Again, things improve when the game gets back to the series established strengths. Clank fans might be disappointed that the puzzle-solving antics which have always been associated with Ratchet’s robot chum have disappeared, but don’t despair. Special levels involving Clank’s miniature sidekicks, the Gadgebots, put that element back at the forefront, with the little chaps teaming up to press switches, move electric currents, take down enemies and power bridges. Commanding and controlling the Gadgebots is pretty simple, and the combination of platforming and puzzling is actually more engaging than an awful lot of the main game.
Interspersed between Clank’s levels are additional sections where Ratchet has to survive several rounds of arena combat in his prison, or where the series’ stalwart buffoon, Captain Quark, recreates (or reimagines) epic battles for the sake of his biographer. Again, these are a mixed bag. The Ratchet levels do, at least, give you a chance to pull out a small sample of the legendary Ratchet and Clank arsenal, but they also get repetitive with time. Little extra tasks like having to close down portals with your spanner while under constant enemy harassment make these sections more wearing than they might have been, and again that stupid camera doesn’t help.
The Quark levels, meanwhile, are entertaining, but more because of the writing than the gameplay, which is actually a little bit dull. Having completed one Ratchet or Quark section, you can then play through bonus levels in order to gather extra bolts (the game’s currency) which power up Ratchet or Clank and allow Clank to buy additional weapons or power ups from vending machines. Unfortunately, it’s hard to muster enough enthusiasm to bother.
That’s something I never though I’d say about a Ratchet and Clank game, and it’s especially depressing when you consider how polished and slick the game is in every other respect except for (doh!) the gameplay. Like Size Matters or Daxter, Secret Agent Clank plays to the PSP’s strengths, using all the lighting and surface effects at the handheld’s disposal to get over its limited polygon and texture pushing power. As I mentioned before, the music is excellent, and the sound and dialogue is up there with any game the duo starred in on the PS2.
All the same, it’s never a good sign when I’m pushing myself to get further in the game because of a sense of professional obligation, rather than because I’m having a good time. The more I played Secret Agent Clank, the more that happened. It’s a game where isolated chunks are hugely enjoyable, and one where there are times when it looks like it still might blossom into something brilliant, but all in all it’s just too incoherent and inconsistent to keep you hooked throughout. As a character, I’d be happy to see Secret Agent Clank return, but it would be great if he just got back to basics, and left all the extraneous stuff behind.
The more Clank moves out of his platform-action comfort zone, the less enjoyable Secret Agent Clank gets. While it’s technically one of the stronger PSP titles out there, variety comes at the expense of rock-solid gameplay.