Ah Ratchet & Clank, Insomniac’s wonderful gem. Such fond memories of playing the first one. Then Going Commando took all that was good about the original and stirred the mix until it was nearly perfection. Up Your Arsenal brought multiplayer to the series while keeping an enjoyable single-player game. Then there was Ratchet: Deadlocked. While it was big with the shooty-shooty, it seemed to have forgotten much of what made the previous games so fun. So I was hesitant when the PSP version of Ratchet & Clank was released. Not only was it on the PSP which faces some challenges making a 3D platformer/shooter easy to control, but it was developed by newcomer High Impact Games, a spin-off from Insomniac. A little over a year later and Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters has been released for the Playstation 2. Let’s see how it fares, both as a Ratchet & Clank game and as a port to the PS2.
The Playstation Portable is capable of some polished 3D visuals and Size Matters was no exception. The port to the PS2 allows those visuals to be examined in large, bright detail so lets cover the basics. The game looks good and visually is almost in the same ballpark as the other PS2 games in the series. I don’t think the graphics have been overhauled much from the PSP version. While the box doesn’t mention it, Size Matters on the PS2 does support 16:9 widescreen and progressive scan. Things may not be quite as detailed or as sharp as its PS2 cousins but overall the game is bright, colorful and has a steady framerate.
Ratchet & Clank has never been about pushing the most polygons though. The games are so action-packed that you don’t often have time to stop and admire the scenery. One of the things that makes the games great are the character models and Size Matters continues this tradition of having expressive and unique-looking creatures. I’m not sure what sort of creature Ratchet is, but he moves fluidly in this game as does his sidekick Clank. The enemies and other characters are all well-modeled and animated and the environments are colorful and cartoon-like. Size Matters has a great visual style that fits in with the rest of the Ratchet & Clank games. One level in particular is both visually clever and creative and owes a debt to Psychonauts. You’ll know it when you get to it.
Size Matters sounds great. The voice acting in the Ratchet & Clank games has always been a delight and Size Matters continues the trend quite handily. Returning are the familiar voice actors for both Ratchet and Clank and let me say right now that Clank has one of the greatest voices in videogames. You will also run into Captain Quark as well as a host of other minor characters, all voiced extremely well. When a game has bad voice acting it can nearly ruin the experience but when a game excels in this area it can compel you to play more.
Also complementing the voice acting is the excellent musical score and sound effects. The Ratchet & Clank games have notable sound tracks. They aren’t typically the sort of tunes that stick in my head but I can almost instantly recognize the perfectly suited music from game to game Sound effects are no slouch either. You expect when you hit or shoot an enemy that you will hear a satisfying explosion of bolts. The sounds are large and loud and gratifying.
This is where we run into some problems. You probably know what to expect in a Ratchet & Clank game by now. Unlike Deadlocked, Size Matters happily returns to the series’ roots and there is an equal emphasis on both platforming and shooting. The PSP version had to make due without two extra shoulder buttons and a second analog stick/nub but the PS2 version’s controls should feel very familiar if you’ve played any of the previous games. The buttons allow you to jump, shoot, strafe, attack with your wrench and shift into first-person view for a better angle on the action. The PSP version managed quite well without the traditional second analog stick to adjust your camera view so you’d think that having dual analog sticks on the PS2 version would mean even better camera control, right? Unfortunately no. Somehow the camera in Size Matters is never where you want it to be. And when you go to adjust it the view can swing wildly from side to side or up and down. If you happen to be near a wall or some other object the camera just cannot handle this and will seemingly lock until you move away from it. This can be extremely frustrating as this is usually the time a half-dozen enemies are trying to eat your face off. Other times you will be sliding down a rail to open a lock (trust me, it makes sense in the game) and you will not be able to see where you are going or when you will need to jump until the last moment. There really should be no excuse for camera problems in a 3D platformer anymore. Super Mario 64 handled this better over 12 years ago.
The basic game controls are generally great but the camera issues are an unforgivable problem.
More problems here but first the good stuff. This is a true Ratchet & Clank game which means it has generally great, addictive gameplay. You will fly from planet to planet, making your way through creatively designed levels. You’ll be jumping, climbing and fighting. Lots of fighting actually, and the weapons you will use are (pardon the pun) a blast. At it’s core, Ratchet & Clank combines platforming and shooting better than just about any other game.
There are some black marks, however. First there is a sort of aerial skateboarding game that is required at certain points. It looks like it might be fun but the controls are floaty and irritating. I groaned whenever a level arrived. More problematic is the save system. The game uses checkpoints that let you restart if you die. And I died a lot. I died when I was sliding along a rail, couldn’t see quite where I was going and hadn’t played the level the required 3 or 4 times to remember that there was a bomb approaching that I needed to jump over. I died when I accidentally fell off a cliff as I was trying to strafe and shoot a swarm of killer robots. I died on the Giant Clank shmup-style game’s bosses. I died on the regular game’s bosses. I’m not a novice gamer and I’ve played all the other Ratchet & Clank games but this one was harder than necessary. And most of that was because the checkpoints were never quite where I needed them to be. I accept that I might die on a boss but what irritated me was having to replay 5 minutes of the game to get back to the boss again so I can die again and repeat the whole process again until I get it right. Why not just have the checkpoint be right before the boss? Decisions like this made the game unnecessarily difficult.
And then there’s bolt grinding. Let’s say you’ve bought a lot of the guns – they’re cool and new and why wouldn’t you want to buy them? So you don’t have a lot of bolts left over and fighting that boss uses your ammo so you need to replace it. You’ll either have to buy new ammo with bolts or else find it in boxes scattered around. What ends up happening is that in order to have the ammo to fight the boss over and over you have to run around and fight regular enemies to get bolts or break crates and ammo boxes. It’s an irritating mechanic and while it was theoretically an issue in prior games I never ran into it. In Size Matters I did, especially with the final boss. I suppose I could have conserved my bolts and not stocked up on cool guns but that kind of defeats the point of a Ratchet & Clank game.
While it’s not a particularly long game (I finished in about 7 or 8 hours), Size Matters is filled with tons of things to do. First, your weapons become more powerful the more you use them. There’s something about this that is a lot of fun as your ordinary weapon transforms into something godlike in its destructiveness. You can also collect armor sets, engage in shmup-style firefights with Giant Clank and master the air-skateboarding minigame. Now a lot of this is optional and if you want, you can blow through the main game pretty quickly. But true completionists will find there is a lot to keep them occupied with Size Matters.
There’s also split-screen multiplayer which lets you compete in co-op or head-to-head multiplayer. No online multiplayer is offered, though the PS2 is certainly capable of managing this.