LOS ANGELES--Ratchet & Clank, Insomniac's pair of unlikely heroes, have appeared thus far exclusively on the PlayStation 2, but all that's about to change with Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters for the PlayStation Portable. Though the game is being developed by High Impact Games, the two levels we played here on the show floor at E3 2006 seem to more-than-capably capture the varied and inventive fun of the franchise.
The first scenario we jumped into was a boss fight in which a well-armored Ratchet enters a circular arena as a massive, unfriendly looking monster rises up in the center of the room. As we ran in circles around the room in an attempt to keep this behemoth from ending our demo before it even began, we quickly acclimated ourselves to the controls, which seemed to do a fine job of mimicking the established R&C gameplay on the PSP.
The analog stick was used for general movement, while the D pad was good for strafing, an important tactic when we found ourselves in fights with multiple opponents. The X button jumps, tapping it twice produces a double-jump, and holding it after a jump will cause Ratchet to glide slowly to the ground. The square button would swing Ratchet's wrench, and the circle button would make Ratchet brandish whatever ranged weapon he had equipped, which, in the E3 demo, included the lacerator gun and the acid-bomb glove. Switching between ranged weapons was done simply by hitting the triangle button, which brought up a circular menu that we could navigate with the analog stick. On their own, the shoulder buttons functioned as camera controls, though when both were used at the same time, Ratchet would crouch--from the crouching position, tapping the jump button would cause him to jump further than he normally could, which was useful for reaching certain platforms. The controls felt responsive, but more importantly, they felt like Ratchet & Clank.
After inevitably dying at the hands of that boss monster, we tried our hand at the other Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters demo available here at E3 2006, which we were able to download directly to our PSP via game share. This level saw R&C on what appeared to be a beach resort that had become overrun with a gallery of robots who were apparently uninterested in having any fun in the sun. We worked our way through the linear level, hacking and blasting robot crabs; humanoid robots that appeared to be on vacation themselves, complete with straw hats and Hawaiian shirts; and robots that were basically floating torsos with canons for arms. Several Ratchet & Clank gameplay conventions were put on display over the course of this demo level, including the collection of nuts and bolts from downed enemies, which we could use to buy lacerator ammo at a few different in-game stores; large, floor-mounted bolts, which we had to turn with Ratchet's wrench to open doorways; and a vertical wall that we were able to walk right up, thanks to our magnetic gravity boots.
We really enjoyed playing the downloadable demo, largely because of how well it captured the mechanical nature of the Ratchet & Clank series, but what was probably more impressive was how close the graphical quality of the game was to its PlayStation 2 forebears. Ratchet has nearly as much detail as he did on the PS2, and he's certainly as emotive as he ever was, going wide-eyed when he jumps and grimacing when he fires his weapon. The viewing distance was really good, and the overall feel of the level was right in line with what we've come to expect from the franchise--which is to say playful, but with a great sense of adventure.
Ratchet & Clank has proven itself to be one of the most consistently enjoyable platforming franchises in a while, and that trend appears to be continuing unabated on the PSP.