Review by Kimari
With humor, challenging gameplay, and fun weaponry, 'Up Your Arsenal' continues the greatness of the series
The Ratchet and Clank series has to be one of my favorites of all time. I'm a sucker for platformers, which this is. I'm a sucker for humor, which this has. I'm a sucker for big, bright, colorful worlds to explore while using some pretty awesome weapons to destroy my opponents, which this has. It's definitely a series that appeals to me and my personal tastes in gaming.
Before 'Up Your Arsenal' came 'Going Commando', which was, in my opinion, one of the best sequels of all time. It improved on pretty much everything that made the original Ratchet and Clank so good. That said, how would 'Up Your Arsenal' improve the series? How much better could it do than its predecessor, especially knowing that it was released only one year after the second installment?
I can assure you that 'Up Your Arsenal' is just about on par with 'Going Commando', which is a very good thing. I recently replayed the entire single player game, which gave me even more motivation to write this review. Besides, I've never formally reviewed any of the Ratchet and Clank games, so I might as well do it now.
So Much Qwarkiness
One of the unique things about the Ratchet and Clank games are the cutscenes. They strive to be funny, and most of the time they crack me up. Whether it's a hilarious character, like Captain Qwark, making a funny one-liner, or a video that promotes the next planet you'll be visiting on your galactic adventure, Insomniac Games really goes above and beyond to try to make you laugh and hold your interest during the scenes.
Insomniac excels at creating a colorful cast of great, memorable characters, which is key when you have as many cutscenes as these games do. In his biggest role yet, Captain Qwark is a central character in 'Up Your Arsenal', and I couldn't be happier about it. However, the one who steals the show is the villain, Dr. Nefarious, and his loyal and sarcastic butler, Lawrence. This duo provides some of the game's greatest moments, and Dr. Nefarious quickly became one of my favorite video game villains of all time. Another nice touch regarding the characters in this installment was the Q-Force, which brought back several characters from the first game, including Al, Skid McMarx, and Helga. It was nice to see them make a return and was definitely a good homage to the original game.
There is a pretty good story here, as goofy as it may be. Essentially, it boils down to Dr. Nefarious wanting to eliminate all "squishies" (aka non-robots) and turn all the galaxy's inhabitants into mechanical beings. The story is aided nicely by the introduction of a "hub world" of sorts. Though you'll still select the planet you'd like to visit from a menu, there is a location called the Starship Phoenix, where you'll often stop by between planets to further certain parts of the story, buy armor upgrades, check out your trophy collection, etc. Having a sort of hub like this was another great addition, since it was a place for all the protagonists of the game to gather at once, providing plenty of opportunities for more great cutscenes.
Protecting The Squishies
Like the previous Ratchet and Clank games, most of the action takes place on a variety of planets. In another cool throwback to the first game, this one takes place in the same galaxy as the original. You'll end up visiting a few planets that you went through in Ratchet and Clank, but don't be alarmed - this is not a retread of any kind. There's more to do, more to see, and more to kill.
The planets you'll visit are, for the most part, awesome. Yeah, you have your typical jungle planet in the beginning of the game, but some of the later levels are very impressive in a graphical sense. The two that stand out to me are the Crash Site and Qwark's headquarters, two planets you won't see until the last portion of the game. Also making a return is a gladiator-style arena in a place called Annihilation Nation. This time, there is an obstacle course to get through, which actually sort of felt tedious after doing it a couple of times. They throw in a few new mechanics, but they aren't different enough to feel truly unique each and every time.
A few new gameplay modes are introduced in 'Up Your Arsenal', with a major one being a mission-style sequence you'll encounter on roughly half of the planets in the game, which is saying something. Usually you'll be able to do four or five missions, and they get pretty fun, whether you're flying a ship around to knock out turrets or protecting galactic rangers as they take down an enemy base. For the most part, they are pretty fun, though towards the end of the game, much like the Annihilation Nation's obstacle courses, they began to get just a little repetitive.
Something else I have to mention are the sky dives. I probably shouldn't talk too much about them, and I definitely shouldn't tell you when you'll encounter them, because they are so much fun. However, they are worth a paragraph here, because they're a blast to play when you find them and are very impressive from a technical point of view.
Your Actual Arsenal
What would a Ratchet and Clank game be without an awesome set of weapons, huh? Trust me, there are plenty of good ones here, and then a couple which....well, let's just say you'll use less. Towards the end of the game you'll suddenly take on a bunch of new weapons to the point where the ones that are visibly weaker will be largely ignored and probably deleted from your quick select menu.
Something that 'Going Commando' introduced that I really liked was the ability to level up your weapons. However, they only increased in level once. Was that enough? Apparently not, as weapons in 'Up Your Arsenal' can go up to level five. This felt like a great balance to me, as many weapons would reach the maximum level towards the end of the game. As they level up, they take on new powers, like a lock-on mode or having the ability to knock back enemies. Very nice touches, I must add, which made leveling up weapons even more addicting.
You'll start with the very typical blaster, along with a grenade launcher of sorts and a shock cannon. Eventually, they get really wild and powerful. Probably the strongest weapon you can get before the halfway point is one that shoots ninja stars, which can reflect off of enemies and walls to hit more opponents. There's the Infector, which causes foes to turn on one another and take damage themselves at the same time. I had a problem leveling this one up, though maybe it's because I decided to focus on other weapons early on. There's also the Plasma Whip, another fairly tough weapon to upgrade as you need to use it in close range. And then, in another throwback to the previous two games, you'll get weapons from the other Ratchet and Clank games if the game detects save files from them on your memory card, which is pretty awesome. Oh, and you can level up those weapons as well. For those who loved the amazing Bouncer in 'Going Commando', you're sure to have fun with it once again.
You'll need to focus on leveling up your weapons, as well as knowing which ones to use in certain situations, because this game isn't easy. True, it's not terribly difficult, but I found it a little more challenging than 'Going Commando'. Enemies in the later stages of the game hit hard. You will die, probably several times. It felt like a very appropriate challenge level though, as it never got frustrating for me. If I died at a certain point, I'd switch up my strategy until I found something that worked. And for those put off by the ease of the final boss in 'Going Commando', don't worry - the final encounter here is lengthy and tough, and will surely test all of your Ratchet and Clank skills.
Third Time's A Charm
The Ratchet and Clank series just doesn't get old for me. I found this one as fresh and exciting as the previous two. I found it funnier and probably more difficult as well. And yet, there are still some things I didn't mention here, some things I don't want to ruin for those who still have yet to play it. Also, I must admit that I never played the multiplayer of this game; it doesn't matter, as the single player campaign was definitely worth the purchase.
If you loved the first two Ratchet and Clank games, you're bound to love this one too. If you've never played the series, I suggest playing the first one, at least, since 'Up Your Arsenal' has some strong ties to it, including some of the planets, characters, and weapons. Once you get to this one, though, I think you'll enjoy it.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal (US, 11/03/04)
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