The PlayStation Portable has quickly found itself behind the Nintendo DS for a number of a reasons, be it shoddy marketing or a consistent lack of original software. But through it all, Sony Computer Entertainment America has shown a great ability to create excellent portable iterations of existing console franchises. From Daxter to Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, SCEA has been able to steadily supply the handheld with worthwhile gaming experiences, even as third parties continue to fill retail shelves with quick-and-dirty console ports.
Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters further embodies this ability to bring the PSP to life by matching an untested developer with a much-beloved franchise. Like its console predecessors, Size Matters is a fast-paced action/platformer with absurd weaponry, imaginative gadgets, and a heaping helping of style and personality. Though Size Matters is less expansive and laugh-out-loud hilarious than Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal, it has little competition when it comes to 3D action on the go.
Following the events of 2005's Ratchet: Deadlocked, Ratchet (the lombax) and Clank (a pint-sized robot) find themselves with some downtime and opt to spend it at the Jowai Resort on planet Pokitaru. Before Ratchet can find his way to the massage table, he is approached by Luna, a pigtailed schoolgirl who claims to be his biggest fan. While attempting to impress her with a series of heroic deeds, Luna is kidnapped from the island, leaving only Ratchet and Clank to scour the galaxy in search of both the girl and the larger truth.
Size Matters may start on an island resort, but your travels will take you to all corners of the galaxy and to places you wouldn't expect. Whether at Medical Outpost Omega or the Mechanoid Factory on Kalidon, you can look forward to the kind of adventure that Insomniac Games popularized with the first three Ratchet & Clank games on the PlayStation 2. Any worries about the change in developer will be quickly assuaged within minutes of starting the game. And sure enough, High Impact Studios was started by former employees of Insomniac Games, so many of the developers likely had a hand in the creation of the series.
Despite the limited control scheme of the PSP, Size Matters feels familiar right away, with every button utilized to ensure a complete experience. Most of the actions are mapped to the face buttons, which handle jumping, shooting, swinging your wrench, and accessing the Quick Select menu. The shoulder buttons merely rotate the camera, while the Select button switches to a first-person perspective for aiming. Both the d-pad and analog stick will be utilized over the course of the adventure, as the default settings have the analog stick responsible for turning, while the d-pad allows for strafing. Each is continually active, and learning when to switch between the two will be crucial to your continued success.
The Ratchet & Clank series has always prided itself on insane weaponry, and Size Matters absolutely continues that trend. Over a dozen weapons made the cut, including the Suck Cannon, the Lacerator, and the fan-favorite Agents of Doom — miniature robots that devour all nearby enemies. Modifications can be purchased for most weapons, and every weapon accrues experience over time, eventually morphing into significantly powerful must-haves. In no time, your trusty Lacerator will become the Titan Dual Lacerators V.4. Okay, so it took nearly two playthroughs, but it was well worth it!
Ratchet's trusty Hypershot grappling hook has been joined by seven other gadgets for Size Matters, including the Polarizer and the Sprout-o-Matic. The Polarizer is a black-market gadget that changes the push or pull of an electromagnetic device, and can be used to trash security devices or guide a floating platform to safety. On the other hand, the Sprout-o-Matic is a bit more out there. Some plants can be uprooted and reinserted into specified plots, turning them into projectile launchers or bouncy platforms from which you can jump. Like weapons, the gadgets can be mapped to one of the eight slots on the Quick Select menu, giving you immediate access when you need it.
Though Deadlocked dropped the platforming aspect of the Ratchet & Clank series, Size Matters brings it back in full force, with large, multi-tiered levels that are just begging for exploration. However, it's not entirely an on-foot adventure; High Impact Studios attempted to inject a bit of variety into the game via a handful of mini-games. The four games run the gamut from terrible to fantastic, but thankfully, the majority only pop up once or twice during the game. Only the rail-grinding game used to unlock doors appears with any regularity, and it makes for a reasonably fun time (though a very similar mini-game can be found in Daxter).
Most notable of the pack is an on-rails space shooter featuring a monstrous version of Clank. Like the Gummi Ship segments in Kingdom Hearts II, the gameplay is fast-paced and addictive, and should definitely be expanded upon in future sequels. Sadly, the hoverboard "racing" segments are easily the worst, as the lacking sense of speed and loose controls equate to an experience I would prefer to forget about very quickly. Luckily, only two races are included in the adventure, though additional ones are available if you need a few more bolts for a weapon upgrade.
For all the exploration and gameplay variety, Size Matters is actually shorter than expected. It features roughly six to seven hours of unique content, though you will likely want to go back through some of the missions to level-up your weapons and max out your health meter before finishing the game. Overall, I probably invested upwards of 10 hours in my initial run, but I was more than happy to give it another go via the unlockable Challenge Mode. Everything is amplified the second time around, with a higher level cap, additional weapon upgrades, and some very tenacious enemies. Size Matters is one of the only games in recent memory that has compelled me enough to immediately start a second game after seeing the credits roll.
Those enthralled by the vibrant landscapes of Daxter will find much to love in the smoothly rendered environments of Size Matters. Though not as lush as Daxter, everything runs at an impressively solid frame rate, even when surrounded by enemies. Some of the persistent PSP problems make an appearance (such as jaggies and some weak textures), but Size Matters compares favorably to its PlayStation 2 brethren. Things can feel a little cramped on the widescreen display of the PSP, but the camera does a suitable job of keeping you in the action. Special attention should also be paid to the pre-rendered cinematics, which display an admirable level of detail and character animation for a handheld platformer.
Though the cinematics do a fantastic job of visually representing the characters, they also play host to a significant amount of quality voice-acting. James Arnold Taylor and David Kaye reprise their roles as Ratchet and Clank (respectively), guiding gamers through a script that, while funnier than many other games, lacks the hysterical punch of Up Your Arsenal. A couple of subtitle gaffes distract a bit from the overall presentation, but Size Matters is meant to be played with the volume cranked. While the soundtrack is unlikely to win any awards for originality (or memorability), its lively nature keeps things moving at all times.
The online capabilities of the PSP have been sadly underutilized, with most games taking the easy way out by only supporting Ad Hoc wireless play. Size Matters doesn't mess around, offering comprehensive Infrastructure play, including leaderboards, chat rooms, and three modes of play. Of the modes, Deathmatch and Capture the Flag are most familiar, but Iron Lombax offers something completely new to Ratchet fans. In actuality, Iron Lombax is four modes squeezed into one, with significantly different objectives based on the current level. Though you'll be collecting power cells for you generator on the Island Escape map, you'll have to launch Martian bovines into "Cow-verters" on Moon Cow Disease. It makes for a very different experience.
But for all the attempts to foster community and rivalries, the inability to play with more than three other people may ultimately derail the long-term success of the online mode. Four-player matches are suitable for Deathmatch, but the team-based modes lack spark when your team has just one other member. Those used to the eight-player online play of Up Your Arsenal (or the 10-player play of Deadlocked) may find this to be a shallow experience. But for all its shortcomings, it remains one of the only worthwhile online games available on the PSP. To its credit, the online play was lag-free during my play sessions with the developers and other journalists. It will be interesting to see how active the servers are in a couple of months when the four levels of four-player action wear thin.
Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters is a blast from start to finish, offering up an excellent portable iteration of one of the best console franchises of the last five years. It may be a little shorter than expected, and the online play is unlikely to draw a significant following, but the single-player adventure is well worth the price of admission. Its only real competition is Daxter, which any self-respecting PSP owner should have already played through by now. As you wait for Insomniac to reveal the details on their next console masterpiece, blow the dust off of your PSP and spend some time with everyone's favorite lombax/robot duo.
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