Hands-onRatchet & Clank

We take a spin through the early portions of Sony's upcoming platformer.

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Ratchet & Clank is one of Sony's upcoming platform games for the PlayStation 2. In the style of games like Jak & Daxter or Banjo-Kazooie, Ratchet & Clank assembles an unlikely duo--in this case, Ratchet is a wisecracking alien and Clank is a little robot who, for the most part, stays strapped to Ratchet's back. The twosome get together to pull off quite a few different moves, but unlike most platformers on the market, Ratchet & Clank isn't intensely focused on the quest for learning new moves. Instead, you'll acquire gadgets as you play, some of which are merely bigger and badder weapons and others of which will let you access previously inaccessible areas in true platformer fashion.

At the beginning of the game, you start out with just your wrench and the bomb glove. The wrench is used for basic attacks and will do a three-hit combo if you hammer on the attack button. You can also jump into the air and come down with a slashing wrench attack or throw the wrench like a boomerang. The bomb glove lobs bombs at enemies, which is handy for dealing with enemies that are above or below you. As you progress, you'll find or purchase a lot more gadgets and weapons. The pyrociter is your basic flamethrower. The blaster is a very powerful machine-gun-style weapon that chews through ammo quickly but makes short work of most enemies. The suck cannon gives you a Kirby-like attack, allowing you to suck up smaller enemies and launch them at other foes. The glove of doom lets you roll out small eggs, which quickly hatch to unleash little robot chicks upon your enemies. And this list covers only about a third of the weapons in the game. On the gadget front, you'll score items like the trespasser, which lets you open locked doors after completing a neat puzzle sequence for each lock. The hydrodisplacer lets you suck up water to drain or fill pools. The swingshot is one of the more useful gadgets, as it lets you hook a rope to swingshot targets and swing from place to place. You'll also receive backpack upgrades for Clank, which include a helicopter pack that lets you glide and execute higher and longer jumps.

Because the game features an item list more akin to that in a game like The Legend of Zelda than your average platform game, you'd expect to spend a lot of time in an inventory screen, switching from item to item. But Ratchet & Clank lets you configure your weapon loadout and place your eight most-used items on a quick menu, which pops up when you hit the triangle button. It's great for switching weapons on the fly and keeps you from having to halt the action every time you want to make a change.

The game features multiple planets, each of which makes up a level. Each level will have multiple objectives, and you'll do a lot of traveling back and forth to the different worlds as you acquire items like the swingshot and the helicopter pack. While it may sound like the game is filled with lots of backtracking and other tedious platformer tactics, Ratchet & Clank's level design is done in a very deliberate way that keeps backtracking to an absolute minimum. For instance, if you take a side trip off the main objective to pick up a new weapon, finding that weapon doesn't mean you have to turn around and run all the way back to the beginning. More often than not, a path ahead opens up after you collect the item and leads you right back to a familiar spot in a fraction of the time it would take you to turn around and run the other way. It's a subtle addition, but one that really makes a difference.

As you proceed through the game, you'll discover infobots. These small robots are essentially video storage devices, and when you find one, you'll see a short video clip. The clips usually depict alien television or communiqués between your various enemies. Regardless of the content, the clips are well done and genuinely funny. The clips also usually mention a planet or section you haven't visited yet, so you'll discover new objectives via these infobots, as well.

Between the fun gadgets and the extremely solid level design, Ratchet & Clank truly breaks the mold of what people currently expect from a platform game. From what we've seen so far, the game is sure to be a hit when it's released this November.

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