Ratchet and Clank have had a lively time over the past four years since the dynamic duo first teamed up in 2002's Ratchet & Clank on the PlayStation 2. The unlikely pairing of the long-eared whatsit and the cool little robot of many uses has resulted in some fine platforming on the PS2 over the course of four games. Like any good platforming heroes, the pair is about to embark on another adventure in the near future, but this time they'll be having it on the PlayStation Portable. As longtime fans, we've been intrigued by the thought of some portable Ratchet & Clank action and were happy to get an exclusive look at a very early work-in-progress version of the game. Though still embryonic in many ways, the game gave us a taste of what to expect from the pair's PSP debut.
The game's story finds the pair heading out for some much-needed rest after all of the excitement from the past four PlayStation 2 games. Platforming is hard work, and the duo has been at it pretty consistently for a while now. To recharge their batteries (spiritually speaking for Ratchet and a little more literally for Clank), the pair head out to an island for some seaside relaxation. Unfortunately, as any platforming star can tell you, vacations just don't go right when you're an action hero. In R&C's case, things fall apart slowly but surely. While lounging on the beach, they meet a young, pigtailed bundle of trouble named Luna.
It seems the young alien Luna is doing a school project on heroes and, upon seeing the duo at the beach, approaches them to be her subjects. Though the pair is in need of some vacationing, let's face it, they're not without ego, so they agree to be her subjects. No sooner does this happen than trouble comes along in the form of some unpleasant aliens who want to snag the young fan. Your initial goal in the game is to rescue your devotee, but as is often the case, you come to discover a bigger, more-nefarious plot that needs to be dealt with, which will send you on a planet-hopping, platforming adventure. Fans of the series will be pleased to see some familiar faces pop up to mix it up with the boys. In the demo, we saw Captain Qwark hanging around the same beach.
Now, while this may all sound like classic Ratchet & Clank, it may surprise some to hear that the game is not being developed by R&C's originators, Insomniac Games. But before fans have visions of disaster come to them, take heart--the developer being handed the keys to the series, High Impact Games, has ties to both the franchise and Insomniac. The new Los Angeles-based developer is made up of several ex-Insomniacs, all of which clocked in some time on the previous entries in the series. The team's familiarity with the series, as well as a good working relationship with Insomniac, ensures that the game will stay true to the franchise's spirit.
As far as the gameplay goes, Ratchet & Clank's PSP adventure feels a lot like the earlier entries in the series. You'll have Clank kicking it on your back and lending a hand when needed, and fans will be pleased to hear that the tiny bot will also be stepping out on his own from time to time as he did on the consoles, allowing those of us that missed playing as the little guy in last year's Deadlocked to get our Clank fix. In addition to Clank, you'll have an assortment of weapons and gadgets at your disposal during your adventure. Though the demo only showed off a handful--flamethrowers, scorchers, acid grenades, and gravity boots--the High Impact crew intends to mix in some old favorites from the previous games, as well as all new weapons and gadgets. Beyond weapons, you'll once again be able to level Ratchet up and increase his maximum health in a scaled-back version of the leveling system seen in the later console games.
The visuals in the game are shaping up to be faithful to the early PlayStation 2 games. Granted we weren't surprised to see just how sharp the title is looking in the wake of Daxter's PSP debut earlier this year, but it's still good to see the pair fitting comfortably on the portable system. The playable sections of the demo were a modest sampling of some of the different environments on just one of the planets you'll be adventuring on. The early portions find you exploring beach areas, complete with crabs and Hawaiian-shirt-wearing enemy bots (yes, even evildoers try to squeeze in some r&r when they can). Though it's still early in development, these levels showed off a design that's similar to the console titles.
The game's visual style follows suit, with clean textures and detailed character models. Ratchet and Clank look the sharpest right now, although Luna looks pretty cute, as well. One of the nice touches we're digging at the moment is the animation, which is always one of the bright spots in an R&C game. This early version already has some nice bits, especially in the flowered-shirt-wearing bots' gangly movements and Luna's camerawork as she happily snaps shots and documents just about anything you do. Beyond the game graphics, we got an early look at the first pass of cinematics that are going to be used in the game, and we're pleased by their look. Best of all, though the game is still very much a work in progress, the frame rate is already moving along fairly smoothly, which we hope bodes well for the future.
The audio was still pretty nascent, but what was there covered all the right bases for a Ratchet & Clank game. Fans will be pleased to hear the original voice cast is back to voice the gang. The sound effects we heard are equally faithful and make use of all the familiar clinks and clanks you'd expect. The music rounds out the package thanks to a score that's being composed by R&C veteran David Bergeaud, who did the music on the console games.
Based on what we've seen so far, Ratchet & Clank's PSP adventure is looking like it's going to live up to the high standards set by its console predecessors. The gameplay is being brought over pretty much intact from what we've seen, and the controls have been adapted to feel comfortable on the PSP. The visuals are extremely close to the early PS2 games, and they already feature some of the eye candy we've come to expect in the game. Better still is the game's story, which looks as though it's going to have the light touch that worked so well in the duo's early adventures. Though we weren't able to try it, the game is slated to take advantage of the PSP's Wi-Fi functionality with multiplayer modes as well. Given how promising everything looks right now and how much time High Impact Games has to craft Ratchet & Clank PSP, we're hopeful that the game will be a tight little platformer when it finally hits. Ratchet & Clank PSP (working title) is currently slated to hit early next year for the PSP. Look for more on the game at this year's E3.