Pre-E3 06: Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters - hands on

When the titular stars of one of the PlayStation 2's most explosive character-action franchises go on vacation, you have to expect things to go haywire. It seems that mere minutes after our wrench-toting space cat and his robot buddy settle down on the beach, some mechanical meatheads in Hawaiian shirts turn up and kidnap a young girl. What's a dynamic duo to do but grab all their guns, grenades and guts and start shooting up the place?

Of course, this being a PSP, you have to anticipate a few differences between this and the full-sized version - however, there actually aren't many. The visuals are stunning for a PSP game (even in this very early stage of development) the shoulder button-activated strafe lock is still intact and Ratchet's weapons selection on the two levels we played contained both old and new gear. Familiar tools like the battle axe-like wrench, the pistol-on-steroids Scorcher, and the hook shot, which lets you swing around like Tarzan with a portable vine, are joined by fresh inventions. We've used a flamethrower and the Acid Bomber, which launches corrosive green globules that burst in the air above your target, and many more are promised.

The first level of the demo involved charging through a beach-meets-jungle environment, blowing away any and all comers with your arsenal. The environment also introduced some new allies: there are plants that, when watered, will uproot themselves and follow you around. Find them a nice patch of dirt, and they'll settle down and either grow bombs, which you can launch into obstacles like walls with a swing of your wrench, or literally grab you and heave you skyward toward a new destination.

Our robotic friend Clank will have his own solo sections as well, and these bits were the showcase of the second demo level. It involved Clank exploring a sort of lab area, accompanied by "microbots" - essentially little robot bulldogs that can be tossed onto switches or mercilessly sicced on enemies.

Multiplayer modes are planned (both ad hoc and over-the-internet infrastructure), but the details aren't worked out yet. We can confirm that the lovable Captain Quark will definitely return, at least in the single-player mode, and he's just as dense as ever. We're eager to spend more time enjoying Ratchet & Clank's vacation, but we'll just have to wait until closer to the game's Q1 2007 release to learn more of their travel itinerary.

May 8, 2006