One of gaming’s most heralded genres has always been the platformer. When the industry made the transfer to 16-bit systems, the platformer hit it’s stride, as games like Super Mario World and Sonic The Hedgehog reigned supreme. Things seemed like they couldn’t get any better, but Super Mario 64 soon remedied that, as it’s 3D platforming levels captivated millions.
Unfortunately, ever since then, platformers have hit a wall in the creativity department. One of the biggest reasons for this is that a good chunk of platformers just became endless scavenger hunts, with some combat mixed in. Even some of the latest great platformers, such as Jak and Daxter, were jam packed with platforming clichTs. Now though, the acclaimed developers behind the Spyro series, Insomniac, are ready to do away with those clichTs with their new innovative platformer, Ratchet and Clank.
The game’s main protagonist is an animal by the name of Ratchet. Ratchet dreams of one day leaving his small planet for the more lucrative, adventurous, planets amongst the stars he watches every night. At the same time the game’s main antagonist, Chairman Drek, finally decides he’s sick of ruling the planet of Orxon. You can’t really blame him either, as the entire planet is profusely polluted, and it’s infested by a disgusting species called the Blarg. So Drek, in hopes of making a better planet for himself and the Blarg to live on, decides he’ll just take the best parts of a bunch of other planets, and put them together to make one really great planet. The problem–by taking a chunk off of a planet the planet then explodes, killing all of its inhabitants. Even better, if the planet’s occupants decide to resist – and given the alternative why wouldn’t they – Blarg armies will come in and "take care" of the rebels.
In order to make this grand army, Drek makes factories to manufacture robot soldiers. Inside one of these factories, a computer glitch creates a rebellious robot named Clank. When Clank learns of Drek’s plans, he attempts to escape the factory. In the process though, the ship he is riding on is damaged, which leads to his crash landing on Ratchet’s home world. After the two meet it’s discovered that in order for Clank’s ship to be able to fly again he’ll need some new parts, parts that only Ratchet has. When the two are done meeting they both decide that they will, together, go off and try to stop Drek’s plan from becoming a reality.
One thing that’s very clear at this point about Ratchet and Clank, is that the combat will be much different than any other platformer. While many games in this genre don’t strive far from simply bonking an enemy to kill them, Ratchet and Clank has you battling with a full arsenal of weapons. As you can imagine, an array of flamethrowers, machine guns, and drills are bound to make any fight interesting. Better yet, the variety of weaponry makes the combat enjoyable, as all the different play styles accommodating the weapons keep the combat fresh.
Of course, good combat in a platformer is worthless if the levels aren’t quality as well. Fortunately, such is not the case in Ratchet and Clank, as the game sports some very good level design. Keeping away from platformers like Zelda, Ratchet and Clank’s levels follow a more linear path. Linear levels aren’t usually liked in the platform genre, due to the fact that many of them just have you fighting endless hordes of enemies, and nothing more. Though you will fight a lot in Ratchet and Clank, Insomniac has also gone to the trouble to include many innovative obstacles to keep the levels interesting. Similar to the weaponry, the obstacles are plentiful and varied. In the one level playable on the demo, Ratchet had to slide down ropes, run up walls Crouching Tiger style, and fight his way to the front of a moving train.
Taking on enemies and perilous level design is no easy task, so it’s good that Ratchet and Clank’s controls don’t add to the difficulty. Everything you can do in the game, from jumping to firing weapons, is made easy thanks to the intuitive controls. Better yet, the controls are very easy to pick up, so new players can get into the game quickly. The only problem at this point is that when you want to change weapons, the game will still continue onscreen while you are choosing. This was problematic with the demo build, which only had three weapons, so you can imagine how big of a problem this will be with more than twenty weapons to scroll through. Hopefully, Insomniac will fix this problem before the game’s release.
Insomniac has always had a reputation for good graphics, and they have kept up with that reputation in Ratchet and Clank. Like Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank features an almost unlimited draw-in distance, which is quite amazing seeing how much detail they’ve managed to pack in the game. Fortunately, even with all the good-looking explosion effects and flying cars, Ratchet and Clank still keeps a steady frame rate.
Bringing up the rear in this fabulous game is the music. It’s not that the music is bad, it’s just that the rest of the game is so good it’s disappointing to see the music only be average. Nevertheless, the music does fit with the situation, and adds an element to the gameplay, which is basically all it needs to do.
At this point, Ratchet and Clank is shaping up to be the next great platformer. With it’s great design, it’s sure to get support from fans of the genre, and the great combat will win over people who don’t even like platformers. The only thing Insomniac has to do is fix up a few control issues, and they’re bound to have another hit on their hands when the game releases, which is currently scheduled for November 15, 2002.