A year ago Sony surprised everybody with Daxter, one of the most impressive 3D platforming games ever released on a handheld game system. With its amazing graphics, easy game play and inventive levels, Daxter was not only one of the best PSP games released in 2006 but one of the best platformers of the past few years. Now Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters is here to give Daxter a run for his money, and if this game is any indication then 2007 is going to be a fantastic year for Sony's portable game system.
Size Matters marks Ratchet & Clank's first time off of the PlayStation 2, but that shouldn't worry you, because everything you've come to love about the long-running series makes an appearance in this handheld game. What's more, while the PlayStation 2 games have become darker and increasingly violent, this PSP game feels like a return to form. Fans of the original Ratchet & Clank games will no doubt be happy to see that Size Matters is more about platforming and comedy.
It all starts with our heroes Ratchet and Clank taking a much-needed vacation on a tropical planet. Before the two characters can even begin to relax they are hounded by a young girl named Luna who seems to know exactly who they are, she wants to take pictures of them doing heroic stuff so that she can impress people. Who are Ratchet and Clank to decline? Unfortunately while they are beating up all of the robots in colorful clothing Luna is kidnapped and so our adventure begins.
In true Ratchet & Clank fashion our heroes are forced to go from one planet to another in search of this young girl and her captives. But not all is what it appears and Luna has a few secrets of her own. Without giving too much away, the story in Size Matters is surprisingly good, it's full of memorable characters, witty dialog and some twists and turns you might not see coming. Better yet, the way the story influences the level designs is refreshing, especially since you aren't always dealing with obvious level variations.
The name Size Matters is more than just a double entendre, it also has a lot to do with the actions in the game. The game is full of moments where you'll shrink down to the size of an insect or turn into a massive Godzilla-sized character. While this is really nothing more than a gimmick, there's little denying that it works in the context of the story and does a good job of setting this apart from all of the other Ratchet & Clank games.
The size gimmick isn't the only thing that's new to this series. For the first time ever players are given a chance to play as Ratchet's mechanical sidekick, Clank. But don't get too excited, outside of a few moments when you're solving puzzles or trying to escape a Battle Bots-style garbage dump you won't actually be using him too much. But don't let me be too negative about Clank's participation; there is one moment in the game when you'll be happy to step into his metallic shoes. That moment comes mid-way through the game when the entire experience turns into a strange 3D space shooter starring Clank. You control this section much like you would any other 3D air combat game (such as Star Fox, After Burner, etc.), only you are playing a gigantic version of Clank and dodging asteroids and other space robots. This section is thrilling, but it's over far too early.
Despite the few moments when you play (and pilot) Clank, much of the game play in Size Matters feels similar to that of past Ratchet & Clank entries. The game is still an engaging mix of crazy weapons, bright levels and exciting platforming action. Everything that made you love the series on the PlayStation 2 is front and center on the PSP, from the great voice acting to the bizarre weapons you can pick up to the insane bosses you will have to fight. It may not be developed by Insomniac, but Size Matters manages to get the look and feel of the Ratchet & Clank series down. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this game is actually more enjoyable than the previous two PlayStation 2 games, which bodes well for Sony's handheld game system.
If you've played the previous games before then you already know that neither Ratchet nor Clank is the real star of this series, this franchise is all about the weapons. You'll be happy to know that Size Matters offers just as many over-the-top weapons as ever before, even going as far as to add a few new ones. Although you can only choose from eight weapons at a time, there is a total of thirteen weapons and eight special items you can buy and/or earn along the way. Each of these weapons can also be upgraded, the more you use the weapon the more "experience" your weapon will have, until finally it gets upgraded to level 2 or 3. Upgrading your weapon means that you will be able to pack around more ammo and your weapon will be a little stronger and more effective. This is probably the most RPG-like element in the game, but it's a nice addition and will push you to use each of your weapons to see what their next level is.
The weapons themselves are all very crazy and exciting … even if they aren't as effective as you wished they would be. You start out with a laser gun-style weapon (called a Lacerator), but quickly you'll be able to buy everything from an Acid Bomb Glove to a Bee Mine Glove to a flame thrower (Incinerator) to this crazy gun called a Suck Cannon. And those aren't even the craziest weapons you'll earn, I won't spoil all of them but needless to say you'll probably seek out enemies just to experiment around with some of the more outrageous weapons.
The problem is that not all of the weapons are all that useful. Chances are you'll be using the Electro Rocket gun and standard Lacerators (which you can upgrade to Dual Lacerators) more than just about anything else, simply because these two weapons are the most powerful and easy to use. Some of the weapons feel like they should be effective but just aren't. The Concussion Gun is a good example of this, when you fire it the bullets go in several directions but never quite connects with the enemies. After several tries I ended up just giving up on this weapon and moved back to my tried and true rockets. In the long run this isn't much of a problem; I would rather have a game that gives me too many choices than a game that doesn't give me enough.
While it's fun to talk about the weapons (for obvious reasons), it's worth mentioning the way Size Matters handles the armor. As you progress through the game you will earn and find new pieces of armor, be it a new set of gloves, a new helmet, body armor or boots. You can mix and match this armor to give you specific defense against specific enemies and obstacles. But that's not all, the armor also affects your standard wrench attack. For example, if you equip the wildfire armor your wrench weapon will start to flame and become a little stronger. You won't have to find all of the pieces of armor in the game, but it is fun to experiment around and see how each of the pieces affects our heroes.
One of the biggest hurdles High Impact Games had to jump when turning the console game into a handheld experience was the controls. Anybody who has played the series on the PlayStation 2 knows that just about every face button and analog stick is used for something, which meant that the people developing this PSP game had to cut some corners. High Impact Games has come up with two different answers to the control problem, neither of which is quite perfect. The default style requires you to fiddle with the camera by using the left and right shoulder buttons. The other camera style is a little more hands-off, it does its best to try to stay behind you at all times, making it so you won't have to deal with the camera that much. I personally preferred the default style, I had no problem manually controlling the camera and I didn't find that it hurt my experience at all. Like I said, neither of these solutions is quite perfect, but they get the job done … for the most part.
The game itself isn't very long, you'll probably be able to bust through it in no more than seven or eight hours. Thankfully there's a lot of incentive for you to go through it a second time, especially if you want to find every weapon and use all of the armor. Once you've beaten the game you will be able to play the campaign mode a second time through on a higher difficulty. It would have been nice to see this game go a little longer, but Size Matters' length is on par with what you get from the PlayStation 2 titles, so I guess I can't complain too much.
When you're done playing around in the single-player mode you can move on to one of the several multiplayer modes. While I love the idea of PSP games offering online multiplayer modes and I am willing to give Sony/High Impact Games full credit for trying, Ratchet & Clank has never been a great online experience. That doesn't mean you can't have fun with the several modes that are available, but I doubt you'll be sending too much time playing this online shooter when you could be playing SOCOM: Fire Team Bravo 2 or Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops.
The multiplayer modes include the standard deathmatch and capture the flag, as well as a game called Iron Lombax. Iron Lombax is somewhat unusual because the way you play is determined by location you select. For example, if you choose Island Escape you will be racing to collect power cells and delivering them to your power generator. By contrast, if you play Mega Cannons you will be capturing generators to power your Mega Cannon. Once you've managed to do this task you will be able to use your cannon and blow up your enemy's cannon. Some of these modes are mildly entertaining, but they are more of a diversion than anything else. Having said that, I'm glad that Sony is experimenting with online multiplayer modes, I hope that this is a sign of things to come.
When it comes right down to it Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters is the first great PSP game of the year, it's full of memorable characters, fantastic level designs and enough pure action to keep just about everybody entertained. While High Impact Games has been forced to make a few changes to the camera and control they should be commended for their effort, as this is a rock solid game that should be in everybody's library. If you're a fan of the series then you're going to find a lot to love in this portable game, and even if you're new to the franchise you'll still find an incredibly fun 3D platformer that is a little different from the Mario's and Jax games. Don't let the platform and name fool you, Size Matters may be small but it's full of big excitement.