“Ratchet & Clank” is one of those games that barely makes a blip on the radar upon release, and a few months later, becomes the hit it was destined to be. With all the attention focused on “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” and a slew of new sports titles, entries from the declining platform genre are easy to overlook. But “Ratchet & Clank” is definitely worth your time, if only for one reason: It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. And more than that, it single-handedly raises the bar for platform games.
Most platformers go for the cute over the sophisticated, but “Ratchet & Clank” is an example of the latter; its storyline is simple but well-executed. You play as Ratchet, a sort of cat/rabbit hybrid who is eager to travel in space, but misses a key component to his spaceship. Luckily, a tiny robot named Clank falls onto Ratchet’s planet and offers him the missing part. In exchange for his help, Ratchet offers to help Clank stop the evil chairman Drek, who plans to take over the galaxy by extracting the natural resources from other planets.
This classic good vs. evil scenario isn’t entertaining on its own: The developers at Insomniac throw in a playful sense of humor akin to an adult version of Saturday morning cartoons. Other heroes have tried to put a stop to Drek, but are too caught up in their own self-promotion to succeed. On this note, we are greeted with Captain Quark, a dense, cleft-chinned hero reminiscent of Space Ghost. As the star of cheesy infomercials, Quark is something of a laughing stock in the galaxy, but cherishes his own line of fitness products over stopping evil. Thus, Ratchet and Clank are forced to defend the galaxy alone.
As the pair travels from planet to planet in search of Drek, Ratchet’s arsenal of hi-tech weapons and gadgets grows. On each level, Ratchet collects bolts, which serve as currency in the game and can be used to purchase weapons. There’s standard fare like a laser-beam gun and a flame-thrower, but also a variety of innovations, such as the suck cannon, which allows you to “suck” in small enemies and spit them out, and the glove of doom, which releases small robots that devour monsters. Though Clank usually just rides on Ratchet’s back, he occasionally ventures out alone, employing his own skills and technology to defeat enemies.
“Ratchet & Clank” looks much like a standard platformer, only better. The graphics are a cut above the over-praised “Jak and Daxter,” featuring bright, colorful textures and stunning 3-D environments. Camera angles, which plague a lot of adventure games, particularly the recent “Kingdom Hearts,” are not a problem here: With the tap of the L1 button, the camera centers behind Ratchet, so you never struggle to gain your bearings. Each level is not only enormous, but well-designed and distinct, so the game never feels repetitive.
The voice-acting is perhaps the game’s strongest suit. High-pitched hero Ratchet is a dead ringer for Marty McFly from the “Back to the Future” movies, while Clank’s monotone robot voice is entertainingly deadpan. The supporting characters fare even better: Drek sounds menacing without going over-the-top, and Quark is instantly recognizable as a dim-witted super hero.
The game only stumbles with its awkward control scheme. While this can be remedied through shortcut buttons, it still becomes difficult to switch weapons during an onslaught. Nevertheless, “Ratchet & Clank” is still light years ahead of its platforming peers in nearly every way, and certainly merits a spot in your collection.