Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters
I'm not ashamed to admit I like the PSP, almost in spite of how Sony have supported it since launch, its remained, in terms of functionality and features at least, one of my most prized pieces of kit. However if I were to tot up the hours spent using it into some kind of activity based chart the chances are that gaming would most likely be third on the list behind its use as a portable media player and a convenient way of surfing the internet from the sofa. While developers have happily embraced the more radical interface of the Nintendo DS to produce some wonderfully inventive and enjoyable games the PSP by comparison has seen its more conventional console links keep it stuck firmly in a world of scaled down PS2 games and lazy multi-format ports, with both often suffering from its well documented lack of a second analogue stick. Such a lazy approach to the format has meant its sadly limited roster of truly great games to date is dominated by titles designed specifically for it by developers who've taken the time to assess what's needed to make a great PSP game, titles like Killzone Liberation, Loco Roco, Metal Gear Solid Portable Ops, and Daxter all offer a glimpse at what real PSP gaming could and should be about. Thankfully you can now add Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters to that list.
Often described simply as platform games with guns (although 'Gladiator' did a good job of flipping the focus of the two around somewhat) the first four Ratchet and Clank games were some of the PS2s most enjoyable titles, mixing as they did top notch platforming action with an arsenal of inventive and amusing weaponry with which to play. With original developers Insomniac busy with the duo's PS3 debut due out in September, High Impact Games have been tasked with bringing the pair to the palm of your hand in Size Matters. It's worth mentioning at this early stage that any lingering worries about the change of developers are laid to rest within seconds as the controls, visuals and humour are instantly and reassuringly familiar, hitting all the sweet points series fans will be expecting. The game kicks off with our heroes (Furry lombax Ratchet and his diminutive robot sidekick Clank) enjoying a well earned beach holiday only to have it interrupted by a snap-happy young fan who's after pictures of Ratchet being heroic to take home with her. Ego well and truly boosted Ratchet agrees, giving the game a convenient way of (re)introducing the player to the full control scheme. Once the heroic posturing is over its not long before the small photographer is abducted by baddies who conveniently drop a clue to their identity in the process. Thus the game proper kicks in with Ratchet and Clank on a mission to save their new friend from whatever evil has kidnapped her.
If you've ever played an R&C game before you'll know what to expect from what follows, large, beautiful, but often fairly linier levels stuffed full of all kinds of platforming goodness and a wide variety of enemies and weapons with which to dispatch them. It's that feeling of well polished experience that's almost half the attraction here, Size Matters doesn't pretend to be reinventing any wheels; it's simply the next in a consistently excellent series that knows exactly what its doing and does it with a style and likeability that exudes confidence. It even manages to be a 3D PSP game without serious camera problems, the L and R shoulder buttons prove more than capable of handling any adjustments you need in a perfectly natural way. Only the occasional wish to look up or down to check your surroundings spoils the otherwise seamless system but even this can be easily worked around by going into the first-person view more commonly used for picking off long range targets. The rest of the controls are just as straightforward and remain true to the PS2 originals in most places. Double jumps, wrench throws, strafing and the ever popular floating with the aid of Clank's propeller add-on are all present and correct.
As ever in R&C games things that go bang play a huge part in proceedings and fans of the series will be pleased to see the elegantly simple selection wheel system still in place making moving from weapon to weapon nice and easy. Starting with his basic wrench attack, Ratchet is soon equipped with a growing range of fun weapons from your basic laser gun through rocket launchers, acid bombs and cool little homing robots that seek out and attack enemies all on their own. All of the weapons in the game can be upgraded as time goes on too, changing into more powerful versions of themselves the more you use them. Some upgrades, and the all important ammo refills, can be purchased through the game's shops that tend to appear near the start of each level. The in game currency is Titanium Bolts which can be collected all over the levels inside destructible crates and scattered around fallen enemies. Ratchet himself is upgradeable too with extra health points being earned the further you go in the game and various armour improvements laying around waiting to be discovered by the more adventurous player.
It's not all about the Lombax though, they're a double act for a reason and at certain points the focus shifts to Clank and you get to control him through his own levels where his smaller stature allows him access to places Ratchet can't enter. These tend to be far more puzzle based than Ratchet's with combat far less of an option for the silver robot and as such offer a welcome change of pace from all the shooting. It's these Clank levels that also tend to get more creative too with sections based on mini games like bumper cars and even lemmings as well as a few (too few in fact) levels that involve a super-sized Clank taking to the skies for a spot of space bound arcade shooting.
If you get bored of everything the single player game has to offer, or you just fancy a change, there's also a lovely set of multiplayer options to play with. Size Matters comes to the table with both Ad-hoc and Infrastructure modes available, yes, that's right, I really did say Infrastructure mode, just when you'd thought PSP developers had forgotten about true online multiplayer along comes a game offering it right out of the box (not seven months later when you've stopped caring, I'm looking at you Killzone Liberation). Multiplayer is naturally more about the shooting than the platforming and as such demonstrates a little too well that R&C isn't quite as engrossing when enjoyed as a dedicated shooter, but it's certainly not shoddy by any means and the inclusion of thoughtful touches like friends lists and the very fact it exists at all means you'll find yourself coming back to it far more than you perhaps would if the PSP was home to more games offering such modes.
As a PSP exclusive R&C: Size Matters is a welcome reminder of what the PSP should be about, a truly great game that uses the hardware perfectly. It's a game that shouts its quality at you at every turn, from the huge impressively realised levels rendered in exquisite detail by a game engine that loses nothing when compared to the PS2 originals, to the attention to detail shown by things like the friends lists, simple camera controls and inclusion of a true online multiplayer mode. With its main platforming rival from the PS2, the Jak and Daxter series, already all present and correct on the PSP in the form of the excellent Daxter, it's fair to say Ratchet and Clank have made the switch to the handheld with equal aplomb and deserve to take their place on the list of truly great games for the platform.
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