The platform genre is well-worn territory. The 2D platformer was driven completely into the ground back in the 16-bit era, and we're starting to see an awful lot of repetition in the 3D platformer arena, as well. Most 3D platformers are full of backtracking, poor camera work, and countless little doodads to collect. However, Ratchet & Clank skillfully avoids most of the traps that hold back the majority of modern platform games. Developed by Insomniac Games, the company behind the first three games in the popular Spyro the Dragon series, Ratchet & Clank presents a fantastic, well-balanced, story-driven adventure that can easily be recommended to anyone.
Ratchet & Clank is an outstanding game in every way.
Ratchet is an alien creature that looks a bit like a cross between a cat and a rabbit. He's handy with his tools and is busy working on his spaceship when a small robot named Clank falls out of the sky. Clank relays a tale of a world in peril, hops onto Ratchet's back, and the duo set off to save the world from Drek, an evil corporate suit who, like President Skroob in the Mel Brooks classic Spaceballs, is the leader of a dead, polluted world. Drek and his minions are remedying their situation by ripping apart other, cleaner planets and using their resources to build a new home. Ratchet and Clank are an odd couple of sorts, so many of the game's cutscenes show the duo trying to pull their quest in two different directions. The game maintains a nice, lighthearted feel from start to finish, complete with a colorful cast of very well animated characters and a well-written script.
Each level in Ratchet & Clank is actually a different planet. You'll start out not knowing where to go next. New planets are revealed to you by "infobots," small robot storage devices that contain a brief video clip. The cutscenes shown when accessing an infobot are sometimes intercepted communiquÃ©s between Drek and his army, others are newscasts that talk about the havoc Drek has unleashed, and still others are commercials that advertise various spots in the universe. The cutscenes also provide an initial reason for visiting a planet, though you'll usually receive other objectives as you explore each world.
While Ratchet & Clank is structured a lot like most other platformers, it's much more focused on skillful combat than on making difficult jumps. Your standard weapon is a large wrench, which you can swing around or toss like a boomerang. You'll also start with one of the game's many weapons, the bomb glove. As you might expect, equipping the bomb glove lets you toss bombs at enemies. All your enemies are robotic, and when they're destroyed, they explode in a shower of nuts and bolts. As you move through the game, you'll be collecting these nuts and bolts at a near-constant rate. These serve as the game's currency, and you can use them to purchase items and ammo for your weapons at various shops.
Ratchet's the one with the big ears, and Clank is the robot on his back.
As you make your way from level to level, you'll find or purchase a lot of other weapons, including a cannon that lets you suck up small foes and spit them out, a flamethrower, a machine gun, a minelayer, homing and guided rockets, and several more. The weapons provide a really nice variety of ways to deal with the game's enemies, and players with different playing styles will find certain weapons more effective than others. The game gives you the standard complement of attacks and jumping options. You can steer Ratchet around with the left stick, but it's actually easier to steer with the right stick, which swings the camera around. Other platformers have given you camera control, but most of the cameras like to swing back around to the default viewpoint as soon as you stop adjusting them. With the exception of a few tight spots, Ratchet & Clank's camera stays where you put it. You'll run into a few occasions where you're surrounded by enemies and can't see them all, but once you get the hang of things, this isn't really a problem.
Aside from the game's large supply of weapons, you'll also earn a collection of upgrades and gadgets that are mainly used for puzzle solving. The swing shot is probably the coolest of the lot. It gives you a Bionic Commando-like hook shot that grapples onto special targets, letting you swing back and forth or quickly move from one spot to another. You'll eventually earn hover upgrades, masks, a door opener, a water displacement device, and a cool little gadget that lets you disguise yourself as a robot, which you'll use to infiltrate a robot factory. Some sections of the game break from the standard course of action. You'll ride a hoverboard in a couple of races, and you'll fly a starfighter, man a couple of turrets, and even directly control Clank in areas that Ratchet can't reach. These brief bits of gameplay aren't terribly difficult, but they break up the action effectively and really lend a lot of variety to the game.