Secret Agent Clank: A Forgotten Entry in a Legendary Franchise
By: Mike Alexander
An Iconic Duo
One of PlayStation’s most successful, longest-running franchises is the Ratchet & Clank series. For over 20 years, the Lombax and his tiny bot companion have entertained us and taken us on adventures across the universe in 15 games. 17 if you want to include the pre-smartphone mobile game Ratchet & Clank: Going Mobile and the Ratchet & Clank Collection on the PS3.
That’s a long time and a lot of games, and Ratchet & Clank have been some of the faces of the PlayStation brand nearly that entire time. The original game’s release in 2002 introduced the world to the PlayStation brand’s iconic duo of mascots, and each successive game has continued to evolve the series in a way that has kept it relevant in the ever-changing climate of the video game industry. Every new game did this by incorporating systems, mechanics, and even different narrative tones as they became popular. For instance, Ratchet: Deadlocked took on a grim narrative with an even larger focus on combat to appeal to the Halo crowd, and Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One introduced a four-player co-op campaign to appeal to couch co-op enthusiasts.
Big Adventures, Tiny Screen
It’s difficult to say that every R&C game was a hit, but any game series that finds a way to stay relevant for two decades is bound to have a few whiffs. However, most people only think about the mainline console iterations when Ratchet & Clank is discussed. The Insomniac-developed titles are, without a doubt, the primary examples of the series, but there is also a duology of handheld games developed for the PSP by High Impact Games.
The now-defunct game studio was comprised of former Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games devs, and primarily created new handheld entries for both companies’ signature franchises: Jak and Daxter, and Ratchet & Clank. Their first game was 2007’s Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, a fun and creative installment that was more of what you expected from a Ratchet & Clank game. Outside of a few novel levels and some interesting mechanics, Size Matters was largely more of the same shooting, platforming, and shenanigans.
Their second game, however. Now THAT was something interesting.
Clank’s Solo Adventure: An Underrated Gem?
Just over a year later, High Impact Games released a PSP title called Secret Agent Clank, a game that used the characters and some of the base gameplay mechanics from the main series, but also expands into adventurous, inventive directions. Unfortunately, Secret Agent Clank didn’t land with everybody, only garnering mixed reviews from players and critics. Because of this, it has been mostly forgotten by all but its most loyal fans, and almost entirely lost to time.
Does Secret Agent Clank deserve the treatment it has received? Is it really a mediocre PSP game that should be buried alongside the device it was developed for? Maybe not. Let’s take a look at Secret Agent Clank 15 years later with fresh eyes, and evaluate it for what it really is.
Overshadowed by Greatness
Before we get into what makes this game good, it might be important to make a note of the point in which the franchise Secret Agent Clank made its debut. When its predecessor was released, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters was the first new R&C game in nearly 2 years, following 2005’s Ratchet: Deadlocked. Fans were happy to be reunited with the duo for an entirely new adventure that maintained the series’ signature humor and personality, and that game’s presentation wasn’t too far removed from the PS2 games it took after. By all accounts, Size Matters was pretty impressive.
The following year, The first R&C on a new generation of PlayStation hardware was released: Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. This game brought the series into a new era, and made use of the PS3 hardware to deliver Pixar-levels of animation quality, lush environments, and even more creative weapons and tactics. The best thing about Tools of Destruction is that it felt like it successfully left the PS2 generation games in the dust. This might also be part of what contributed to the less-than-warm reception for Secret Agent Clank.
Whereas Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters felt in line with what we had come to expect for the series, Secret Agent Clank was a massive departure in many ways, AND it was released in the midst of newer, shinier R&C games that exceeded fan’s expectations. It’s not unfair to think that most people, Ratchet fans included, passed over Secret Agent Clank in favor of the second entry in the “Future” trilogy, Quest for Booty, a game that was released just two months after Secret Agent Clank.
So, while Secret Agent Clank was at a disadvantage due to 1) not being developed by Insomniac, and 2) being sandwiched in between much bigger sequels, it still has plenty going for it. There’s some great gameplay, hilarious dialogue, and the concept itself isn’t as out of left field as it might seem.
In Secret Agent Clank, players primarily take control of the diminutive mechanical hero in an expansion of the James Bond-esque Secret Agent Clank TV Show bit from Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal. Instead of a calculating sidekick, Clank is now a suave, debonair spy with an arsenal of weapons and gadgets, and this time Ratchet is the one who takes a back seat for most of the game. It’s definitely an interesting twist on the R&C formula, but it doesn’t end there.
Most of the game’s 15 missions follow Clank in a variety of different gameplay, including typical R&C-style shooting and smashing using plenty of spy-themed tools, like a briefcase flamethrower, tie-a-rangs, and cufflink bombs. The all-out combat is as fun as it’s ever been (barring some issues that arise due to the platform), but you’ll also engage in some light stealth as well, to hammer home the spy theme. Avoiding spotlights, sneaking up behind enemies, and completing QTEs for instant takedowns is a great change of pace, and feels appropriate for this game. You also get to take flight in aerial combat missions as Giant Clank a few times.
A Variety of Adventures
That might have been enough to sustain the length of the game on its own, but Secret Agent Clank has plenty more to diversify its experience. Occasionally, Clank will get stuck somewhere, and players will then take control of three gadgebots and use them in different configurations to solve puzzles and free Clank. These puzzles aren’t particularly taxing, but they’re a fun diversion.
There are also missions where Ratchet takes the spotlight he is so very used to. In these, the Lombax fights off waves of enemies in a prison arena using weapons that mysteriously come in care packages to his cell. These missions are some of the blandest in the game as they really are just combat arenas without too much variation, but they still break up the Clank gameplay pretty well.
The best diversion from the core Spy Clank gameplay has to be the Captain Qwark missions (playable for the first time in the series), where he recounts stories of fantastic events that never happened to a biographer who is chronicling his rise to fame. Quark is as goofy as ever, and the classic R&C comedy is on full display in these missions, including things like a musical where he sings about his left butt cheek, an impromptu cowboy western, and a battle with a kaiju-style monster. These are all really, really fun and silly.
Unavoidable Hardware Limitations
If there is anything that detracts from the Secret Agent Clank experience, it would probably be the game’s camera. In the game’s original PSP release (it was later ported to the PS2), it was all but impossible to wrangle the camera when you needed to. The default control scheme maps the PSP’s shoulder buttons to pan the camera left and right, but it was never an ideal method of controlling your perspective when things got hectic. This was just an unfortunate limitation of the PSP hardware, and something PSP users just learned to deal with. Google “claw grip Monster Hunter” to see what I mean.
Overall, it would in fact appear that Secret Agent Clank wasn’t given a fair shake. Sure, it’s different from mainline Ratchet & Clank in many ways, but you could also view it as a breath of fresh air for the franchise. It mixes and matches a bunch of different styles of gameplay, but the experience never feels bogged down by its variety. There might be a Ratchet mission or two that goes on a little too long, or a Gadgebot sequence that you would rather skip, but the majority of the game’s roughly 7 hours is a ton of fun.
With 2021’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart effectively rebooting the franchise with a massively successful entry, maybe we’ll even see another standalone Clank adventure at some point…
Ok, probably not.
A Secret Agent Clank fan can dream though.