Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters Review
Without any doubt, The Ratchet and Clank series has been one of the most popular and well-received franchises in video game history. However, every once in a while, even the best series can experience a bit of a trip-'n-stumble, and this is what happened with the PS2 port of Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters. An excellent PSP game in almost every respect, we had hoped that High Impact Games could deliver a worthy PS2 version, but sadly, the game suffers from more than a few significant issues. Of course, the good ol' R&C flash and panache is always evident, and that's a definite bonus for fans of the series. We always have a grin on our faces when following along with the zany characters and storyline, but at the same time, we weren't smiling nearly often enough in Size Matters. Sometimes, it's best just to keep a title on its intended platform. Why mess with a good thing? We know the PS2 has a massive user base, but in all honesty, this game really didn't need to leave the PSP.
The graphics are, by far, the worst part of this port. It looked just fine on the PSP, but Size Matters looks less than mediocre for a variety of reasons. The lack of detail and blurriness runs rampant throughout your adventure, enemy design isn't all that inspired (a slight shortcoming also apparent in the PSP version, of course), and there are several other technical drawbacks that inhibit our enjoyment of the game. There's a good deal of color and some decent level design, as is commonly found in this franchise, but that's hardly enough to override the overall visual display, which is decidedly lackluster. Perhaps we're too used to Tools of Destruction, but even so, we're convinced that other Ratchet PS2 titles looked a good deal better than Size Matters. Furthermore, because the game was designed for the PSP, the size and scope of the levels is greatly diminished, so we lose any chance at an epic adventure feeling. We also think they could've done more with the weapon effects, which are nowhere near as flashy as we were expecting. This just isn't much fun to look at.
The sound is markedly better thanks to the trademark high-quality voice acting and humorous conversation, even though the soundtrack and effects could've used some work. The cut-scenes are almost always enjoyable to watch - Ratchet and Clank have always had a hysterical chemistry - and the soundtrack is varied enough to keep our attention in different areas of the game. Still, much like the seemingly downplayed visual effects for the weaponry, the sound effects aren't quite up to snuff. We usually expect crisp, clear, resonating effects with this series, along with a vast array of music ranging from energetic and intimidating to breezy and light. Neither the effects or soundtrack lived up to previous installments, as these features seemed to fall just shy of "good." Regardless of the situation, we'd always find ourselves saying, "well, this is okay, but..." That's not something we're used to saying with R&C, and it was kinda disappointing. The strength of the acting and well-written dialogue is enough to carry the game, but there aren't a lot of cut-scenes and the gameplay boasts only slightly better-than-average sound. It's a straightforward analysis, but also a very accurate one, in our estimation.
Speaking of strengths, one of the most appealing aspects of this franchise has been the wonderfully designed and stimulating gameplay. These games feature a blend of action, platforming and 3D shooter elements, which typically comes together in a very alluring package for gamers of all ages. This time around, while the general entertainment value is still there, the entire production just feels a little...cramped. That may not sound like the right word to use, but it's actually quite fitting. The small environments appear even smaller due to a camera that has serious problems, especially when you're fighting multiple enemies in constricted areas. The viewpoint can get all spastic on you, and you'll watch helplessly as the camera spins about madly for a few seconds, leaving you wide open to attack. Furthermore, even though you do have manual control over the camera, the default view sits much too close to Ratchet and severely restricts your vision field.
At the very least, though, you will find plenty of great weapons to acquire and upgrade, and we do have the benefit of a new set of items: the armor and glove pick-ups you will find, which work to add elemental attributes to your arsenal (i.e., turn your wrench into a flaming wrench). The challenge is a little high, though, and while that's due in part to the wonky camera, it's also due to an unbalanced battle mechanic. Even the upgraded weapons don't seem to do anywhere near enough damage to certain enemies, and there were odd difficulty spikes during the first few hours of play. It's always fun to experiment with the diverse weapons, though, and that's always a mainstay of the series. Besides, if you're having trouble with a particular enemy, that only encourages you to try new techniques, right? There's both good and bad when it comes to the combat - aiming is fine, but a little slow - so if you're a huge fan, you'll probably be okay, but if not... There are other games out there.
R&C's bread and butter is its style and atmosphere, as most avid followers will tell you. In addition to the gameplay, the story is always worth our time and loaded with plenty of comic relief. And as we said before, this trend continues in Size Matters, but for whatever reason, it seems that High Impact phoned in the plot. There really aren't a lot of interesting cut-scenes and for the most part, the storyline is nowhere near as interesting and engaging as we anticipated. Unfortunately, we spend too much time catching errors and flaws in the gameplay rather than laughing at a few well-placed cut-scenes featuring two of the most charismatic characters in games. And that's just no good. We needed a few laughs after being somewhat disappointed with certain aspects of the gameplay, and although we got a few, it just wasn't enough. And in past entries, we probably would've been happy with more gameplay and less cinematics just because of the massively addicting battlin', jumpin' and runnin'. This time around, the latter three parts of the game come up a little short, and it's difficult to overlook such faults.
The game is of appropriate length and there is a multiplayer option, but neither really enhances the base product all that much. Even so, Ratchet now has a high jump (crouch and then jump), a long jump (press R1 and X at the same time) and he can also throw his wrench like a boomerang, and we also have plenty of new weapons we've never seen before. Right off the bat, you'll find that something like the Acid Glove is a major asset to your quest, and gathering up bolts and cashing them in for upgrades and new weapons is always fun. There are other now-customary gameplay features, like the magnet shoes to walk straight up walls, gliding with your jetpack, and rappelling down wires, so it's definitely a Ratchet and Clank title. There's no doubt about that. But with the camera that continually gets in the way, the weird balancing problem, and the surprisingly mediocre technicals, this title isn't a big hit. Oh, and we have to mention that the quick-select menu for our weapons isn't quite so streamlined; we have to move around the circular menu in a cumbersome manner with the analog or directional pad.
Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters was one of the better PSP releases of 2007, but over a year later, it just doesn't translate all that well to the PS2. As we said in the introduction, this is one game that should've just stayed portable; PS2 owners didn't need it. It's only $29.99, but that's not enough incentive for most people, especially with the price of most PS2 software declining at a fairly rapid pace. This series is loaded with amazing entries, but this certainly isn't one of them, and unless you're a rabid Ratchet fan, we can't recommend a purchase. Ah well, we're sure Insomniac will make another fantastic installment for the PS3 at some point.
5/1/2008 Ben Dutka