- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A legendary furry hero and his mechanical pal debut on Sony’s latest entertainment console to give a single player a nostalgic look at the early years of the dynamic duo in the third-person shooter Ratchet and Clank (Sony Computer Entertainment and Insomniac Games, rated: E+10, reviewed on PlayStation 4, $39.99).

Based on the upcoming movie and the original 2002 game, the platforming adventure offers a reimagined origin of the pointy-eared, pint-sized Lombax named Ratchet and his small robot companion Clank.

It adds some surprises from the decade-old franchise while delivering one of the most charming, addictive and prettiest games of the year.

Bear with me for a minute here, but what’s great about having reviewed video games for the past 25 years is the brain starts to forget.

So while I enjoyed the original “Ratchet and Clank” back in the days of the PlayStation 2, playing this revitalized version felt like a totally new experience loaded with slick eye candy to mesmerize older gamers and suck them back into colorful worlds.

Told through the narration and spotty memories of the egomaniacal Capt. Qwark, the triumphant tale of a lowly mechanic transformed into formidable Galactic Ranger plays out amidst trying to stop the super Blarg villain Chairman Drek and his planet-dismantling plans to control the Solana galaxy.

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Four areas most impressed me with in the latest “Ratchet and Clank.”

First, gorgeous locations and impressive animations abound. I loved the ominous Blackwater City on Rilga with its saturated setting and sewers and loaded with dangerous and squishy Amoeboids (gelatinous creatures that break apart into smaller versions of each other when attacked).

Nebula G34 was equally stunning as a floating space station within an asteroid field that contains the Blarg Research Facility packed with dangerous, mutated creatures.

These colorful worlds combine with clever and funny character interactions as the player visits around a dozen planets (via his high-speed, two-man, spacecraft called the Star Explorer) and feels caught in an interactive “Star Wars” movie built by Pixar.

Next, worthy of appreciation is the mission variety.

Spread out amongst the cities visited, a player will control Ratchet in firefights, races, spaceship battles, environmental obstacle courses and engaging boss battles. Even Clank goes it alone to work with fellow robotic brethren in more strategic missions.

For example, early on, I was in the middle of a battle above Aleero City flying around with Ratchet’s spaceship. The eventual goal, amidst the chaos, was to use its tractor beam on robotic enemy soldiers to collect, drag and then fling them into the enemy mothership to destroy it. It was a wonderful respite from close-quarters combat.

Soon after, Ratchet was on top of a speedy, twisting train transporting dangerous animals. He was engaged in a weapons-blazing battle with Blarg Troopers climbing and jumping to each car and wandering by cargo such as a massive Lombax-eating fish sitting in a secure tank.

Both missions highlighted some beautiful visuals and the complexities of the hero’s struggles.

Ratchet is also on a constant quest for nuts and bolts (the game’s currency) to buy weapons. He can bust crates, pulverizing pottery, crush toolboxes and defeat enemies that often burst into a maelstrom of metal pieces that swirl toward the nearby hero for him to absorb.

Third, the impressive array of weapons and gadgets culled from the entire series of games never disappoints.

The devilish and bizarre assortment of easily upgradeable firepower, a trademark of any Insomniac game, includes;

• Pixelizer — Brand new to the series, it turns enemies into 8-bit versions of themselves, and they fall apart in a pile of pixels.

• Groovitron — It shoots a disco ball that forces enemies to start dancing near it while Ratchet eliminates them (first seen in “Tools of Destruction” in 2007).

• Mr. Zurkon — It’s a floating robot programmed to protect Ratchet by shooting at enemies for s sustained time period and offering some amusing commentary on his love of killing (first seen in “Tools of Destruction” in 2007).

• Omniwrench 8000 — A standard throughout the games, it can bash bad guys, get thrown to trip switches or used to crank a bolt to open entryways (seen in the original “Ratchet and Clank”).

Finally, I’m also going to gush about the fluid, responsive and intuitive control scheme afforded to the Lombax.

It allows a player to easily control his climbing, jumping, swimming and acrobatic movements while quickly swapping weapons or using everything from a Jetpack to Helipack (Crank on his back sprouts propellers) to Magneboots (climb metal walls) to a hoverboard to transverse environments.

It’s also worthy noting that the game has a manageable learning curve that never frustrates.

In fact, unlike previous attempts at “Ratchet and Clank” games, I can now boast numerous accomplishments.

They include helping the pair win gold in the hoverboard races (I usually hate anything resembling a racing level).

I also defeated a massive Blargian Snagglebeast (think a fire-breathing Rancor) with a magma-decimated arena.

And, I collected enough trading cards to unlock the devastating R.Y.N.O. (Rip You a New One), a missile-launching pistol weapon during the action. By the way securing the information rich cards is a fun way to learn about the mythologies of the franchise.

After about a dozen-plus hours of constantly smiling while engaged in the game, I now remember why I loved the series so much.

Suffice to report, “Ratchet and Clank,” is lining up to be one of the best shooting platform games of the year.

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