Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando Review

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Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Insomniac Games

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Once upon a time, platformers in gaming were the pinnacle of console entertainment, thanks mostly to Shigeru Miyamoto and the Mario Brothers. Times have changed since platform games reigned supreme, but platformers themselves mostly haven't. New games rehash every idea set forth by Nintendo, earning many of them the nickname "Mario-clone." Although quite a few platformers have been worthy of respect on their own merits (including games such as Crash Bandicoot, Banjo Kazooie, Spyro the Dragon, and Rayman) in recent years it seemed like all of them (including the Italian Stallion himself) had flatlined.

Enter Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter in December 2001. In the following year, a few excellent platform games were released on the PS2, and two of the better ones owe their excellence to Naughty Dog. The best of the new breed was Ratchet and Clank, a game developed by Insomniac using Naughty Dog's technology and adding entirely innovative gameplay. This year both Jak and Ratchet have sequels. Has Ratchet and Clank again come out on top? Is there hope for the future of platform games?

Carrie Gouskos

Ratchet and Clank is the story of an arrogant mamm-alien creature named Ratchet and his witty, demure robot friend Clank. When Going Commando begins, some time has passed since they defeated Drek in Veldin's Orbit (during the first game) and they are looking for a new adventure. Luckily for them, a distressed, neologism-spewing businessman named Ambercrombie Fizzwidget needs their aid. Throughout the story, R&C are sent back and forth through the galaxy in search of Fizzwidget's invention, the Protopet. On the way to recover the Protopet (which has been stolen) R&C perform rescues, defeat baddies, locate gadgets that combine to create bigger gadgets and more. While the story and characters are still as charismatic as those in the first game, Going Commando doesn't reach the same level of humor as the original. Many of the jokes just fall flat. Clank redeems the game's humor, stealing the show with a combination of wit and helplessness, even answering the door in his bathrobe. The first game has shown us that Insomniac can be much funnier. Ahhh, the burdens of a sequel.

Complaints about this game end there. Everything else is a successful extension of the first Ratchet and Clank game or something completely new (that works just as well). If this series is a testimony to the future of platform games, they need not fear extinction for some time.

Building Fun, One Weapon At A Time

Why the stay of execution? Among other things, the game starts off simple. As Ratchet, you run around various alien planets and shoot blasters and lob simple bombs. With Clank attached to Ratchet's back, Ratchet can use the heli-pack and other upgrades to float longer distances or reach higher heights. But this is just the beginning: one of the best aspects of R&C is that the gameplay continually broadens. Throughout the game, new features, puzzles, weapons and gameplay elements are added. Despite being a relatively long game for the genre (around twenty hours with extensive replayability), Ratchet and Clank doesn't often flirt with the mundane.

The game's variety is most apparent through the extensive inventory. There are gadgets that allow access to new areas, such as the Glider that lets R&C fly across wide caverns, and Gravity boots that give Ratchet access to areas with vertical magnetic surfaces. Some gadgets help to bypass puzzles, such as the Thermanator that freezes small patches of water into ice, and the Hypnomatic which allows the player to control certain robots. There are other gadgets, but there is a certain element of enjoyment in discovering what they are for the first time and figuring out where to use them.

Although many gadgets or weapons are found as part of the main quest, Going Commando has other ways of upgrading your inventory. The most obvious have been called the "RPG elements" of Going Commando – the automatic upgrade of health and weapons with use. Rather than being like an RPG, this is more an issue of convenience. Although Nanotech (health) upgrades can be found in secret areas throughout the game, your health automatically increases over time, which saves a lot of busy work, allows for a smooth transition to higher difficulty levels, and often saves your butt in the middle of a battle! Weapons operate the same way – the ones you use the most will quickly be upgraded into more powerful weapons. This is usually for the better, but can turn a weapon into something entirely different. The "downgrade" Lava Gun was a stream of lava that took care of everything in every direction, while the "upgrade" launched singular meteorites that did great damage when they hit (but that never seemed to happen unless you purchased the lock-on modification).

Travel The Galaxy, Meet New People … And Turn Them Into Sheep!

Insomniac added much more than their touted RPG elements. There are now shops where the player can purchase armor, a much needed addition to the dynamics from the first game. The only problem with the armories is that a person who is careless with their bolts (the game's currency) will find that they've beaten the game before they can afford all of the different levels of armor. If you have a saved game from the first R&C, you can buy the weapons that you unlocked in the first game, including the expensive but glorious RYNO (Rip Ya a New One). This is a great feature, but those weapons are significantly weaker in this game. After collecting enough of the hard-to-find Platinum bolts, you can improve your weapons, adding upgrades such as poison or a lock-on feature. While not all of the weapons are equally powerful, Ratchet and Clank certainly gives you enough choices. Even the silly weapons, like the Sheepinator, come in handy – it's great for taking out the baaa-ddies.

Each level is a different planet in the galaxy. While they run the gamut of traditional game levels (fire, ice, desert, industrial, etc.) they are beautifully drawn and wonderfully designed. From time to time, you'll frustrate yourself trying to make a leap that was never intended to be made, but for the majority of the game you won't fight anything other than the game's intended enemies. In addition to traditional platformer-style levels, there are alternatives scattered throughout the game. Arena levels are combat tests that pit Ratchet against wave after wave of enemies. If that's up your alley, you can replay arena levels to unlock greater rewards. Flight levels consist of space shooter-style combat switch up gameplay a bit (and are becoming par for the course in the game world), but are too reminiscent of the incredibly boring Gummi Ships sequences from Kingdom Hearts. Other tasks are races or even levels set on asteroid-sized worlds that make maneuvering on a small sphere part of the challenge. During certain sections of the game, there are levels where the challenge is to play as Ratchet or Clank by themselves. As Ratchet, things get a little more difficult without the safety-net of Clank's glide ability. As Clank, you lead a chomping army of baby robots through puzzles and perils. The Clank army is undoubtedly one of the most enjoyable achievements of our time.

This Game Doesn't Stop At The Ending

After you're done with the game, there is still plenty to do. The most time-consuming of the extra features is collecting skill points. Going Commando has a list with the name of each of the possible skill points and the planet where you can complete the associated task. You must figure out from those two clues what you need to do to get each point. Some of them require finding all of the items in an area or beating a boss with only your trusty wrench. Regardless, deducing what they are is fun even if acquiring them sometimes seems impossible. Skill points allow you to uncover the cheats, movies, and other mysteries hidden away in the "Specials Menu." There are also more powerful weapons, harder challenges and the chance to acquire the toys you never picked up the first time through the game.

Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando may not have come a long way from the first game, but it didn't need to. This game is a testament to how fantastic Insomniac's vision was, and seems to relish its success while still paying proper homage to its benefactor, Naughty Dog (with Jak II advertisements subtly and not so subtly placed throughout). This game is cute, clever, and tough, offering about as much variety as can be found in a single game. Let's just hope that Insomniac knows how to make a threequel.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 21, 2003 11:45 PM.

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