Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ratchet & Clank (PS2) Retro Review

The newest Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time is hitting the PS3 late October. In anticipation for the game, I'm playing through all of the Ratchet & Clank games and reviewing them starting with the very first which is simply known as Ratchet & Clank.

A Qwarktastic Adventure

The Ratchet & Clank franchise has been around since 2002. Since then we've already seen seven games in the series across various platforms with varying degrees of success. It all started with a little old game called Ratchet & Clank for the Playstation 2 developed by ex-Spyro the Dragon developers, Insomniac Games. Platforming duos have been around since the dawn of time (okay, maybe not that long ago) with Mario and Luigi, Banjo and Kazooie, and Jak and Daxter, so what makes Ratchet & Clank's duo worth a look? Is it the tight platforming? Is it the arsenal of high-powered weaponry? Is it the trademark humor of the series? It's not just one of these things-- it's all of them.

And here's the stars of our game.

Meet Ratchet. He's a lombax from the planet Veldin. One day he's minding his own business when suddenly an unidentified flying object crashes nearby his position. Ratchet goes to investigate and discovers a small in stature robot who he later names Clank. Together they decide to find the whereabouts of famed superhero, Captain Qwark. Saving the universe from a power-hungry despot slowing destroying the galaxy? Well, that's just gravy. The partnership of Ratchet and Clank in this game is rather rocky with the two not really getting along. It's interesting to see the two act cold towards one another in certain scenes. The story itself never takes itself too seriously. In fact, it's all a comedic adventure, and it seldom fails to bring a smile or a small chuckle. It's nothing hilarious, but the story does a good job of being entertaining and lighthearted.

"Qwark says only fat chicks get in."

Ratchet & Clank is an action-platformer. There's plenty of action with the arsenal of weapons Ratchet is in possession of, and there's plenty of platforming goodness from wall-jumping to carefully leaping from small platform to small platform, et cetera. The only mandatory thing you'll be collecting are Infobots. These little bots display a short, oftentimes humorous cut-scene showing where Ratchet & Clank should head next. Each planet in the game has multiple pathways and multiple objectives to complete. There's usually two or more different paths to take, each leading to a different objective. There's over a dozen different planets and areas to explore each with a varied theme such as a rainy city or an orbiting space base. The only problem here is that checkpoints in levels are too few and far in-between. It can be highly frustrating having to redo five minutes of work only to fall into a pit and have to do the process all over again. Thankfully, this was fixed in later sequels.

Ratchet isn't alone in his quest. Not only does he have Clank who can give him extra height to his jumps or allow him to hover across an otherwise non-negotiable gap, Ratchet is also armed with myriad of high-powered weapons and gadgets. Unlike future games in the series, your weapons do not level up as you use them again and again. This makes playing favorites all the more easier, but it also cuts down on the replay value. There's a wide variety of weapons, too, from the pistol-like Blaster to the electric whip known as the Tesla Claw to the remote control guided missile, the Visibomb. Weapons are either gained through completing objectives or they'll purchased via bolts at one of many Gadgetron vendors on every planet.

These little robots will do the grunt work for you.

Included apart from weapons are gadgets which are used to proceed through levels and solve quick puzzles. The Swingshot makes it debut in the original Ratchet & Clank allowing Ratchet to swing across certain gaps as if he were Spider-man. The Trespasser can unlock doors that are shut as long as you can solve the mini-puzzle revolving around rotating laser beams. The Hydrodisplacer sucks up and fills up pools of water for Ratchet to pass through. Meanwhile, a series staple, the magnetic boots allow Ratchet to walk on magnetic flooring to reach previously inaccessible areas. Most gadgets are used multiple times throughout the game, so you're usually never just using one gadget once or twice and forgetting about it.

Most of the time you'll be controlling Ratchet with Clank on his back similar to Kazooie in Banjo's backpack. There are some times where you'll be controlling Clank by his lonesome. He isn't as strong or versatile as Ratchet, so he takes control of miniature robotic minions which follow him around and help out. They'll enter gates to open doors, attack enemies at Clank's command, and stick with Clank until the bitter end. Moments like these break-up the gameplay and throw in some variety into the mix. That's not all the styles of gameplay either. Ratchet will participate in hoverboard races, shoot down bogeys in a space ship, and watch Clank grow to colossal size, bashing down baddies with ease. There's a few clunkers here and there, but mostly the variety is welcomed with open arms.

Ratchet controls very fluidly. The left stick moves Ratchet while the right moves the camera around him. Weapons and gadgets can be assigned to the quick select menu, so with a push of the triangle button, you can quickly cycle through available weapons and gadgets with ease. You can gather or purchase ammo at a weapons vendor, but the latter is rather archaic because you can't just say "refill all" like in later games. This means you have to manually set how much ammo you want, and it's just a tedious process to do.

Ratchet's main weapon is his wrench.

Ratchet & Clank will last most players ten hours their first run through. This is probably the most difficult game in the series just because you only get four hits until you're knocked out and have to start at the nearest checkpoint. Sure, you can purchase health upgrades to increase your life, but that isn't until the latter half of the game. After you complete the arduous task of beating the game, you can try out Challenge Mode where you start the game over with all of your current weapons. The enemies are tougher, but you earn more bolts, the currency of the series, from defeating them and from breaking boxes strewn about the levels. Gold bolts that are hidden extremely well throughout all of the game's levels can be used in Challenge Mode to purchase stronger versions of already-owned weapons. In addition to that, there's thirty skill points to unlock. These unlock by performing certain in-game tasks such as destroying a statue. For the life of me though I could not find where to see unlocked skill points.

Ratchet & Clank isn't the best the franchise has to offer, but it's still a rather good game. I would call it the weakest of the series meaning the best is yet to come. The lack of a decent number of checkpoints combined with the higher-than-usual difficulty level makes for a sometimes vexing experience. Regardless, those looking for the start of one of Sony's best series should definitely track this game down and enjoy the heck out of it. Otherwise, I'll rip you a new one.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.75/10]

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