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More and more, it looks like porting moderately successful PSP games to the PS2 might not be such a hot idea after all. Without complete overhauls, the graphics look crummy, the multiplayer features get stripped out and the overall product - even if it was amazing on Sony's handheld - feels watered down and cheap by PS2 standards. That was the case with both Grand Theft Auto "Stories" games, and now we're seeing it happen again with Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters.
Although last year's Size Matters was and still is a great PSP game, on PS2 it comes up short. It's not bad, exactly, but a lot of the flaws that were forgivable on PSP - like herky-jerky controls, long load times and a generally stiffer feel than the console Ratchet games - are a lot more noticeable on PS2. It also brings a few new flaws of its own; the graphics, while obviously redrawn for greater levels of detail, still manage to look murky and washed out (even in 480p) next to the PSP version's bright, colorful visuals. Additionally, the multiplayer options have been pared down, nothing significant has been added to make up for them and the camera controls are somehow less responsive than they were on the PSP.
That said, what Size Matters suffers from the most is being compared to the last four PS2 Ratchets, which it can't quite hold a candle to. But even the worst Ratchet is still a pretty good game, and taken on its own merits, Size Matters is still worth playing - especially if you haven't tackled the original.
Like the original, Size Matters opens with catlike Lombax Ratchet and his robot buddy Clank on vacation, which gets interrupted by a suspiciously overeager little girl named Luna. Luna wants to see Ratchet beat up some robots for her class project, but what starts as an innocent robocidal rampage through a tropical community quickly turns sour when she's kidnapped by sinister invaders. Unable to just let that slide, Ratchet and Clank immediately start jetting from planet to planet, following Luna's trail in an attempt to rescue her.
The story doesn't really deliver the same level of manic charm or clever humor of the rest of the Ratchet series, but the game does (more or less) faithfully replicate the familiar platform-hopping, gun-crazy Ratchet formula. The controls feel stiffer than usual, thanks mainly to awkward strafing and a slow-to-turn camera that frequently gets stuck on objects or spazzes out for no reason, but underneath that gauzy layer of clunkiness, Size Matters still feels like vintage Ratchet, with fun level design and a nice balance of gunplay, gadget-themed puzzles and bottomless pits to fall into.
Ratchet himself also packs a pretty impressive arsenal by game's end, consisting of eight gadgets and 13 weapons, which upgrade automatically as you use them and can be further augmented with between one and three black-market add-ons. In general, the guns are pretty similar to what's popped up in previous games, although some of them - like the default Lacerator blaster and the Suck Cannon, which inhales small enemies for use as ammo - are practically useless in the game's ridiculously tough final stages, where it takes like two rocket-launcher blasts just to take down a small guard. And that's to say nothing of how weak your weapons are against the later bosses, who can kill you in just a few hits after soaking up all of your high-powered ammo.
That said, Size Matters does introduce a few interesting new elements to the mix, chief among them the way the game doles out armor for Ratchet by scattering it around in pieces (helmets, gauntlets, boots and body armor) for you to find or earn through minigames. Complete a suit of matched armor, and you'll earn a power-up - like a flame charge for Ratchet's axe-like wrench - that'll last as long as you're wearing the full set.
There's also the shrink ray suggested by the title, which enables Ratchet to pick locks by hopping into them and completing a grind-rail sequence. But because you can't shrink whenever you want - like, say, to get tiny and then explore new areas within levels you thought you'd cleared - this is little more than a gimmick with almost no effect on the actual gameplay.
Normal hoppy-shooty gameplay aside, Size Matters spikes its relatively short run time with deviations from traditional gameplay, which include a fun space-combat sequence as a giant version of Clank, a BattleBots-style death arena and a handful of 2D, Lemmings-inspired puzzle levels for you to guide Clank's "Gadgebot" sidekicks through. And then there are the hoverboard races, a series of slow, frustrating (and mostly optional) competitions that offer no real sense of speed and are even more inane and difficult to control here than they were on the PSP.
Finally, there's the multiplayer, which survives the transition from PSP more or less intact, except that the robust, four-player wireless play has been pared down to a two-player split-screen mode. Still, what's here is still a lot of fun, with players able to tackle two different game types across four distinct multiplayer levels. There's Capture the Flag, which is self-explanatory, as well as Iron Lombax, which gives you different goals depending on the stage. In one, for example, you'll have to collect Martian cows with the Suck Cannon and blast them into a receptacle that'll turn them into a meat-crate, which you'll then have to carry over to a waiting truck. In another, you'll need to find and plant beacons on your enemy's shield generators, which will then attract floating mines and enemies to destroy them and open up the enemy base for bombing.
You can even team up with your second player to cooperate against an unseen opposing team, instead of just going head-to-head all the time. Apart from the online play and extra players, the only other thing missing is the deathmatch mode, probably because two players hunting each other in an open environment gets boring fast, especially when you can just flick your eyes up or down to see where your opponent is hiding.
In spite of all the sacrifices and questionable design decisions, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters is still a decent game, especially if you don't have the superior PSP version to compare it to. It's nowhere near as fun, as deep or as polished as the rest of the series, but if you're looking for a new game to keep your PS2 alive or a cheap thrill to tide you over until the next Ratchet & Clank Future, you could do a lot worse than this.