Ratchet and Clank go to Chuck E. Cheese’s
It’s exceedingly appropriate that this week’s EGMi: The Digital Magazine highlights our favorite arcade classics, because Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One would be right at home at Chuck E. Cheese’s circa 1992 alongside Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, The Simpsons, and X-Men. Few games in the two decades since have truly captured the hectic, nonstop, free-for-all multiplayer destruction of those experiences, but All 4 One offers the same teamwork, camaraderie, and competitiveness—all that’s missing is a disturbing animatronic rat peering menacingly from above.
If you’re a hardcore Ratchet fan who thinks that doesn’t sound like the slapstick sci-fi series’ traditional third-person action-adventures, you’d be right—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as casual fans like myself sometimes have a hard time remembering which double-entendre-laden subtitle goes with which entry. Not that you need to be some sort of expert on Lombax taxonomy to enjoy All 4 One, which brings together intrepid anthropomorphic bobcat-ish hero Ratchet, diminutive robo-pal Clank (and his witty, Data-esque observations), bumbling wannabe superhero Captain Qwark (newly minted Galactic President—and you can be sure hilarity will ensue from that particular plot point), and scheming glass-domed supervillain—you can tell by the way he rubs his hands together in the opening cutscene—Dr. Nefarious (voiced with gusto by Armin Shimerman, aka Quark from Deep Space Nine).
The interaction between these frienemies is hilariously reminiscent of those Very Special Episodes where He-Man and Skeletor would put aside their differences and begrudgingly work together to defeat a common enemy…“but only for now!” I won’t spoil any plot twists or jokes, but I will say that it’s incredibly refreshing to play through a story that’s genuinely—and consistently—well-written, funny, and entertaining.
You know what else is refreshing? Levels that someone clearly took the time to play through and balance. Sometimes, I get the feeling I might just be a bitter, jaded gamer; I’m not as forgiving as some of my colleagues when it comes to certain modern design “innovations.” But when you’re raised on Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man, it’ll make you picky. Good level design isn’t simply tossing in a few extra enemies to make the action more “extreme” or making a level last 15 minutes longer than it needs to for the sake of artificially extending the experience.
You’ll see none of that marketing-mandated design nonsense here: From All 4 One’s first few seconds, it’s clear that Insomniac knows what the hell they’re doing when it comes to level design. Every frantic shootout, enemy placement, and platforming sequence has distinct meaning and purpose. All 4 One’s perfectly playable as a single-player experience, where an AI bot performs admirably during necessary co-op segments. But it becomes a blast with human partners via the drop-in, drop-out co-op, whether it’s with buddies on the couch or anonymous partners online.
Ratchet’s combat is always about the imaginative future-tech arsenal, but since this entry uses a fixed camera, you’ll use the right analog stick to access weapons instead of the Triangle button—which doesn’t work quite as well as intended. It’s not enough to spoil the experience, but weapon-switching never feels as smooth as it should, particularly when it’s so central to gameplay.
But that’s really All 4 One’s only major design hiccup. Everything else—particularly the audiovisual presentation—is as spectacular as you’ll see on the PS3. As you progress through a level, you’ll see your destination off in the distance, so there’s a real sense of progression; executive editor Brady Fiechter even popped into our office game room from time to time to marvel at the gorgeous color schemes.
Yeah, I admit I can be a bit of a gaming curmudgeon at times. But every so often, something comes along that reminds me why I spent my youth running around arcades in the first place. All 4 One may not be a traditional Ratchet entry, but it’s definitely a classic gaming experience all the same.
SUMMARY: Ratchet and Clank channel Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael in delivering four-player mayhem worthy of arcade classics like TMNT: Turtles in Time.
- THE GOOD: Fast, funny, and furious action.
- THE BAD: Clunky weapon-selection wheel.
- THE UGLY: Clank’s disturbing death scream. Why? Why was he programmed to feel pain?