all the actors for each character did a bang-on job of sounding like their in-game counterpart ? Quark sounds like a dopey superhero (and sorta like Blasto ? remember him?), while Clank sounds like a highly-intelligent robot with an occasional fit of smart-ass comments when deemed necessary. Ratchet sounds like a complete dolt, and well, he kinda is ? seems like his elevator is missing a few floors.
While the music isn't anything to get too excited about, it fits each level well and actually fades into the background so the cool sound effects can get the spotlight. These can be considered cheesy and sort of like 1950's sci-fi in that manner (when I think about it, R&C seems like a 1950's sci-fi movie, only Mystery Science Theater 3000 stars inside the movie instead of making fun of it), with oddball explosions and silly sounds for the weapons (there's a taunting weapon that makes weird noises to attract attention?hopefully for the glove of doom).
While released in a period of time when there was a complete glut of platforming games across all the consoles, Ratchet & Clank just might be the best out of them all. With such a solid mix of game elements and some really amusing detail, the game comes off as extremely polished and gives SCEA another excellent game to its strong library on the PlayStation 2. Fans of platform games shouldn't hesitate to give this one a play, and if you're looking for something different, yet fun, in your platform action, Ratchet & Clank should fit the bill nicely.