Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Subpar Size Me

I think members of the press let their enthusiasm get the better of them when they gave high marks to Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters for the PSP. Sure, just about everyone loves this mismatched pair of intergalactic heroes, and the thought of taking them wherever you please must have seemed appealing at the time. However, what really makes this series work, aside from the snarky hero and the arsenal of wacky weapons and the expressive animation, is the scope of the adventure. Each planet you'll visit is huge, with lush jungles and stunning city scapes in the distance, and sprawling playfields chock full of hidden goodies nearby. Size really does matter, and the console versions of Ratchet and Clank have it. This PSP extension of the series, for all its superficial resemblance, does not. It's a scale model of the real thing, a diorama, a ship in a bottle, and it doesn't take long before you start to notice the lack of elbow room.

If the camera were any closer behind Ratchet,
it would be giving him a colonoscopy.
Gosh, this review turned out a little front loaded, didn't it? Well, let me talk about the minor details of the game that I probably should have mentioned before I panned it. Ratchet (a fuzzy, talking cat-bat who ranks up there as one of the least threatening alien designs ever) and his back-mounted sidekick Clank (a robot with a decidedly low tech look and the voice of a math professor) head to a sunny vacation planet to cool their heels after saving the galaxy from certain doom. They barely get time to kick back in their beach chairs before a not-at-all suspicious little girl (we all had metal antennae before puberty, right?) begs them to do something heroic for her school newspaper. The kid gets kidnapped, and the tale of a mysterious miniature race, excessive cloning, and way too many mini-games follows.

I mentioned earlier that Size Matters suffers from a lack of scale, right? The levels are linear and hidden items aren't all that well hidden, to the point where pieces of armor are dropped in your lap at the end of some areas. Well, the developers at High Impact Games must have noticed this too, and added diversions to Size Matters in the hope of distracting the player from its shortcomings. Locked doors are opened by first shrinking to fit the keyhole, then riding the circuitry inside them to flip switches. Some critical items must be earned by winning hoverboard races against a dimwitted stoner lion. Ratchet and Clank team up to break the security inside enemy strongholds, with Ratchet hacking the systems and Clank defending him from robot spiders with an ice beam. These mini-games are tedious and frustrating and overused, but they sure are there, and you sure will have to finish them to make progress.

It was already established by the plot that this
is all going on in Ratchet's head! Was this
drug trip really necessary?
Of course, the core gameplay has its own problems. The camera is set way too close to Ratchet, and the throngs of enemies that made each battle feel like crowd control in the console versions have been slimmed down considerably. Some of the game's faults are unavoidable considering the hardware- nothing beats a second thumbstick for camera control, and nothing the game offers as a substitute comes close- but others are just senseless, like the dream sequence where the edges of the already cramped screen are obscured with psychedelic swirls. I'd like to be able to see the axe Captain Quark just threw at me, but sure, go ahead and cover that up with some groovy purple haze. Clearly those hit points were worth sacrificing for your special effect.

Some compromises had to be made to bring Ratchet and Clank to a portable, especially in 2007 when this spin-off was released, but I can't help but wonder if High Impact Games made the wrong ones. Size Matters looks and sounds like the games I loved on the Playstation 2, but the spirit of the franchise was crushed into a cube to cram it into the PSP. It's there, but it's mangled and folded into itself and given no room to breathe. If you've spent any time with the console versions of Ratchet and Clank, it's just as suffocating to play Size Matters for an hour.

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