Good Time-Bending Fun With 'Ratchet & Clank'

PHOTO The game "Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time" is
The game "Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time" is shown.

In "Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time," the latest installment in the popular series, Ratchet, the lovable fox-like Lombax, must save his best friend, Clank, a small hyper-intelligent robot, from the evil Dr. Nefarious, a pretty daft robot.

This is not exactly Shakespeare, folks, but that's a good thing. Enter the silly, sly and addictively entertaining omniverse of "Ratchet & Clank" where dabbling button-mashers and hardcore gamers somehow find a common ground in the engaging story, mind-bending puzzles and hyper-tense combat.

In a note of full disclosure: "Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time" is the first Ratchet game I've ever played and I entered into the task with a good deal of skepticism. I knew previous iterations had been well received, but I imagined strapping on hoover boots and throwing disco balls at cartoonishly ugly enemies "too silly."

Luckily, after playing for a short time I realized that once you're in Ratchet's world, nothing is too silly, and from the dancing aliens to the goober secondary characters Ratchet and Clank encounter, it's fairly charming and entertaining with admittedly low-brow humor.

Time of Their Lives

Without giving too much away, the gameplay and plot of "A Crack in Time" is not much of a departure from previous installments except that Ratchet and Clank are completely separate in this game and players will alternate between the two for extended periods.

But there are no shortage of sidekicks and allies for Ratchet as he fights to find and rescue Clank -- and a few other characters along the way. Without taking itself too seriously, the game has some profound dramatic moments between the characters and reveals more about some long-term plot lines.

The story evolves nicely if the gamer plays straight through, but if you're the exploring type, expect large breaks in the plot advancement while roaming various moons.

Weapon and armor upgrades are paced nicely with the story so that combat evolves from world to world as enemies grow stronger. Puzzles also have a nice learning curve, starting very simply and leading to sometimes overly complex time manipulation later in the game.

The time manipulation is a welcome addition as both a tool and an integral part of the overall plot. While also a major plot device, time manipulation is also used constantly by Clank on a much smaller scale both in combat and to solve puzzles.

Too Much of a Good Thing

While playing with time certainly is a good time -- freezing little green aliens in place before swatting them over the head with a staff really doesn't get old -- the game takes time manipulation to near ridiculously complex levels.

For instance, there are several puzzles in which Clank cannot pass through a door unless he creates several "past selves" to depress certain buttons in order. The mechanics of such a puzzle are pretty impressive -- you're actually recording yourself several times over and combining your past efforts -- but even for a game with a weapon that turns enemies into monkeys, it seems over-the-top.

The game also suffers from its own openness. In each sector, Ratchet can head towards the next mission destination or he can detour to hail other ships or land on smaller planets to do mini-missions. The problem is the missions are often repetitive and do not offer anything not seen in regular play.

In short, there's no good reason to do them. Except of course when Ratchet is forced several times to participate in these little detours, either to eventually rescue a friend or collect enough of a certain item to earn a necessary upgrade. Clank has his own annoying mini-games, including one where a laser fixes fissures in time on various planets.

The other problem with gameplay comes from combat, which is generally a madhouse of fun with huge explosions and creative enemies. The problem is that the gun selection, while varied, is mostly made up of secondary weapons. That is, Ratchet only has a handful of weapons with which to fire directly at his enemies. Most of the other weapons such as mines, bombs and "Tesla" traps are proximity devices.

It may seem like a small complaint, but in the midst of a wild battle, running out of bullets for the pistol and having to try and hit a giant alien with a large electric bowling ball or bombs with extremely limited range is a study in frustration, no matter how colorful.

Mr. Zurkon Says It All

The game can be best summed up in a single character -- Mr. Zurkon -- who is actually a robotic weapon Ratchet can call upon assist him in battle.

While hovering over Ratchet's head, Mr. Zurkon fires off insults at his opponents, or Ratchet if there are no opponents around, as rapidly as he fires his laser blaster.

Completely action-packed, hilarious, quirky and clever, Mr. Zurkon is the perfect slice of "Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time" -- not without its problems, but far too fun and funny to ignore.

Like the little robot says, "Mr. Zurkon does NOT come in peace."