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Mark of the Ninja: Remastered is stealth perfection, once more

I loved Mark of the Ninja, back when I played it in late 2012, and I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the game via the recently released Mark of the Ninja: Remastered, which, thanks to Klei, was given out for free to owners of the original title. Y’know, like me. Honestly, I had no idea this was even a thing that was happening; one day, I was skimming through my list of “ready to install” on the Xbox One, as I’m wont to do, and I saw a new icon there for it. Consider me tickled pink and pleased.

What makes this version remastered? I’m not exactly sure. Evidently, there was a bit of “Special Edition” DLC released for the game way back in the day that added a flashback level and new play style, but I didn’t even know that existed, and Mark of the Ninja: Remastered comes with that included. Oh, and there’s also some developer commentary nodes to discover as you play, of which I read every single entry as I find the behind-the-scenes stuff really interesting, especially when the devs are talking about limitations or coming up with unique solutions to problems. I believe this new version also features high-resolution art and improved sound, but it kind of looked, felt, and sounded like the same game to me.

Mark of the Ninja: Remastered‘s story remains the same, so I’ll touch on it only briefly. Our unnamed ninja protagonist–y’know what, let’s refer to him as Larry Ninja from this point forward–is resting after receiving an extensive irezumi tattoo, but is suddenly awakened by a female ninja named Ora. A heavily armed force is attacking the dojo of the Hisomu ninja clan. After gathering up his equipment, Larry Ninja is able to defeat these attackers and rescue his sensei, Azai, as well as several other members of the clan. Then it is off to the races, to take revenge on a corporation called Hessian, run by a ruthless Eastern European plutocrat named Count Karajan.

Dosan’s Tale is the DLC I never experienced during my first go with the game. It’s a flashback level to the early life of Dosan, the tattoo artist for Larry Ninja, which sets the stage for the events that transpire in Mark of the Ninja. It offers a different play style with new, nonlethal takedowns, as well as two new items, one geared toward stealth and the other one being more direct. It’s not terribly long, but it is enjoyable and fun to play a different way; I was mostly a mix of lethal and nonlethal during my two playthroughs, and only focused on being truly stealthy while going back to levels to get all the scrolls, seals, and challenges. The dust moths are pretty neat, and you can use these additional items in the main game’s levels too, opening up additional ways to deal with guards and spotlights and snipers, oh my.

Look, I don’t want to sit here and just rehash whatever I’ve already said about Mark of the Ninja, but it truly is a fun game to play, even when you goof up a stealth section yet manage to come out of it alive thanks to the game’s tight controls and variety of items or options to silence all the guards and barking dogs. My favorite tactic this second time around was using poisoned darts to make guards panic, shoot their co-workers, and then take their own life. Naturally, this helped me get through tons of sections where I just hung to a wall in the shadows and watched the chaos unfold for mega bonus points. I also found myself learning how to hide bodies better to the point that I considered becoming a ninja myself, a true covert agent from feudal Japan. I even went the extra mile to pop every Achievement but one because I’m not interested in doing a new game plus playthrough where things get even tougher for Larry Ninja.

If you already played Mark of the Ninja and found it to be just fine, you probably don’t need to double dip. However, I really enjoyed going back to Klei’s well-designed world, and stealth-killing a guard, stringing him up to a light-post, and watching his friends freak out never gets old. If you have yet to experience the fun that I just described, do yourself a favor and snag a copy of Mark of the Ninja: Remastered.

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Miitopia is two games in one and maybe never-ending

After 25-ish hours of battling monsters, eating food, leveling up, and taking down the Dark Lord Ron Swanson, I assumed I was closing in on Miitopia‘s end credits. Well, you know the dangers of assuming. Turns out that I wasn’t even close, having now poured an extra 20+ hours into the ordeal, because there was still more to do and see, and I’ll keep this mostly spoiler-free and say that someone takes the Dark Lord’s place to continue creating problems for your team of diversified heroes and heroines. That’s fine, really; the weird part though is that the game switches up its pace and flow and feel in a way that makes it seem like an entirely different game halfway through.

For the first, main chunk of my Miitopia time, I was just moving forward across the map, going to where the red exclamation point said to go to, fighting monsters, eating food, and building relationships all along the way. It’s a pretty linear affair. I focused on a few particular party members, upgrading their weapons and armor when able to and generally trying to keep everyone balanced, but eventually one team of four was more leveled up than another. Thankfully, as irritating as it seemed at the time, the game frequently decided to split my current party up, forcing me to use Miis I’d not put as much time into. I’d also occasionally grind out a few areas to ensure I collected every treasure chest and saw where all paths lead, but otherwise it was all steam ahead.

By the time you near taking on the final final boss, the game switches things up, mechanically and even with the UI. You have access to a flying dragon and the Travelers Hub, where Miis will give you specific quests to do. So instead of having a singular goal to follow, you suddenly now have multiple paths to go down, with room to grind and explore. Also, something to touch upon, but you can totally exploit the game tickets situation to your benefit. Here’s how–wait until you get a good roulette wheel with a large slice dedicated to a high-level weapon, then keep spinning, landing on the weapon, and selling it for lots of gold. I was able to make about 50,000 gold after just a few spins, which let me buy a ton of solid gear for my team.

Initially, I was heavily put off by Miitopia‘s combat system, which basically only lets you control the actions of your avatar. However, as time went on, I got used to many of the battles being on auto-run, and the introduction and upgrading of HP bananas, MP candy, and various sprinkle shakers did let me have some control in how the fights went. It was more interactive than I initially assumed, so shame on me, and now I’m curious to maybe go back and see if Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light is as bad as I’ve built it up to be in my mind. The fights never got too tough or insurmountable, up to the final boss fight, which, as I suspected, required everyone you had collected in your posse at that point to bring the heat, and several peeps were underleveled and needed to be grinded up a bit. Not grinded up into bits. Pay attention now.

I’m usually really bad at keeping up with post-game content. Like, for Ever Oasis, I thought I’d love to continue bringing in people to my oasis, leveling up shops, and diving deeper into randomly-generated dungeons for valuable rewards…but I haven’t gone back to it once since I got Miitopia. The same sort of thing happened with Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies, despite my logged hours count saying otherwise. Chrono Trigger also has a New Game+ mode after you put Lavos in its ugly alien parasite place, with even more endings and an exclusive Dimensional Vortex section only found in the Nintendo DS version, which, if you’ll remember, I both loved and disliked. All of that is to say–Miitopia‘s post-game content is great and keeps me coming back to it on a daily basis.

Quest-givers continuously show up in the Travelers Hub zone to demand you do something for them, usually deliver a gift to a friend in another area or defeat a tough monster, all of which offer great rewards for completing, such as rare foods, game tickets, or better gear. Also, there’s two brand new islands to explore, two additional character classes to unlock, and the ability to make dozens upon dozens more team members, if you want. For me, since my main character originally started out as a thief, then became an imp, and finished as a mad scientist, I never got to see many of the outfits and weapons for those first two classes, so I made Jennifer Aniston as my thief and haven’t decided yet on the imp, but someone‘s coming. The real draw for me continuing to play Miitopia is seeing all its content, because the weapons and armor are creative and fun, the music is astounding, and there’s plenty of strange food to eat and kooky monsters to battle still to go. Oh, and there are 250+ Achievement-like medals to earn, of which I’ve done only 50% so far.

I knew I was going to like Miitopia‘s style and tone long before the game came out, but was worried that its somewhat hands-off gameplay was not going to keep me engaged. I’m happy to have my initial reluctance turned completely on its head, with Nintendo’s pleasant, quirky turn-based RPG about people losing their faces resulting in one of my favorite releases in 2017.

Sadly, Crimson Shroud’s too difficult to grok and master

crimson shroud gd finished with the game

At long last, after years of grinding, following along with a spoiler-heavy walkthrough, then switching to a spoiler-free walkthrough, and grinding some more to defeat the final boss, I rolled a critical hit on Crimson Shroud. It is a complicated victory, one that I basically had to force myself to see because I am my father’s son and do not like to waste things, especially things I’ve bought with hard-earned digital cash, without experiencing them fully–or, to this point, mostly fully–but I am glad to have the large, 1,965 blocks-big application removed from my Nintendo 3DS. For many reasons, which I’ll get into later.

Allow me, one more time, to tell the tale of Crimson Shroud, as best as I can remember it because, for me, the last third of my progress on this game has been nothing but turn-based battle against goblins, one after the other. There was a short scene before the finally boss fight that was probably supposed to be revealing and satisfactory, but I had lost the narrative thread long before then for it to matter. Anyways, you control a party of three people as they make their way through the palace of Rahab. Giauque is a money-driven mercenary hired to retrieve the Crimson Shroud, the game’s titular McGuffin. He is joined by Frea, a Qish-descended mage, and Lippi, a stellar archer despite only having one eye. You might as well forget their names and know them by their classes: Tank, Healer, and Range.

It’s perhaps telling that I’ve actually never played any of Crimson Shroud‘s writer and director Yasumi Matsuno’s work, namely Ogre Battle 64, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Vagrant Story. After Crimson Shroud, I’m not sure if I would or will like them. The systems in this one really do sound great, on paper, such as creating combos through similar spells or rolling to clear away some accuracy-reducing fog, but I found their implementation confusing and clunky. For instance, you want to find gear you like and then grind out for more of those same items, feeding them into the one you have equipped so it can grow stronger. Fine, fine. I’m all about feeding. However, finding those same items is–excuse me for the saying–a roll of the dice, because the loot is random, and the fights take a very long time to get through, even when you seemingly have the upper hand. The way stats are shown is also difficult to decipher, and I eventually gave up trying to compare weapons and armor and stuck with what seemed okay, leveling it up as much as possible.

Crimson Shroud has been described as a bite-sized RPG. Perhaps it is too small. Not in scale, but in screen. All the combat action takes place on the top screen of the Nintendo 3DS, with menu selection and dice rolling on the bottom, where touching matters. Still, cramming all the fight details and characters in just the one screen above with a lot of text on top made it extremely difficult to follow who was doing what and the turn order. I often simply waited until the enemy finished attacking to see who was next in line for commands and went from there. I also never really understood why, if you killed all the enemies before they got a turn, the fight would be over, but if you didn’t then replacement goons would show up, making the whole ordeal last even longer.

Yes, the combat is strategic, but it is also immensely slow, as well as occasionally random. There’s also an unseen element of luck–obviously not just when rolling dice to use spells–that gives off the feeling that you are never truly in control of things. By the end of it all, I still did not have a strong grasp on what weapons and skills and spells worked against what type of enemy, or how new spells and skills were getting added to each character despite there being no XP won after each fight. Instead, you pick through a list of loot to take back to your inventory, but are limited in what you can take by some number cap.

After taking down the final boss and watching the credits do their thing, I was prompted to start everything all over again in New Game+. Curious, I tried to look up if anything greatly changed on a second playthrough, and enemies seemed tougher. No thanks. Anyways, I really do hope this is the last time I have to search for a usable screenshot of Crimson Shroud that can be manipulated to meet Grinding Down‘s strict standards because it is slim pickings out there, if you ask me.

With Crimson Shroud removed, I was finally able to download updates for Pokémon Shuffle, Nintendo Badge Arcade, and Mii Plaza, as well as the freemium Pokémon Picross puzzler, so there’s a plus in all of this. I even have room to spare for more stuff. See you never again, big, blocky game that, I guess, in the end, I really didn’t like all that much. I’ll think of you the next time I roll some dice.

Transistor’s futuristic city Cloudbank takes a Turn() for the worse

Transistor game final thoughts

It’s been several weeks now since I played and beat Transistor, and since then I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that Supergiant Games’ second outing is no Bastion II. You might already have suspected that based on the look and tone of Transistor, but everything else seems to shout “same mechanics, same style, same story-telling”…alas, it is not so. That’s not to say that Transistor on its own is not a strong, enjoyable experience, but when put side by side with Bastion, a game I absolutely ate up twice and then some, it stands fully in its shadow. Let me explain some more.

One can easily summarize Transistor‘s story, but to detail it out is a much harder task. Cloudbank’s famous singer Red is, without warning, attacked by the Process, a robotic force commanded by a group called the Camerata. During the fight, she’s transported across Cloudbank and gains possession of the very sword used in her assassination attempt, the mysterious Transistor. She takes the Transistor out of the chest of a dead man, but his consciousness and voice are now a part of the Transistor itself, along with Red’s voice. As Red searches for answers, the Camerata continues to track her across the city, demanding the Transistor returned.

Now, truth be told, I got most of that from Wikipedia. If you want to know anything deeper than that, sorry…I’ve got nothing. And I played the game for a few nights in a row, my face only inches away from my struggling laptop’s screen. Alas, the writing is not as sharp and memorable here as it was in Bastion, though I loved the idea of those interactive terminals, but that air of mystery really hangs about like a damning mist, thickening and making it difficult to see where to go. I’m okay with some aspects of the story being vague, but who Red is and why she is going after these people–and who these people are and are about–well…that’s kind of important stuff and shouldn’t be buried in menus or unlocked through superfluous means. In Bastion, you have to rebuild your safe haven, and you get a big choice at the end; in Transistor, you move from one locale to another, constantly fighting, constantly taking in clouded data, and then you have a showdown with, I guess, the person behind your assassination attempt, and I won’t spoil what happens after that, but you guessed it–it’s unclear.

Okay, so I wasn’t super thrilled with how the story actually unfolded in Transistor–or didn’t unfold, if you will–but at least the combat’s interesting. And fun, sometimes. A few fights felt overwhelming and punishing, and you really don’t get a moment to breathe even though you can pause the action. It’s a mixture of real-time combat and frozen planning, referred to as Turn(). Using the latter will drain Red’s action bar, which takes some time to refill, but allows you to plan out each movement more carefully. It’s really nice that you can take as much time as you want and erase previous decisions if things don’t look sunny and bright, just like with Fallout 3‘s V.A.T.S. Red earns what appears to be set experience points after each battle and can collect new powers, known as Functions, from dead victims of the Process. You can equip up to four of these and combine them in multiple ways to create unique and different effects in battle. I played around with the Functions often, swapping in new ones and attaching others elsewhere just to see how battles changed, and there is quite a lot of variety here. I think you need New Game+ to really see everything though.

Just like with Bastion, Transistor gets its monsters right. From the paparazzi-inspired bots that take Red’s snapshot and momentarily obstruct the screen to the shockwave-creating Jerks that will plow you down if you , they are all uniquely designed and each requires special tactics in battle, which makes for some skillful juggling at times. Early on in the game, you’ll find the beach hideaway, which acts as your training grounds zone, as well as a good place to kick back, listen to some sultry jams, and watch the cyber-sun set. I did not end up completing every challenge here, but I did most of them and always visited when the chance popped up. The time-based and plan-based challenges really give you a feel for some specific combat situations, though I wish they resulted in more than just a bump of XP.

As I’m sure we all remember, music and art were a powerful combo in Bastion, and that trend continues here too. The slick, futuristic lighting of Cloudbank presents a city built on power and elitism, while the music is somber and striking, always setting a mood. At any point in the game, you can press a button and have voiceless Red hum along to whatever tune is playing; a small detail, but a powerful one. I wish one could zoom in a little closer on the battles to see some of the monsters better. Oh, and there are these strange, lightly interactive bridging sequences that really show off Jen Zee’s painting skills.

And so I beat Transistor, saw the message that I could begin playing it all over again in New Game+, and quit right away. I haven’t loaded the game back up since. It’s not that I hated my time with it, just that I feel like I experienced everything it has to offer already, and it’s not like the story is going to radically change a second time through. True, it might become clearer, but the fault is then in the cloudy writing, and it shouldn’t take two playthroughs to really grok it all. Anyways, that return romp would be mostly to try out more Function combos in combat and such, but I think I saw–and tried–plenty along the way, with Spark() probably my favorite Function.

Well, as Rucks might say, “I’ll see you in the next one.”

Grinding Down’s Chrono Cross week – Miscellaneous

gd chrono cross week misc roundup copy

Well, here we are, at the end of Grinding Down‘s Chrono Cross week. Hope you’ve enjoyed my wee analytical posts so far, and I definitely have other videogames I’d love to examine piece by piece like so somewhere down the line. Maybe Suikoden II, perhaps? Super Metroid? Unlimited SaGa?! That last one was a joke, for those scratching their noggins.

Anyways, I’ve now covered what I consider to be the big four topics when talking about this classic Squaresoft RPG: story, characters, the battle system, and music. This final blog post is meant to be a grab-all in terms of smaller topics to cover, as I still–surprise, surprise–have things to talk about when it comes to all the parts that make up the unconventional puzzle that is Chrono Cross. Hopefully I’ll touch upon everything I want to here, as I’d like to move away from the game for a bit, let it quiet down in my skull, and start tackling the next game on my list of “must beat in 2013,” which is probably going to be Silent Hill 2.

That said, on with the further musings.

Window Frames

I remember fondly changing the color of the window frame in Final Fantasy VII from that default blue to a soft green to a zany gradient-inspired explosion of rainbow colors and loving it for the remainder of Cloud’s journey to take down Sephiroth. I wish more games allowed for fun, optimal customization like this. Now, in Chrono Cross, you can’t change the color of your dialogue box, but you can find special frames to replace the standard one. Personally, most of them are ugly as heck, but I did try out the My Favorite Martian and Shellfish frames for a tiny bit, but eventually switched back to something less eye-busting. It’s more fun finding the frames than using them, but it’s nice to the have option nonetheless.

Money

For the most part, money is useless in Chrono Cross. You acquire it with every battle, but you barely spend any of it, and I suspect that, even if you tried, you’d find difficulty in emptying your pockets completely. I wish I had written down how much I had by the end of the game, but it was probably in the 120,000 to 150,000 range, and when you consider that most Elements cost less than 500, with the highest going for maybe around 3,000, well…you have plenty of money to splurge on other things. If only other things existed or were worth it. Which leads me to our next topic of discussion…

Forging/Disassembling

In certain towns, you can speak to blacksmiths who can help forge weapons, armor, and accessories for Serge and his companions. Later on, you also get an item to allow you to do this out on the overworld map. To forge something, you need some a paltry sum of money (see above) and the correct components, and then boom, you have a new thing. Some components are harder to come by, like mythril and rainbow shell, but for the most part, you can make a lot of stuff just using items won from battle. The long and short of this all though is that these weapons and armor are not worth going the extra mile, and some are actually found in various dungeons. There are a few good accessories to make though. Disassembling breaks down weapons, armor, and accessories you’re not using into components, but you’re better off saving them for when you need to equip a new character you haven’t used yet with gear.

Component trading

Um…I have never even attempted to figure this out. Basically, you trade a certain number of Element levels for things like eyeballs, feathers, and scales. Again, just doesn’t seem worth the effort, and trading in useful Elements for components you can earn in battle which are only used for forging items, which I just mentioned are not needed…well, I…wait. What was I saying again? Um, just skip this.  There are two of these trader types, anyways, so they are easy to miss. The first appears in both Guldove and Termina (Another), and the other is in Zappa’s house in Termina (Home).

New Game+

I don’t do many New Game+, mostly because nowadays I just don’t have the time. Though some games like Borderlands 2 really make it worth the effort, offering more things to see and do and become. Chrono Trigger has New Game+, but I’ve not gone back since I beat it last year, and I doubt I will try the New Game+ in Chrono Cross.

I love this RPG, truly I do–it’s just I don’t see what the point is other than viewing alternate endings. Sure, now is a great time to go back and get all the characters you missed out on during your first run because you picked Kid over Leena or Nikki over Guile, but as I lamented earlier this week, those side characters are pretty thin personality-wise. The game will play out the same way–until the ending, depending on when you fight the TimeDevourer–so that’s not very exciting to see all over, though you can speed up the gameplay to fast-forward cutscenes and so on. Let me take that one step further and fast forward us over to YouTube to watch all the different endings and save us hours upon hours.

I suspect I will return to Chrono Cross some time down the line, but not for a long while. Couple of years, at least. And when I do, I’ll probably just play it again from the beginning on a blank save slot–because that’s how I roll. I’m thrilled to have finally experienced it as fully as I could, but now I need to move on and let this experience reside quietly in my brain until something stirs it from its slumber. When that time comes, someone please remind me to ditch Kid early on and see what world-traveling life with fishing girl-next-door Leena is like. Okay, okay…I’ll give Poshul a fair chance, too.

Perfection is earning all the Seals from every level in Mark of the Ninja

mark of the ninja earned all seals post

Well, this certainly didn’t happen over night, but it finally happened nonetheless:

mark of the ninja perfection ach
Perfection (15G): Earn all the Seals in every level.

For those that don’t know, Seals are basically optional objectives, and there are three for every level in Mark of the Ninja. Some require you to reach a specific spot within a certain time limit and others are more tricky, requiring restraint and patience. Such as the last one that I got to unlock the above Achievement, which tasked our ninja friend with pickpocketing two keys instead of killing the guards holding them and taking them from their sliced up bodies. Well, that’s how I did it my first time through, but going the stealthier route forced me to move more slowly and be very aware of my surroundings. Which is fine, because this game is so dang rewarding, making one feel like he or she really is the shadow in the night, the hand from the darkness, the unseen that moves like the wind.

In the end, none of the Seals were too painful to get, just time-consuming. I tried to get what I could during my first playthrough of Mark of the Ninja, but due to tiny text syndrome, my bad eyes, and an iffy font choice, I had a hard time reading most of the instructions. So I skipped a lot of Seal tasks or just plain missed doing something because I didn’t know it could be done. And so, long after the fact, I did something I haven’t done in a while and don’t do often just from a sheer dislike in following along instead of figuring things out on my own: printed out a checklist from an online guide. The last time I did this? Hmm. Probably the alchemy recipes for Dragon Quest VIII. Well, I also began to record some item collecting in Borderlands, but that fizzled out fast as soon as Borderlands 2 dropped. Regardless, it really helped a lot to know exactly what tasks were in each level beforehand and then cross them off as I accomplished them.

Still working on completing all the Challenge Rooms, finding all the hidden haiku thingies, earning all upgrades for the ninja, and acquiring a ranking of three stars for each level. Yeah, all those tasks–at once. I’m pretty close on each of ’em, but it’s a slow creep, with constant checking and sometimes having to replay the entire level to make ends meet. After this, all that’s left for me to experience in Mark of the Ninja is a New Game+ playthrough, which I’m hesitant about doing. I like to pretend I’m a great ninja, but truthfully, I’m great ninja because of all the systems already in place; remove those, and I’m just a dude in a funny costume hopping off walls like a madman. At least, that’s what I suspect. I’ll probably give it a try, but if the early levels prove troublesome, then there’s no way I’ll get through the final ones on my skills alone.

A shortened, but solid adventure in Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters

A quick flash of memory: I’m 24 years old, in Target, aimlessly wandering the aisles by the home entertainment section, just killing time. I am alone, as I’m wont to be. I walk by the videogames section and hear that distinct sound of bolts being absorbed by Ratchet as he moves about. Sticking out from an endcap was a demo PSP, with Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters there for anyone to experience. Now, at this point in my life, I had already devoured the original Ratchet & Clank trilogy with extreme pleasure during my formative years, though reflecting back on it I’m not sure which of the three I never beat, but there is one that I didn’t see to the end, and it had to do with a boss battle and grinding rails and losing a lot of health from one hit. Hmm. Anyways, back to Target; I’m standing there, holding a PSP attached to a wall, staring down at a game that looks just like its home console counterparts, a bit of drool beginning to form and escape over my lower lip. Alas, it was not meant to be, as I had already decided on my portable system then and there, a Nintendo DS.

But man, I continued to want to play that Ratchet & Clank game, as well as all the others that came out afterwards for the PlayStation 3, but the systems were not mine or ever going to be mine, and so it was not meant to be. Boo, wah, a thousand tears. That is until I found a PS2 port of Size Matters at my local GameStop last year for a fair price, probably during their buy-2-get-1-free promotions. Generally, console games get ported to handheld devices with devastating results due to size restrictions, but it all switching around the other way seems to be more frequent these days.

It starts off with a vacation. Heck, Ratchet and Clank have surely earned it. Heroic work is quite tiring–at least that’s what I’m told. A young, red-headed girl named Luna–voiced by that woman from MadTV and the one who walks Carrie’s father on Queen of Kings–stumbles upon them and asks for their help with her school report on heroes. Unfortunately, some robots show up and kidnap her, and then Clank finds an ancient artifact from the race of intelligent beings called the Technomites. Captain Qwark shows up too, bummed about never knowing his parents. The plot thickens quickly after that, but saying any more would ruin some surprises.

Gameplay remains, as always, a mix of platforming and shooting. Guns level up with use, and for me, it seemed like they leveled up a whole lot faster than ever before. By final boss time, all of my favorite weapons were at their max level, and I never used the Scorcher or Suck Cannon once, despite enjoying them in previous games. I’ll pour one out for them later on. Ratchet’s health increases too as he defeats enemies, eventually capping at 50 for the first playthrough. There’s a handful of planet to explore, but, as the title indicates, they are not as open and vast as previous games in the franchise. I mean, that makes sense for a portable game, as the planets are almost cut into distinct sections, rather than flowing from one to another naturally.

The concept of armor for Ratchet–which I love–came into play with Going Commando, strengthening itself in Up Your Arsenal, becoming pivotal in Deadlocked, and turning into a toybox in Size Matters. As you travel from planet to planet, you’ll collect pieces of full armor sets, like the Crystallix boots or the Wildfire helmet, naturally aiming for a full set. In the meantime, you can wear any combination of armor pieces to make your own type of suit, which varies on damage reduction and appearance. I played around with this a lot, finding new types of suits simply by mixing and matching. Seems like there are more armor sets in New Game+, too. In the end, I used the full Mega-Bomb Armor set the most.

Seeing as this version is a port from the PSP, visually and technically…it fails. On a larger screen, the environments appear much more bland and empty, and the game itself locked up on me twice for no reason. Cutscenes appear very compressed and lower quality than expected, but other than that, it plays fine. Not the greatest in the franchise, and not the better of the two, but it’s still another Ratchet & Clank game to devour.

Okay, now for something else: Size Matters is a funny title. One, it continues the trend of Insomniac’s games being heavy on the innuendoes despite their Pixar-like look, feel, and overly friendly vibe. Seriously, here’s a couple of ’em, and just try to keep a clean mind as you read: Going Commando, Up Your Arsenal, Quest for Booty, Full Frontal Assault. Right. Two, this title also has to do with the fact that you’re playing a PS2-size game on a tiny portable system. And three, for plot’s sake, you are battling against the Technomites, which are teeny yet highly intelligent beings, and so, on occasion, Ratchet will shrink in size and/or Clank will grow to massive heights.

As with all the Ratchet & Clank games I’ve played so far, you can start over with a New Game+, keeping your weapons, skill points, armor, and bolts, but upping the difficulty, especially for the bosses, and dropping in new versions of leveled guns, as well as special armor sets. Mmm mmm. Usually, I skip New Game+ options, like I did in Deadlocked–yeah, I really need to write a blog post on why some day soon–but I immediately started over, excited to keep going. So far, it seems like you can now add a multiplier to your bolts collecting by defeating enemies in succession without taking a hit, which will definitely help in procuring those finer, mightier weapon editions. Plus, figuring out skill points and finding those large silver bolts to unlock Big Head mode is a totally legit excuse to keep playing.