The latest adventure from what was once one of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s (SCEE) flagship franchises sees the door open for four players to join the fun. Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is a revision of the formula that made Ratchet and Clank such a popular duo in the early stages of the previous console generation: a step away from the single-player platform antics, but not a step away from the genre itself.
The most immediate comparison for Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is of course Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. Wii. SCEE have always seemed keen to capitalise on the markets and audiences presented by their rivals (as well as creating their own), delivering peripherals and software designed specifically to fill these holes the PlayStation family line-up. Some have been more successful than others, but in Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, there’s no denying that the team at Insomniac Games has understood their design mandate, and splashed a whole heap of PlayStation flavour on top of it.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One borrows the ease of use and multiplayer design of New Super Mario Bros. Wii and couples it with the familiar glaze of Ratchet & Clank and the added horsepower of the PlayStation 3. The videogame allows for four player co-operatively gameplay, allowing for instantaneous drop-in/drop-out player revisions and online play. It plays in high-definition (HD), stereoscopic 3D and offers the opportunity for Insomniac Games to pile-on downloadable content (DLC) in a manner that has never been an option for Nintendo’s key franchise. But this is simply the dressing, and the videogame experience at the core of Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is obviously the more important concern.
Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is a 3D platform videogame in it’s most basic sense. Harking back to the days of the original Crash Bandicoot, players move freely in 360º, but there’s only ever one direction they can move in for progress through the videogame. Players will encounter puzzles, combat, high-speed chases and moments at which teamwork is the essential component, but none of this is ever really likely to challenge an experienced gamer. The puzzles are very lightweight, typically involved switch arrangement or a variation thereof, and the combat can be simplified to finding the right weapon for the job – and even without that weapon, it’s never more than a simple case of attrition. The high-speed chases have obviously been borrowed from recent 3D outings from SEGA’s once glorious mascot, but as even Sonic himself hasn’t managed to make anything meaningful out of the on-rails design, it’s unlikely that Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One’s carbon-copy will offering anything particularly memorable.
And that’s really the essence of Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One’s design: there’s nothing inherently wrong here, but it’s far from groundbreaking work. It’s entirely enjoyable, but with four skilled players it’s a simple walk from start to finish. The videogame has been designed for family entertainment of course, and yet in comparison to New Super Mario Bros. there’s little here to suggest that adults will be entertained beyond the premise of playing with their children. Nintendo designed an accessible videogame in which players of all ages can apply their knowledge and test their skills; Insomniac Games have adapted a more mature template to fit a family experience. It’s coming at the same problem form a very different angle, and while there’s weight to Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One’s argument, it simply isn’t enough to take on the genre leader headfirst.
The aesthetic quality of Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One mirrors the above critique of the gameplay: it’s clearly ahead of Mario’s multiplayer adventures, but by way of capable technology rather than spirit. The simplicity of fire, ice and desert worlds is lost in Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One’s neo-science-fiction-opolis, and while there’s depth in the design in terms of scale and background, little irritations appear all over the place. The colourful palette only highlights the fact that real-time lighting effects – such as lasers and certain enemy adornments – cast little upon surfaces, and are sometimes even obscured by them. Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is a curious selection of ifs-and-buts in it’s presentation, trading glamour for comfort.
Designed for a family audience, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is delivered to PlayStation gamers as a ham-fisted adaptation of a once pioneering series. It’s a videogame that is seemingly shackled to its franchise as much as it is open to new ideas. As an answer to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One is a thoroughly enjoyable experience, but it’s not one that’s likely to be seen as a startlingly innovative take on the modern platform genre in the same way.