The second amendment in space.
In a virtual plane, there exists three dimensions, referred to in a mathematical equation as X, Y and Z. As of late, young gamers have shown an eagerness to shun the letter Z. Platformers that cling to just X and Y have been enjoying something of a renaissance thanks to handhelds, downloadable remakes of old sidescrollers, and whatever the hell LittleBigPlanet is supposed to be. But on the other hand, the 3D platformer has become hard to find on their console natural habitatat. Sony has jacked Jak and locked Sly Cooper in a compost bin somewhere in hell and told their respective developers to create a new breed of mascot. One that boasts crewcuts, tight shirts and aspirations of .
Nobody seems to be in a hurry to start remaking Gex games or get Rayman out his strange Wii party game funk, so we’re left with two remaining ring bearers of the 3D platformer. On one hand, Mario is out in space inhaling strange, intergalactic mushrooms and floating around on landmasses no scientist would ever soberly label as a planet. On the more conventional hand we have Ratchet and Clank. Most of their games don’t experiment with questionable substances the way Nintendo’s happy plumber does, and when they do tinker with the formula, it’s always in that boardroom-dictated “this is what the kids will find hip” manner. Just look at Ratchet: Deadlocked.
Fortunately, Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction doesn’t have that feeling of being designed from focus testing kids as previous Sony games have, and opts to play more like a standard Ratchet and Clank game. Even the “Future” in the title doesn’t refer to the dreadful futuristic, post-apocalyptic reimaging that many a children’s franchise has gone through (Looney Tunes?! Why?!) For that, I am ETERNALLY GRATEFUL. Here, Ratchet and Clank find themselves at odds with an out-of-nowhere evil emperor of the month who discriminates against Ratchet’s ethnic background of Lombax. The game purports to explain the origin of Ratchet’s species (didn’t one of the previous games do this already?) as well as hint at the mysterious past of Clank (I’m definitely sure we found that out one of the older game.) It’s a solid story and the cutscenes are filled with some fun, lighthearted, sometimes satirizing humour that sits somewhere between the Jetsons and MadTV. If Ratchet and Clank does one thing that most every other game fails spectacularly at, its find ways to amuse both children and adults with charm and wit, rather than running over pedestrians and excessive swearing to the glee of the whiny 12 year old who begged her mom to buy that childish M-rated game.
Of course referring to Saint’s Row 2.
A typical level in Ratchet and Clank will involve the player going from Point A to Point B in a strictly linear path, skipping to and fro on platforms and fighting numerous enemies. If you’re the type of gamer that believes any form of linearity in gaming is counter-progressive, then this game is not for you. Might I recommend looking for your longed sense of freedom running naked in wheat fields instead of playing games. Prior to this, most 3D platformers were about exploring large spaces of emptiness going on glorified Easter Egg hunts and beating up slow-plodding enemies with your generic “big fist” attack. Ratchet and Clank took all those games and told them to suck the barrel of a gun with focused, death-filled levels and lots of guns.
Guns have always been the selling point of this series. Maybe making a children’s mascot who glorifies gunplay is the way to appeal to ’s youth. Maybe Sony thought that the kids that grew up on Ratchet would be eager to continue their childhood gunplay fantasies with Resistance and Uncharted, who knows. Ratchet wields lots of cartoonish guns designed by Gadgetron, the result of a merger between Acme and Skynet, and he uses his massive ordinance to dispose of his foes. And while I couldn’t escape the feeling that most of these guns are just makeovers of older guns: you have your shotgun, your flamethrower, you beehive-thing, etc. There’s still a fine balance between the available firearms. No one gun solves all problems (though some of the earlier weapons ultimately become obsolete) and each gun can level up with persistent use, encouraging the player to power up a stable of favorite tools.
And there’s a disco ball that, when thrown, makes all enemies in the vicinity dance. The final boss is not immune to this. Isn’t it nice to play a major adventure game and not have major bosses immune to your status debuffs? Even if the debuff in question isn’t “poison” or “sleep” but “funk”?
It’s really the E-10 rated guerilla warfare that drives the game. Some 15-odd enemies can appear on screen and engage Ratchet, leading to battles where your Lombaxside is hopping around, dodging a flurry of yellow-circle fire and blowing up your opposition into a dust cloud of debris and money. “Bolts” is the currency used to purchase new toys and “rareitanium” is used to upgrade weapons (this is a franchise that loves its fictitious substance names). Going back to the earlier point about weapons, Ratchet can hold all 30-plus tools of death on him at once. Not only does this let Ratchet tell Halo and its imitators to suck the barrel of a gun, but it helps keep the action fresh and exciting. Even when you’re battling an array of respawning enemies or having the same battle over and over again in the arena to grind money for a new goo-spewing gun, there’s never a feeling of stagnation in the air as you’re playing through the 10 hour quest.
The ominous chair of directors at Sony seemed to have given developers Insomniac the freedom to let Ratchet and Clank be Ratchet and Clank without any forced revampings, but under the condition that the blasted Sixaxis motion controls be utilized thoroughly. So sprinkled throughout Tools of Destruction are an assortment of mini-games designed to justify the inaccurate controls. There’s one where you move the controller to maneuver Ratchet as he free-falls (and doesn’t splatter on the ground, the superfeline he is) and another where you steer the heroes as they fly along a glider. These at least make contextual sense within the adventure and don’t occur too often. A hacking mini-game where the player leaves the game-world and enters a circuitboard happens too often. The idea being that the player must tilt the board so that a metal ball can connect circuits feels extremely out of place in this explosive, intergalactic space epic, and some levels will have more than one of these. There’s a particularly annoying one right before the final battle that sucked me out of the experience so much that I got frustrated and became clumsy with this puzzle; the game kindly asked if I wanted to use the analog stick instead of motion controls to solve this puzzle, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Since we’re nitpicking…how about that tornado gun? Here’s a potentially powerful waste of sheet metal. The gun unleashes a tornado that the player should be able to aim with the Sixaxis nonsense. But controlling my character, evading fire, keeping the camera in the view of both me and this tornado AND controlling the tornado demands a bit more brainpower than I certainly possess. Back to the mini-games, there are three Star Fox-like sequences where the player pilots a spaceship on a linear path against the enemy. They’re not annoying but they are terrible, and feel more like a delay of my progression than a fun side activity. And I feel as though I can’t complain too much being that they involve robot pirates. Another lame minigame; without giving much away, you’re asked to dance. But dancing merely involves pressing a direction or shaking the controller when told. While the actual dance sequence is comical the first time around, the game repeats this exact mini-game about six or seven more times over, and in turn making what could’ve been a memorable moment into a repetitive task players would rather forget. Kuribo’s Shoe only appeared once in its game for a reason, people.
But all that mini-game nonsense felt to me more like a minor itch on an upper, accessible part of my back than any kind of great, game-breaking nuisance. The main gameplay of Tools of Destruction is a barrel of fun and TNT. The action, the charm, the glorification of the right to bear intergalactic arms, they’re all here. But the gameplay hasn’t deviated far from earlier games. Not only is this the seventh Ratchet and Clank game, but it’s the first of a new storyline arc. Tools of Destruction ends in a bit of a cliffhanger, and while not as cheap as Assassin’s Creed, still leaves the player unsatisfied. There’s no more annoying ending to a game like the one that screams to the player’s face “buy our next game or else you’ll never know what happens next.”
But if you’re not fed up with Ratchet and Clank, then savor this rare 3D platformer. We don’t get too many of these anymore.