Saturday, April 25, 2015

Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando HD (Vita) Review

Many times you've probably read how someone's favorite game was botched in some regard and made a mockery of because of it. Perhaps you are of the opinion that the smartphone and tablet versions of Final Fantasy VI with its odd sprites is a crime against humanity. I didn't really know that feeling until when one of my favorite games got the treatment, although completely unintentional because of the hardware it was ported to. The game in question? Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando for the PlayStation Vita.

The Definitely Un-definitive Version of Going Commando 

Let's get this out of the way right now. Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando is one of my favorite entries in Insomniac's 3D platforming series, and it's also one of my favorite games of all time. However, the Vita version, as part of the Ratchet & Clank Collection, in digital form only in North America, suffers from two glaring issues that make this version the weakest by far. What you're left with is a game that is good fundamentally and structurally, but one that is hindered by two major control problems that are exclusive to the Vita version.

Starting out, you only have access to two guns. However, you are
able to purchase more as Going Commando progresses.
For one, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando offers a ton of variety. There are gladiator-like arena battles, fast-paced races through desert areas and forested marshes, and even ship combat. The latter is hindered, however, by the PlayStation Vita's analog stick used for movement. Normal air dogfights behave just fine, as you don't need really tight precision flying. However, a grave issue rears its ugly head into the equation when you decide to race Ace Bunyon through a series of rings. While this task is by no means mandatory to beat the game, it is if you want to collect all 40 of the game's Platinum Bolts, which for someone like me who is a completionist, was something I eagerly wanted to do.

Space combat is fine, but when you have to do anything with
a hint of precision, things get ugly pretty fast.
Nonetheless, trying to pilot your ship through the tiny rings is a challenge on the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 under the best conditions. On the Vita version, with the system's incredibly sensitive analog stick, it becomes a nigh impossible ordeal. Your ship moves far too much with every poke of the analog stick, making it so precise movement isn't possible. This means the goal of riding through every ring while beating the competition to get a Platinum Bolt on these missions is a very hard proposition.

Furthermore, Going Commando added a bunch of new helpful goodies to assist players in better enjoying the game over the original Ratchet & Clank. To begin, when you bring up the Quick Select menu, the menu brought up during confrontations and gameplay to select a different weapon or gadget, in Going Commando the game pauses everything. This is while in the original R&C, the action continued while the Quick Select menu was opened.

Aw... Is this blockade of enemies just for me?
In addition to that, using weapons a bunch improves their capabilities, so not only can you defeat enemies to earn more health for Ratchet, but you can use weapons to level them up, making them stronger and more efficient in battle. This continues in the game's Challenge Mode, a mode that lets you replay Going Commando after the initial play-through has been completed. This mode allows you to level up your weaponry further, as well as earn a much higher bolt multiplier. Bolts being the currency of the Ratchet & Clank series, used to purchase new weapons, further the game by buying plot-centric materials, and restock on ammunition for the aforementioned weapons.

These foes get blasted into scrap metal by Ratchet's Blitz Gun.
An added move that Ratchet has in his arsenal in Going Commando and games onward that he didn't have in the original Ratchet & Clank is the strafe. It allows him to continually face an enemy while shooting and leaping over potential hazards fired his way. Once you get accustomed to the new mechanic, you'll wonder how you ever were able to play the previous R&C without it.

Despite using guns as the primary means of disposing enemies,
there is still plenty of traditional platforming to be found.
That said, the strafe maneuver was easy to pull of in the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3 versions. Again, not so much with the Vita version. You see, in the PS2 and PS3 versions, the R2 button is easily accessible to reach and hold down. This is how strafing is performed by the player and Ratchet. On the Vita system, L2 and R2 are relegated to the rear touch screen due to the design of the system lacking proper L2 and R2 buttons. It's not just the rear touch screen, it's the corners of the rear touch screen. This makes it so strafing is incredibly hard to do in a consistent manner. When you really need it in the middle of the action, it's sort of like rubbing your stomach while patting your head, a challenge, for sure. It also makes it so certain areas of Going Commando on the Vita are much more difficult than they need to be due to the inferior placement of L2 and R2.

When your strafing doesn't work, put your tail between
your legs and run away!
Another addition that seems small but is all-so-helpful with Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando (and this one is actually problem-free on the Vita version) is the notification when you have reached a checkpoint, or as the game refers to them as "Continue Points." No more do you suffer through a long level, not knowing if you've reached a checkpoint, only to die and have to restart at the beginning of the arduous road all over again.

From a formula perspective, Going Commando is pretty much 100% the same compared to the original game. You travel from planet to planet, completing objectives, meeting NPCs, purchasing information, or doing some other task to receive coordinates to the next planet of the game, where you proceed with this structure. The only real change this time around is that as previously stated, there is a lot more variety to be had in the form of gladiator arena battles, fast-paced hoverbike races, giant mech battles on spherical planets, and galactic battles with you controlling Ratchet and Clank's powerful vessel.

The art design and direction of the Ratchet & Clank games
is simply phenomenal to a high degree.
Going Commando looks relatively good on the PlayStation Vita. There are some pop-up issues in the backgrounds of larger levels with high draw distance, but that doesn't really detract from the overall experience. What does in this version, however, is that certain sound effects will play long after the weapon you used that made them have stopped firing. This is especially obnoxious to the ears with the game's Sheepinator weapon. It's something that is genuinely annoying that it is befuddling how it wasn't found by the developer of this port.

Careful on these platforms, Ratchet! You don't want to
get a taste of that questionable liquid below!
As you have read, the PlayStation Vita version of Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, one of my favorite games, has a lot wrong with it that is mostly due to the wackiness of the hardware of the system, the overly sensitive analog sticks, and the lack of a proper R2 button. It makes it so it is a hard game to recommend playing on the Vita unless you have no other choice. Even the PS2 version, despite being in standard definition, is more worthy of being chosen to play than the Vita version. It's a shame, too, because the idea of playing one of my favorite games of all time on a system I could take anywhere was an idea that seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, it turned out that Going Commando HD on the PlayStation Vita was just that.

[SPC Says: C-] 

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