Published on May 11th, 2016 | by Chris Scott0
Ratchet & Clank Review
Summary: A great introduction to the series for new fans and as a trip down memory lane for longtime fans.
There was a time in video game history where companies anointed mascots to represent their brand. Nintendo had Mario. Sega had Sonic the Hedgehog. TurboGrafx had Bonk. And Sony had Crash Bandicoot. Yet, shortly after the 32 bit era of games, mascots went away. Aside from Mario, they stopped being the huge draw to the consoles they represented and they slowly faded away.
But while the mascot era of gaming rode off into the sunset, the spirit of what they represented never really died. Sony in particular continued to foster games that would have been clear mascot titles just a few years before. And the biggest of those was Ratchet & Clank. Over the past 14 years, series creator Insomniac Games and Sony, with a series of other developers, have made Ratchet one of the most popular action platformer heroes to never be a mascot.
The series has had its ups (Up Your Arsenal, the Future series) and downs (All 4 One, Full Frontal Assault) but the series always persevered and pushed forward. Despite still being quite successful, Sony and Insomniac have decided to turn back time and reboot the franchise. This reboot, simply titled Ratchet & Clank, happens to time nicely to the, much too late for anyone to care, feature film release.
The game, and I assume the movie that I briefly thought about going to but didn’t, follows the basic plotline of the original game. Ratchet is a backwater Lombax working as a mechanic when he finds Clank, a defective Warbot with a heart of gold. Clank happens to have important information vital to the defense of the galaxy and he is hellbent on reaching the Galactic Rangers to deliver it. The two team up for a galaxy-spanning adventure that will see them hopping from planet to planet as they set out to complete Clank’s quest.
As I played through this new game I also revisited the original. For the first half of this reboot, the game is almost a straight remake with a few minor tweaks that adjust the story to work better. Many of the levels are in the same layout, so much so that secrets are in the exact same spot. The enemy encounters play out exactly as you remember them. And the early weapons all feel extremely familiar. Fortunately, the original game was fantastic in its own right and Insomniac modernized this version of Ratchet with some of the many advancements that they added to the series over its many iterations.
Ratchet will gain experience as he defeats enemies and this is applied to himself, via additional health points, and his arsenal of weapons as he uses them. The more Ratchet utilizes a weapon, the more powerful it can become. Additional to the experience system is the weapon upgrade path which requires a special currency called raritanium. Purchasing upgrades is done on a hex grid that can add more ammo, more damage, faster reloading, and special abilities that make the weapon stronger and oftentimes more fun to use.
As the game advances Ratchet will gain access to more and more weapons. Insomniac decided, and quite smartly at that, to make Ratchet’s complete arsenal a greatest hits of the series. Favorites like the Groovetron, which has a dance animation for every enemy – including bosses, and the Sheepinator, a gun that turns enemies into sheep, are a blast to play with. These weapons will appeal to new players and stroke the nostalgia flames of older fans. It is pretty much a win-win situation.
But while combat is a major component of Ratchet & Clank, it isn’t the only thing that makes the series stand out. Platforming has always been and still is a huge part of the game. One of the things that is great about the series is its ability to thrust you into a crazy firefight with explosions, dancing enemies, and sheep and then immediately shift gears and require some platforming to advance. The games have never been super difficult, and this version is also very forgiving, but to get to all the secrets or get all the cool gear, precision platforming is something that will be required. Requiring precision platforming from your players requires precision controls and Ratchet & Clank have always shined there. In this effort, the controls are super tight.
Also super tight are the visuals. Ratchet & Clank may be the best looking game to release on consoles in this generation. It’s not just the art style; it is everything from the particle effects from the explosions to the detailing done to all the buildings, ships, and most importantly the characters. This is funny because Ratchet & Clank games in the past have often been said to feel like “playing a Pixar movie”. This game may be the first time that is actually true and not just hyperbole.
For the most part Ratchet & Clank on PS4 serves as a great introduction to the series for new fans and as a trip down memory lane for longtime fans. It does the nostalgia thing so well that the story changes they make, one of which introduces a second main villain to the game that wasn’t there in the original, feel natural. And it has all the charm the original did just in new packaging and smart evolutions that the series has made in the 14 years since it came out. It’s kind of perfect, or would be if the end boss battle wasn’t on a completely different plane of difficulty than the rest of the game. But that shouldn’t spoil the fun; Ratchet & Clank is pretty great regardless.