Ruff Trigger: The Vanocore Conspiracy is a derivative platformer for the PlayStation 2, which borrows many of its elements from the games that paved the genre before it. What it offers in return is a fairly competent platforming experience for a budget price, composed of a number of different gameplay elements that, aside from being a mishmash of mechanics from other games, make Ruff Trigger nothing if not interesting. The problem is that, despite the varied features and functionality, the gameplay never manages to get it right, and you'll have to wade through poor camera control, extremely frustrating lock-on mechanics, and limited ammunition in order to see anything of the game. The end result is a game that has some neat aspects--made even more worthwhile because of its low price--which are cushioned in a whole lot of frustrating and average gameplay.
Ruff Trigger is a doglike bounty hunter sent on a mission to rescue tiny creatures known as piglots. A whole shipment of these Aibo-looking creatures has crashed on a foreign planet, sending the poor, defenseless, and utterly adorable creatures all over the place. At Ruff's disposal are a number of different, straightforward weapons that you can use to destroy the numerous mechanical enemies that face you on the planet's surface as you platform about, rescuing piglots. As you play through the game, several other gameplay mechanics will be introduced, including driving sequences, as well as new and more-interesting piglots that you use to solve different puzzles. And most interesting (although also, perhaps, most futile) is a dark werewolf form, which Ruff transforms into when he drinks a substance known only as "green stuff."
If all of these mechanics sound familiar, it's because they are. The piglot rescue is reminiscent of, but inferior to, Pikmin. The dark form is not quite as useful as the dark form in Jak 2. And the basic gameplay elements have Ratchet & Clank written all over them. In fact, the main character, the level design, and the pickups owe significant chunks of their functionality and appearance to Ratchet & Clank. The health pickups are identical, except that they're red instead of blue. The weapon store looks and operates the same way. Even the banter between Ruff and the other characters in the game--his boss back at the Boss P.I. Agency, or his female cohort, Cecily (who shows up to help you several times along the way)--sounds like it's shooting for the dialogue in Ratchet & Clank. Unfortunately, most everything that seems like Ratchet, especially the dialogue and the voice acting, is significantly worse here, boding poorly for Ruff Trigger when any comparison is made between the two.
The problem of derivativeness wouldn't be so bad if the gameplay were as functional as these previous platformers. But the gameplay never seems to come together. As you encounter enemies on the linear levels, you'll often need to kill them in order to progress. To do so, you can use Ruff's melee attacks (which leave you open to taking significant damage), or you can use the weapons such as the transfixer (rapid-fire gun), mega-gun (shotgun), or giga cannon (rocket launcher). There is a lock-on target and a strafe button, which, when held together, are supposed to let you stay on target while you're shooting and strafing the return fire. In practice, the lock-on takes too long to focus and it comes off the enemy too easily, so you'll find yourself wandering around the environment shooting every which way but at the enemy. This in itself wouldn't be so bad, if you weren't also handed weapons that have, by default, such low ammunition reserves. In this case, prepare yourself for a lot of backtracking as you head back to find any ammunition that has regenerated (only occurring at places where you encountered a boss fight).
There are a number of bosses and sub-bosses in the levels, which spice up the gameplay a tiny bit. In one boss fight, for example, your weapons won't do any damage. However, there will be a number of fake piglots generated nearby, which you can pick up and carry over to a cannon that will launch them at the boss. Since fake piglots are piglots that blow up after you pick them up and set them down, the proper timing will let you blow them up on the enemy. The combination in which you use these elements of the game--from the different piglots and the various magical effects of the werewolf form--to combat enemies and solve puzzles is interesting in some cases, but not interesting enough to sustain the entire game. Especially if, after several unsuccessful attempts to play, you use up all your lives, which then forces you back to the last save point, which can sometimes be an entire level away.
The character Ruff isn't exceptionally animated and he comes across as kind of dull against the generic-looking backgrounds. The game's color palette doesn't stand out, and you'll notice a whole lot of brown rocks and basic mechanical enemies. It's hard to feel anything for the characters, even the somewhat cute piglots, because they lack any kind of personality. This is due to some combination of the voice acting, appearance, and dialogue for the characters, which is unfortunate because the cutscenes could have been an excuse to spice up this otherwise straightforward game.
When you're not fighting, you're collecting objects in the environment. You can destroy several different items (like electrical boxes and lights), which leaves behind the game's currency that can then be used to purchase weapons and armor from the shop. At the end of each level you'll be given a completion percentage, and if you've rescued enough piglots, you'll unlock minigames, which can be found on the Piglots Playground option from the main menu. These games are cute and an interesting waste of time. The Fake Bomb Battle, for instance, is an over-the-shoulder version of Space Invaders, where you launch fake piglots at oncoming enemies.
Though there is a fair amount to do in Ruff Trigger, and the gameplay diversifies as you play through (by unlocking new forms for the werewolf and acquiring new piglots), the standard gameplay isn't entertaining enough on its own. Also, the game is lacking some kind of hook. For its budget price, Ruff Trigger is easy to swallow, but considering that most of the other platformers on the PlayStation 2 have, since their release, reached Greatest Hits status, it's hard to justify playing Ruff Trigger over playing Ratchet & Clank, or Jak, or Sly Cooper, or any other vastly superior PlayStation 2 platformer currently circulating around the PS2 Greatest Hits market.