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Ratchet and Clank Rule Game-Mascot Roost

A mascot is only effective if you know what he stands for.

Just as most Americans connect Mickey Mouse with Disney and Tony the Tiger with Kellogg's, every gamer associates Mario with Nintendo and Sonic the Hedgehog with Sega.

Since the introduction of the PlayStation in 1995, Sony has tried to find a mascot as distinctive as Nintendo's.

Candidates have included Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Sly Cooper (a fox) and Daxter (an "ottsel").

But despite the fact that all of them have headlined some excellent games, none has become synonymous with Sony.

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That doesn't mean we don't have a soft spot for them. Since the debut of the PlayStation 3, I've been looking forward to the system debut of the "lombax"/robot team of Ratchet & Clank.

Now that it's arrived, I'm wondering: Why aren't these guys as big as Mario?

— "Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction" (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99): Ratchet is apparently the last surviving lombax, sort of a cross between a raccoon and a bobcat; Clank is his robot sidekick.

In "Tools of Destruction," the boys are on the run from Emperor Tachyon, a despot who bears a grudge against the entire lombax species.

The chase takes our heroes to a variety of gorgeously rendered planets, with Ratchet hoping the trail will lead to his home world.

As in the previous games, "Tools" deftly mixes platform running-and-jumping with mind-blowing firepower. New weapons include a tornado launcher and the Groovitron, which causes all your enemies to dance rather than fight.

There's an impressive variety of gameplay — from straightforward shooting to outer-space battles to an infectious little puzzle challenge — with very tight controls.

Even after you finish your missions on a planet, you'll want to come back and find all the hidden treasures.

With Pixar-quality animation in service of a frequently hilarious story, this is the most delightful PS3 game yet.

Four stars out of four.

— "Crash of the Titans" (Sierra, for the Wii, Xbox 360, $49.99; PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, $39.99; DS, $29.99): Crash Bandicoot emerged from the Naughty Dog studio in 1996 as a scatterbrained hero with a devastating, tornadolike attack.

Since Naughty Dog moved on to Jak and Daxter and palmed Crash off on other developers, he hasn't matured much, bottoming out with last year's dreadful "Crash Boom Bang!"

In "Crash of the Titans," the villainous Neo Cortex is creating an army of mutants.

The twist is that Crash can "jack" the titans — that is, he can stun them, mount them and then control them.

Each of the titans has different characteristics, so there are new skills to learn on just about every level.

When you're not riding a titan, however, the action is pretty generic, basically running, jumping and punching your way through extremely linear levels.

The graphics, even on the Xbox 360, are bland, and the fixed camera angles make it easy for enemies to sneak up on you.

This game won't make Crash a star again, but it's a step in the right direction.

Two stars.

— "The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night" (Sierra, for the Wii, $49.99; PlayStation 2, $39.99; DS, $29.99): The three Spyro adventures that Insomniac Games created between 1998 and 2000 were some of the PlayStation's most satisfying — if underrated — games.

Insomniac moved on to Ratchet & Clank, while Spyro was adopted by lesser studios that haven't been able to capitalize on his charm.

"The Eternal Night" is the second chapter of a planned trilogy, and it's unnecessarily morbid.

The dragons are at war with the apes (yeah, whatever) and Spyro has to repel the hordes by whipping his tail and breathing fire.

The platform-jumping sections are weirdly difficult for a character with such inherent kid appeal, and even the addition of "dragon time" (which slows everything down, à la "The Matrix") doesn't make them much more tolerable.

Clunky animation and horrendous voice acting (from fairly big names like Elijah Wood and Gary Oldman) round out a disappointing package.

I hope Spyro someday finds a developer that loves him; the little guy deserves better.

One-and-a-half stars.