Games 2/7/07: Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters, Fuzion Frenzy 2

Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters
For: PSP
From: High Impact Games/Sony
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (Animated Blood, Cartoon Violence)

There’s a certain danger involved when a top-shelf developer (in this case, Insomniac) hands the portable reigns to its most prominent game franchise (Playstation 2 mega-staple “Ratchet and Clank”) to a brand-new development house (High Impact Games). Usually, it results in a scary mess that sort of resembles the console games but plays like some fan-made project developed in somebody’s spare time.

But the only thing scary about “Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters” is how good a job High Impact did taking care of Insomniac’s baby. Hold the PSP really close to your face, or perhaps tape a television antenna to it, and you might as well be playing the series’ fifth console game instead of its portable debut. Outside of some (very) slight graphical downgrades and some unavoidable control issues related to the lack of two joysticks (switching to first-person view is cumbersome and pointless), “Matters” takes everything that’s great about the series and shrinks it down with jaw-dropping ease.

In fact, “Matters” does the series one better by returning it to its pre-“Deadlocked” roots. Our charming robot friend Clank is back in a prominent (and playable) role, the balance between platforming, puzzle-solving and shooting is happily restored, and the cheekily funny single-player adventure receives the same level of care as the game’s multiplayer component. As solo experiences go, this easily ranks among the system’s richest and most rewarding.

That said, as multiplayer experiences go, “Matters” (online and wireless, 1-4 players each) arguably stands alone as the class of the PSP. On paper, it’s mostly standard stuff — deathmatch, capture the flag and so on. But there’s no multiplayer map quite like a “Ratchet and Clank” multiplayer map, which typically bursts with traps, auto-defense forces, unattended machinery and platforming challenges other games couldn’t possibly execute. “Matters” doesn’t disappoint in this regard, and High Impact once again does the series one better by providing a mode of play — the teamwork-oriented, objective-driven series of mini-missions known as Iron Lombax — that’s as brilliant and diverse as the environments in which it’ll be played. Throw in community chat, leaderboards and a cleverly funny nemesis system that’s best left unspoiled, and voila! You have the best game of 2007 thus far.

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Fuzion Frenzy 2
For: Xbox 360
From: Hudson/Microsoft
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (Fantasy Violence)

The original “Fuzion Frenzy” was a game with a purpose. The Xbox needed a mini-game collection that would appeal to casual tastes, and the passably fun “Frenzy,” which launched with the system in 2001, was a decent, if not ideal, stopgap solution.

And it remained so. For five long years. As undistinguished as “Frenzy” was, nobody ever stepped forward to do it one better.

Despite being around for more than a year, the Xbox 360 inexplicably has the same problem, and “Fuzion Frenzy 2” finds itself, once again, in the right place at the right time. But while expectations for what a $50 game should offer have grown considerably in five years’ time, this series has not. At all.

Blame any number of issues. The same generic design from the first game is back, and you’ll once again discover how easy it is to lose track of your character mid-game due to how similar everyone looks. The tournament structure is uninspired, the Dreamcast-quality tournament announcer is obnoxious beyond words, and the addition of point multiplier cards means it’s just as important to be lucky as skilled.

But the worst problem of all is that far too many of the 43 mini-games are hampered by problems ranging from sketchy control to dependence on luck to uninspired design in general. Play against computer-controlled characters, and you can add sloppy A.I. to the equation as well. There are good apples in the batch — some of which, alas, were present in the original “Frenzy” — but none remotely worth the high price of admission. The 360 may lack another game of this ilk, but there are far better four-player experiences, many of them available on Xbox Live Arcade at a fraction of the cost.

That goes as well for online play. Buoyed by gaming’s best online network, “FF2” could’ve redeemed itself by doing something revolutionary with it. Can you imagine a 32-player party game? Well keep imagining: All we get here are the same games, and playing them online isn’t nearly as fun as playing them with three friends in the same room — which, as mentioned earlier, isn’t all that fun in its own right.