Best known as Ratchet's robotic Swiss Army sidekick, Clank has finally given up his role as the last surviving Lombax's backpack to star in his own game. The diminutive hero isn't the only playable character in Secret Agent Clank, but his enjoyable missions, in which light stealth mechanics are incorporated into the series' traditionally gung-ho gameplay, are what distinguish this from previous games. When you're not playing as Clank, there's no shortage of all-out action as the imprisoned Ratchet defends himself against other inmates in arena-style levels. Humor comes courtesy of Captain Qwark, who's playable in 3D for the first time and eager to take the credit for Clank's heroics. Vehicular chases and puzzle-based Gadgebot levels add variety to the proceedings, and the end result is an adventure well worth embarking on.
Secret Agent Clank's storyline gets underway with an unlikely scenario in which Clank witnesses Ratchet stealing the largest pristine gem in the universe from a museum. Convinced that Ratchet would never knowingly do such a thing, Clank sets out to prove his partner's innocence and, predictably, learns that the jewel heist was part of a much larger and more elaborate scheme straight out of a James Bond movie. Clank's arsenal of weapons and gadgets also wouldn't look out of place in a 007 flick, and you'll realize very quickly that his tuxedo isn't just for show. His bow tie doubles as a razor-edged boomerang, his cuff links are bombs, the carnation on his lapel is a man-eating tanglevine flower, and his pen uses an ink made of dark matter that can be used to disable security systems. Even more gadgets can be purchased from vendors as you progress through the game, along with The Matrix-style Clank-Fu upgrades that augment Clank's melee combos when you acquire them. It's up to you to decide what you want to spend your bolts on, as well as whether you want to employ stealth or force as your primary means of getting through each level. Stealth is rarely mandatory in Secret Agent Clank, but bonuses are awarded anytime you dodge a patrol, beat a security system, or perform a stealth takedown by sneaking up behind an enemy and then quickly entering the button prompts that appear on the screen.
Stealth takedowns are one of several minigames that you need to master while playing as Clank. Others include a block-dropping game used to pick locks, a rhythm game that replaces the regular controls for specific action sequences, and the aforementioned vehicular chases. All of these are good enough that they don't detract from the regular gameplay, but they crop up often enough that if, for example, you're not very good at the rhythm game, they can halt your progress for a time. On the other hand, if you're especially good at or particularly enjoy the vehicle levels (or any of Ratchet's arena battles), then you can opt to undertake challenges based on those sequences after you beat them to earn extra bolts before progressing with the story.
Assisting Clank with some of his story missions are the Gadgebots: three diminutive droids whose abilities include basic combat, pulling levers, conducting electricity, and stacking three-high atop each other. Assuming control of one of the three, you're able to issue simple commands to the others, including wait, follow, attack, and repair. Gadgebot sequences mostly task you with solving logic puzzles that, though they can initially appear to be quite challenging, rarely require anything more than trial and error to figure out. Gadgebots are often required to swing across gaps to get to where they need to be in later puzzles but, inexplicably, doing so requires no skill or timing on your part whatsoever. You just push a button and then sit back and watch as your Gadgebot executes a flawless jump, grab, and swing maneuver--begging the question of why the gaps are even in the game. Similarly, anytime you need to get creative with Clank's gadgets--for example, by using a tanglevine to stop machinery, or by placing a cuff-link bomb on a conveyor belt--onscreen icons tell you exactly what to do. This makes some levels significantly less challenging than they might otherwise have been, given that you're really doing nothing more than pushing the buttons you're told to push without having to figure anything out for yourself.
With only a couple of exceptions, the most challenging levels in Secret Agent Clank are undoubtedly those in which you play as Ratchet and, to a lesser extent, Captain Qwark. Ratchet does battle with wave after wave of angry prison inmates in his levels, armed with various weapons that, as Clank, you have the option to purchase and mail to him hidden inside cakes. There's plenty of variety in Ratchet's arsenal, including a number of weapons and upgrades that you'll recognize if you've played previous games. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the level designs, which are just big, open rooms with different textures and items to make them look like a gym, a cafeteria, and other prison locales. On the other hand, Captain Qwark's levels could hardly be more varied. Accompanied by a biographer droid, Qwark recounts some of his most memorable (and entirely made-up) missions as you play through them. As Qwark's narration becomes increasingly exaggerated, the levels get harder. For example, while doing battle with a mechanical Godzilla lookalike, Qwark remembers that there were also ninjas in the mix: giant ninjas, giant robot ninjas, giant exploding robot ninjas, and so on. Not all of Qwark's levels are as amusing as that one, but they're definitely high points as far as the humor is concerned, and one level that's presented as a musical is hilarious.
Regardless of which of the many different levels you're playing, Secret Agent Clank's controls are both intuitive and responsive, which is no small achievement given the sheer variety of guns, gadgets, and gameplay types on offer. The camera also performs admirably for the most part, though in levels where Clank is required to move vertically between various platforms, it's unfortunate that the shoulder buttons can only rotate your view left or right, which means that there's no way to look up or down. Environments in the game look noticeably better than those in Ratchet and Clank's previous PSP outing, and if you're a fan of the series, it'll come as no surprise that the voice acting and other audio is of a consistently high standard.
Playing through Secret Agent Clank for the first time isn't very difficult and will likely take you around 10 hours. Beating the game unlocks Challenge mode for your second play-through, which not only makes all of the enemies in the game tougher, but also lets you start with all of the gadgets that you finished with the first time (and unlocks new ones). The game's 65 skill points are another good reason to keep playing, considering that unlocking them with exceptional performances in the game (for example, killing 20 enemies with a single lawnmower, or completing a vehicle level without crashing) rewards you with some amusing cheat options. Similarly, finding hidden titanium bolts unlocks new costumes and skins for playable characters.
Secret Agent Clank is a great game that's hampered only by its occasionally repetitive level design and the overuse of certain minigames. The mostly optional stealth mechanics are a good addition to the tried-and-tested Ratchet and Clank formula, and after beating the memorable endgame boss the first time, you'll almost certainly want to play through the whole game again.