February 9, 2007 - Even if you don't have a soft spot for Insomniac's Ratchet and Clank series like I do, chances are high that you'll enjoy Size Matters anyway. Developed specifically for the PSP by the newly-christened High Impact Games (former members of Insomniac themselves), this latest Lombax and robot adventure is outstanding fun. In fact, the Hollywood-based studio's rookie effort is one the system's best titles thus far.
A primary reason that Size Matters is so good is because it matches its console inspiration almost exactly. Though it wasn't developed by Insomniac directly, you probably couldn't guess it unless somebody told you. In short, High Impact has done a great job of poaching the famous Ratchet and Clank engine while successfully modifying it for handheld play.
That downsized success is probably Size Matters' biggest victory. It's not often that a developer can take a game that's been designed around two analog sticks (and eight action buttons) and move it to the PSP without noticeable problems. But the team behind Ratchet Portable has done it by designing an extremely smart camera that follows the action in an effective way. The POV isn't perfect mind you (your viewpoint can and will get stuck on certain structures when traveling in close quarters, or when you're surrounded by huge groups of enemies), but 90% of the time it works just as you'd want it to. Even when there are problems, however, users can always pull the Right and Left triggers to manually control the direction of the camera, or tap select to switch to first-person mode for fully rotational examinations.
Solving the problem of how to handle the loss of an analog stick means that the rest of Size Matters works beautifully. Though it lacks some of the finer "FPS-inspired" control options of the more recent console editions, Ratchet PSP still feels and plays like all of its predecessors. The hardest move to perform in the entire game is the long jump (L + R [brief pause], X) but pulling it off isn't a problem after a few practice runs. Other than that, it's as easy as breathing to swap between weapons, strafe (via clever alternation of the analog stick and d-pad), and do everything else that Ratchet has always done. It gets a big "thumbs up" in the control department for sure.
But let's assume that you've never played a Ratchet and Clank title before -- if that's the case, then you'll likely want to know what it is that "Ratchet always does." In truth, he does a little bit of everything. Though the game's primary focus is shooting and hitting bad guys with occasional platforming situations, Size Matters also boasts a number of other gameplay styles via Ratchet's robot sidekick, Clank. When players assume that secondary role they can do things like access smaller out-of-the-way areas and control other robots to solve puzzles. Clank can also become an enormous war machine that launches into space Star Fox-style for a surprisingly fun reflex-heavy mini-game (sadly, there are only a couple of levels to enjoy it with), or hop into an arena and participate in all-new variations on classic gaming themes (like bumper cars and Lemmings).
As is always the case in Ratchet and Clank, though, the standout gameplay element in Size Matters is your access to multiple off-the-wall weapons. This arsenal can evolve to become bigger and more powerful too, with both experience points and purchasable add-ons providing plenty of enhanced kick. But even without those upgrades, Size Matters' guns are far from ordinary. For every laser rifle (Lacerator) and Shotgun (Concussion Blaster) at your disposal, there's a firearm that shoots killer robots (Agents of Doom) or a pistol that unleashes a swarm of killer bees. More than a dozen of these wacky weapons can eventually be unearthed in total, and when combined with the huge amount of upgrades, become increasingly fun to use.