As far as gaming evolution goes, the old-school platformer is, more often than not, best left in the past. While other genres have managed to change with the times, the humble platformer seems to be destined to repeat the jumping section + generic puzzle + samey combat formula, regardless of how the title changes.
Such were my expectations when jumping into the latest Ratchet & Clank adventure, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. Around 15 hours later the credits rolled and I found myself more impressed than justified in my initial assessment of what I felt would be a boring romp from opening title to end credits.
The game kicks off with the series’ staple brand of humour. Where other titles move the humour scale closer to the ‘occasional comedic relief’ side of things, Ratchet & Clank makes it an essential part of the formula. And, for the most part, it really works, too. Much like a National Lampoons movie of yesteryear, the shotgun approach to humour, whereby the game tries almost every brand of comedy to make you laugh, will have you chuckling or laughing out loud more than groaning.
The plot is simple. Doctor Nefarious’ latest attempt at killing Ratchet and Clank goes awry, resulting in the unlikely union of the villain with the titular heroes and the consistently hilarious Captain Qwark. As you may have guessed, the Left 4 Dead-like switching of ‘for’ for ‘4’ in the title is in direct reference to four-player cooperative play. Far from being a tacked-on component, the cooperative component is actually part and parcel with the genetic makeup of the game, and increases the fun exponentially when playing with friends. Best of all, co-op is available online, offline and in glorious drop-in/drop-out offerings.
But there is a strange caveat to be added with the otherwise fantastic cooperative mode. If you do want to play with friends, you’re best to play the entire game through with them. Even though you can progress the story and your character without your chums, you’ll be doing so at the expense of collective firepower. The game uses a ‘bolts’ currency system that lets you purchase new weapons as they’re unlocked and, later on, pimp them out with some very necessary upgrades.
Without complementary weapons and upgrades, you won’t be able to access the power-up attack system that rewards characters for using the same weapons on a single foe. These attacks are particularly useful at taking down bosses. If your human-controlled teammates choose to take full advantage of the drop-in/drop-out offering and only play sporadically, they’ll have less bolts than you. Less bolts means less weapons and upgrades, and less of that means the game will exponentially spike in difficulty or, at the very least, greatly extend the length of battle against some of the bosses.
On the other hand, if you play by your lonesome with the single AI-controlled buddy -- who is actually quite intuitive most of the time -- any combat sections in All 4 One are a walk in the park. The friendly AI has access to the same weapons and unlocks that you do, so boss battles that are a lengthy and challenging affair with an unequally ranked human partner are a cinch when playing without other players.
But the biggest praise that All 4 One garners is the constant diversity of the level design and, even more impressively, the gameplay. The beautiful environments are a visual treat that tend to distract from the task at hand, while the little additions to gameplay throughout the campaign -- mini-games, water skiing, jet packing, rail grinding, and the list goes on—stop All 4 One from avoiding the pitfall of losing appeal after a few hours.
Sure, there are other minor issues -- such as physics fails, AI oddities (mostly the enemies), sporadic fixed-camera woes and a misleading checkpoint system -- but the overall package is surprisingly impressive given the genre, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun when played cooperatively.