Version tested: PlayStation 3
Xbox Live Arcade may have been romping the headlines recently with Braid, Geometry Wars 2 and now Galaga Legions, but let's not forget that PlayStation Network is enjoying a renaissance as well, with Siren: Blood Curse, PixelJunk Eden and now the heavyweight Ratchet & Clank establishing fierce competition for the contents of your PSN wallet.
Ratchet & Clank games are already split into neat chunks - each planet you visit takes about an hour to exhaust, and then you fly to the next one - so Quest for Booty is an easy set-up: a handful of levels, a few new mechanics, and a witty script that makes the most of decapitated pirate Cap'n Slag and his yodel-throated henchman Rusty Pete, as Ratchet hops, skips and double-jumps around a watery planet gathering equipment to try and track down his wayward sidekick, Clank.
Downloadable games usually only have time to outline and develop a couple of new concepts, and so it is with Ratchet. As well as whacking enemies with his wrench, firing various guns and hoovering up cogs and bolts - the game's currency - players can now use a wrench-tether to grab onto bits of the environment and manipulate them with the right stick. Over the course of the game you move platforms, expand concertinaed bridges, and drag objects across the floor to solve puzzles.
You can also use the wrench to pick up specific objects. Some of these are explosive, and can be tossed with the circle button, but more frequently you're called upon to pick up a glow-in-the-dark grub to light the way across narrow walkways and fend off crazed bats that only attack in the dark, like cute and cuddly versions of Gears of War's Kryll. We're not exactly in portal gun territory with either of the new functions, but the new wrench techniques are put to increasingly good use over the game's handful of stages, culminating in an excellent puzzle involving shadows.
Those of you who follow Ratchet for the laughs as well as the level design are well-served, too. Ratchet's not flying between planets now, so away from the in-engine cut-scenes comical dimwit Rusty Pete is sensibly employed as narrator over friendly storybook visuals, and joined by Cap'n Slag to deliver a few good jokes along the way (Slag complains he only died in Tools of Destruction because someone unplugged his controller, incidentally). Whether or not Ratchet finds Clank we'll leave you to discover, but you can expect to bump into a few old friends.
Level design, of course, is assured as soon as you get to the first proper location, Hoolefar, and the mayor asks you to switch on five wind turbines, which have to be scaled by various means - using Ratchet's gravity boots to climb up the side and dodge electric defences, grinding rails, and the other usual suspects, with a few tweaks to incorporate the new wrench abilities. Later you visit mysterious coves and caverns on the hunt for a Fulcrum Star to power the Obsidian Eye (Ratchet wears its McGuffins on its sleeve), and find yourself on a platform paddle organ, outwitting undead pirates and smashing up giant centipedes.
A few sections fall flat - most notably a mid-game boss fight with Cap'n Slag's new ship, which manages to concentrate respawning enemies, a turret gun section with difficult-to-spot projectile threats and bad checkpointing into one five-minute sequence - but in general Insomniac's skill at disguising linearity with hidden treats and crisscrossing pathways shields you from boredom or inevitability.
Visually too it's very fetching, matching Tools of Destruction for bright, massive environments and a solid frame-rate, and managing a few sexy new effects like the wind-swept ocean background to the levels on or around the pirate fleet.
That said, it's with some displeasure that we have to report that around half the game is dark and dingy! This isn't entirely shocking, since we're chasing pirates into treasure caves and doing battle against choppy old seas in the background, but Hoolefar's the prettiest area mostly by dint of being outside in the sunshine. If the next Ratchet & Clank game, due out in "fall 2009" according to the end sequence, goes all Warrior Within, there will be trouble.
That isn't a long time to wait, considering Tools of Destruction came out last year, but when you're done with the end credits and booted back to the title screen, it may feel that way. As the game wraps up, Ratchet receives coordinates for a new planet, and we hoped in vain that meant somewhere new to visit, more bolts to collect and new platforms to jump on, because the game overall feels more like the opening act of a standard Ratchet & Clank. We were ready to switch off the console for the evening and pick it up again the next day, but we weren't ready for the end.
Apart from the length, the lack of new weapons is also disappointing. The wrench abilities are nice, but they're no substitute for a new Groovitron. Instead we get old favourites the Predator Launcher (allowing you to direct a few targeted rockets while dodging incoming fire), and the trusty old Combuster and Fusion Grenades, along with the Tornado Launcher, Shock Ravager, Nano-Swarmers and the Alpha Cannon, most of which are simply given to you, rendering all the bolt-collection largely moot. There's no Trophy support either - apparently the game was already complete when Sony patched in the PS3's new Achievement-esque reward system.
Which doesn't leave a lot to be enthusiastic about, as we can only mention the wrench abilities so many times. Quest for Booty is a solid, funny little platform game with good camerawork and controls so long established that their pristine execution scarcely warrants mention, but it feels so much like a regular Ratchet & Clank game that it's jarring to discover it ends so quickly, leaving us to damn it over and over again with faint praise. At GBP 9.99 it's probably worth it for a couple of evenings of entertainment, but for all the respawning swashbucklers and the catchy Pirates of the Caribbean style theme tune, it could really do with another significant hook.
7 / 10
Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty is out now on PSN and will be released on Blu-ray on 12th September. It costs ten quid.