There's only one thing better than a great game and that's a great cheap game. Thanks to budget releases we're often able to pick up some of the best games ever made at half their original price, and we're going to make sure you know when a bargain is available. Read on for our May 2007 review of the excellent Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, now available as part of Sony's PSP Platinum range for £14.99.
Any Ratchet and Clank game bares comparison to Jak and Daxter, and visa versa. They both feature an unlikely duo of ledge leaping madcap protagonists, and subsequently manage to attract much attention for their similarities. While it is fair to say they share a lot in common, as some of the only remaining champions of a genre that once dominated the industry with identikit games, it seems a little cruel to dwell on any likeness the 3D platformers possess.
They also struggle to compete with the frenzied attention and blinkered adoration that a certain Italian plumber manages to court when he finally gets round to a platform jumping adventure. Even when some of Ratchet or Jak's moments outshine Mario's lesser efforts, the portly Nintendo mascot always overshadows his rivals.
Add to this the fact that the PSP has a reputation for hosting lazy, mediocre ports, and it becomes apparent that Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters is going to have to be especially good to succeed.
Thankfully it is a brilliant example of its genre. It might not push the boundaries or redefine our understanding of what platforming is about, but it's a solid, well-crafted release that is thoroughly enjoyable to play and very hard to put down.
The plot sees an understandably exhausted Ratchet vowing to his robot accomplice that he has done his fair share of saving the universe, and is now committed to leaving such grand tasks to others while he enjoys a well-earned rest. Inevitably his holiday from heroics doesn't last long, and soon he and Clank are whisked away on a planet hopping adventure.
The levels themselves, each set on a themed world, are well designed, cartoon-like lands that combine a great deal of different takes on the humble block-hopping platformer. You can expect all the usual lifts, rope swings, sliding platforms and animated obstacles that define the genre, mixed up with an attention to detail that provides plenty of variation. Alongside dizzying levels that take the duo to great heights and puzzle-based sections that test your ingenuity, the standout section is the dream segment. We've seen it before in many forms, but Size Matters offers one of the finest hallucinogenic segments since Max Payne lead payers into its truly disturbing nightmare level.
Ratchet's visions are more like the kind you might encounter rolling about in the fields at a festival, but they are nonetheless incredibly well applied to the gameplay. As adversaries and friends float and flitter in the background, the level twists perspective, dimensions and scale to great effect, tricking the mind and making for one of the greatest platform levels in recent time.
As ever, there is reasonably heavy emphasis on firepower in Ratchet and Clank's new adventure. Though this is no shooter, a vast array of tongue-in-cheek sci-fi weapons add to your body count as readily as your close combat melees. Every Weapon, from over the top laser blasters to bombs filled with circuit-scrambling robot bees, has numerous modifications and upgrades available, providing both a sense of customisation and a reason to revisit completed levels to collect and purchase what you missed.
There is also a collectable armour system that sees five sets of helmets, gloves, clothing and boots hidden around the universe. A full set worn together provides a special power, while experimenting with different combinations of all five leads to different levels of defensive protection, again prompting deep exploration and adding replay value.
The game's subtitle refers to both Ratchet's ability to shrink to a microscopically small size and Clank's talent for growing to an enormous size. The former is most common and employed most successfully at the electromagnetic locks, which seal the doorways throughout the game. To break the seal you much shrink down and enter the lock, before negotiating a maze of rails and switches, grinding great distances as demanded by Tony Hawk, with gameplay more comparable to the Spinner tool puzzles in Zelda: Twilight Princess.
Aside from the traditional platform elements, Size Matters is peppered with numerous mini-games. Usually the word mini-game is good reason to recoil in disgust, as so many recent releases have fallen foul of the fashion to bolt on dozens of thoughtless and often unplayable multiplayer micro-challenges. Ratchet and Clank's developers though, know better than that, and have created a mixture of intriguing mini-games. Some, like an on-rails sequence that sees you dodging an attacking air-craft, are built into the levels, whereas others, like the brilliantly sarcastic take on Robot Wars, are separate and mostly optional games that can be tackled at certain access points around the universe. The worst of the bunch is the hover board racer, with the best being the 3D shmup, which has a reminiscent feel of Starfox about it, and is only let down by its lack of crosshair.
Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters is middling in size, and frustratingly hard at times, but with brilliant, bold graphics, impressive cut scenes, and sharp, witty script writing bolstering the excellent gameplay, it really is a boon to the recent PSP line up. The characters are irresistible, with Clank stealing the show as a suave, gentleman robot akin to John Steed from the original TV version of The Avengers.
There are a few quibbles of course. The old nemesis of the platformer, since it made the cautious jump to 3D, is the player's perspective. No game has really solved the riddle of how to best apply the in-game camera, and though Size Matters has a workable system, occasionally it can misbehave just when you need it to be at its best. There is also the odd invisible wall. Walking to the boundaries of a level only to be stopped in your tracks by a transparent barrier is a dated and frustrating experience that snaps you out of an otherwise engaging game world. An alarmingly rapid night to day life cycle and sporadic glitches as you move to new areas also do something to shatter the illusion created, but neither does anywhere near enough to ruin the joy of playing.
Other than those minor complaints, and the aforementioned issues with some of the less inspired mini-games, Size Matters is a truly brilliant platform game, and while it does nothing new, it does most things very well. Anyone with a vague persuasion towards the 3D platform game will almost certainly enjoy this prime example of the PlayStation 2 era ledge-leaping romp. On the whole this hilarious, self-referential release is more than enough to fill your hunger for deformed cats and robot backpacks until the very exciting looking PS3 version launches.