We all have a soft spot in our heart for the first video game we pur­chase with our own hard earned mon­ey. My first con­tact with Ratchet & Clank was the demo disk that came with my Playstation 2; I got Spyro: Enter the Dragonfly with my PS2, but know I logged much more time on that demo ver­sion of Ratchet & Clank. So much so that I can still point out the dif­fer­ences between those demo lev­els and the final game to this day. I liked it so much I had to go out and spend my mea­gre allowance on the game. It just couldn’t wait until Christmas, or my Birthday.

Over the course of the last mon­th I have under­tak­en the task of replay­ing the entire Ratchet & Clank series end-to-end; get­ting as much com­ple­tion as pos­si­ble, and I must say it has aged rather well — espe­cial­ly the orig­i­nal. The deci­sion to have more styl­ized and “car­toony” graph­ics has meant the game is still bear­able to look at in 2015. I should note that the­se ret­ro­spec­tives are based on the orig­i­nal PS2 ver­sions of the games. I don’t own the HD col­lec­tion, and can’t real­ly com­ment on if it’s worth it or not besides the core games being amaz­ing. Sadly, my orig­i­nal mem­o­ry card with the orig­i­nal 100% com­plete save files of the first four games is lost to the ages, but I’ve felt engaged enough with the games still to attempt a good lev­el of com­ple­tion for each game this go-around.

ratchet 2 side 1In many ways, Ratchet & Clank fol­lows in the foot­steps of oth­er Insomniac titles; their pre­vi­ous series Spyro was always over­shad­owed by the plat­form­ing offer­ings on the Nintendo 64 despite being very capa­ble in its own right. The game also has a lot in com­mon with the clas­sic line­up of Rare games. They are about col­lect­ing things and explo­ration, even if Ratchet & Clank is a lit­tle more struc­tured in how it does it. I make this com­par­ison in a flat­ter­ing way. I real­ly do think Ratchet & Clank is good enough to stand next to the best games the gen­re has to offer.

Oh, and it has guns. A truck load of guns. Weapons and gad­gets are kind of Ratchet & Clank’s thing; each one is unique, if not equal­ly use­ful. But that’s to be expect­ed as new weapons are need­ed to take on new and more pow­er­ful ene­mies. What strikes me is how few games have man­aged this lev­el of weapon diver­si­ty; it added so much vari­ety to the com­bat and that has remained one of the hall­marks of the series. One of my per­son­al favourites is the “Glove of Doom” that sends out lit­tle robot min­ions that seek out your ene­mies and blown them to pieces. It’s the sound they make that real­ly sells it; they make the­se evil lit­tle squeaks that are just hilar­i­ous.

Gadgets unlock the var­i­ous game­play ele­ments, and are used to nav­i­gate and solve the var­i­ous envi­ron­men­tal puz­zles. Many of the­se like the Heli-pack become defaults in lat­er games, but here you start from scratch. Grind Boot for grind­ing, O2 mask for breath­ing under­wa­ter — it’s most­ly com­mon sense stuff. You even get a met­al detec­tor in case you feel like the game is too excit­ing and you want to goof off fol­low­ing frus­trat­ing to locate and gen­er­al­ly quite low val­ue caches of bolts. There are things you will for­get you have here like the Metal Detector and the Sonic Summoner (which I think I’ve only both­ered to use once) but, once again, there is a lot of vari­ety and options for those who want to seek it out.

What Ratchet relies on most is his trusty wrench which is used for every­thing from turn­ing bolt-cracks to smash­ing ene­mies and the scenery, although I don’t think we actu­al­ly see him fix very much with it. We also have more odd fare like the “Walloper” which is a giant met­al com­e­dy box­ing glove, “The Morph-o-Ray” which turns your enimies into chick­ens, “The Suck Cannon” which can suck up small­er enimies for ammu­ni­tion, and “The Taunter” which is a giant mega­phone that can lure ene­mies into haz­ards but is also handy for break­ing the crates full of bolts that lit­ter the world.

I don’t know if they eat the bolts, build things with them, or just car­ry them around like real­ly a real­ly awk­ward coinage, but over the course of the game you will accu­mu­late enough nuts, bolts, and gears to build a Star-cruiser. Watching your ene­mies explode into bolts is always sat­is­fy­ing, and they fit into the mechan­i­cal world of Ratchet & Clank with its retro-style robots and sci-fi spires ripped from the pages of a 1950s comic book.

The sound­track is also worth a men­tion in its own right. Composed sole­ly by David Bergeaud; it fits very well in each lev­el. Again, I think it can hold its own again­st the clas­sics of the gen­re in this regard as well. It’s fun, some­times funky, and very mem­o­rable. The the­me to Metropolis on plan­et Kerwan is imme­di­ate­ly rec­og­niz­able with its therem­in stings, punchy drums, bass, and deep orches­tral pal­let. The music nev­er feels super­flu­ous or inci­den­tal. The sound­track has as much char­ac­ter as the game itself, and once again has not aged poor­ly at all thanks most­ly to its eclec­tic mix of instru­ments and styles.

Looking back on it, there are also a real­ly wide range of ene­mies in the game. Most plan­ets have at least one unique and new ene­my, and as weapons become unlocked you can tack­le them in new and inter­est­ing ways. Sand sharks, Blarg, Robot lum­ber­jacks, big­ger robot lum­ber­jacks, robot dogs, and more inhab­it the game’s world.

Variety is the name of the game here. Ratchet & Clank fea­tures space com­bat, plat­form­ing, a few puz­zles, hover-board rac­ing, and of course the lev­els where you con­trol Clank and Giant Clank. There are a lot of ele­ments put into the game, and none of them feel too out of sync in terms of qual­i­ty. The core game­play has lots of bits and pieces to keep things from get­ting monot­o­nous; under­wa­ter sec­tions, grind rails, and obsta­cle cours­es along with Gold bolts to find and Skill Points to acquire. Action, explo­ration, and plat­form­ing can be dif­fi­cult things to bal­ance. There are a lot of dis­parate mechan­ics to jug­gle here, and the fact that Ratchet & Clank feels more or less cohe­sive is an achieve­ment in itself. The fact you can return to it and still get com­pelling game­play, and things to do, is an great bonus. Collecting all the do-dads isn’t as much of a chore as it is in some games.

One of the less devel­oped parts of the game are the sto­ry and char­ac­ters. Game sto­ries have moved in pret­ty sub­stan­tial ways since this era of games, and whilst it serves the game very well it main­ly serves as a method to move through the games var­i­ous, and excel­lent, envi­ron­ments. The char­ac­ter of Captain Quark has endured through the series for a rea­son; he is much more com­pelling than the “Evil cor­po­rate guy in a suit” Chairman Dreck and the Blarg; who nev­er real­ly return in the series or have a ful­ly explained moti­va­tion beyond the ham-fisted envi­ron­men­tal mes­sage about pol­lu­tion and cor­po­rate greed. The over-arching plot is very 2002. I know I felt a lot more ani­mos­i­ty towards the bum­bling, washed up Quark; he’s one part washed up action star, one part used car sales­man — and all ego.

The rela­tion­ship between Clank and Ratchet feels gen­uine, but I think Ratchet him­self gets very lit­tle devel­op­ment for a main char­ac­ter. In many ways Clank is very much the hero here; the one who has a sense of moral pur­pose. Until far­ther in the series (which we will get to in future ret­ro­spec­tives) Ratchet has no real rea­son to be there beyond going on an adven­ture and being swept up in events. But the­se short­com­ings nev­er get in the way of the game itself. and since the game is aimed at a younger audi­ence in the ear­ly 2000s era it’s more charm­ing and com­pe­tent than we were used to get­ting.

What makes Ratchet & Clank as a series tick is all present and ful­ly formed in its first iter­a­tion. This is quite an achieve­ment con­sid­er­ing they orig­i­nal­ly planned to devel­op a game code­named “I5” and known as “Girl with a stick” inter­nal­ly as late as 2001. Ted Price, President and CEO of Insomniac Games, wrote a Gamasutra piece “Postmortem: Insomniac Games’ Ratchet & Clank” which reveals the game was made in just 18 months with about 40 full time staff — a pret­ty her­culean under­tak­ing.

ratchet insert 2
Early con­cept art of Ratchet & Clank lev­els

Insomniac games always have a cer­tain feel to them. I sup­pose even my 11 year old self could tell the Spyro series wasn’t as good as the PS1 orig­i­nals. The game I got with my PS2 lacked that fac­tor, that qual­i­ty that I found once again in Ratchet & Clank. At their best, Insomniac games have a sense of humour and per­son­al­i­ty that per­me­ate their projects, and make them more endear­ing and enjoy­able than a lot of series out there.

When we think about “clas­sic games” we tend to go back to the 80s or 90s; when we think of gam­ing mas­cots we tend to go back to that peri­od as well. How much time has to pass until some­thing is con­sid­ered a “clas­sic” game? 10, 20… 30 years? Our nos­tal­gia comes from a nar­row place when many younger gamers, and even gamers in their mid twen­ties, didn’t grow up with those games from the 80s and 90s at all.

I sup­pose that’s what makes games like Ratchet & Clank sail more under the radar then some more fond­ly remem­bered games. It occu­pies a peri­od in gam­ing his­to­ry where the icons were no longer plat­form­ers, and the focus was more on dif­fer­ent styles of gam­ing. Ratchet & Clank was nev­er a game that was in fash­ion; it has nev­er been the game peo­ple are talk­ing about at any given moment. It did its own thing, but in doing so pro­vid­ed an expe­ri­ence many of us now yearn for even more strong­ly then when they came out. I con­sid­er it a clas­sic and must-play game of its era, and it’s cer­tain­ly stood the test of time far bet­ter than some oth­er “clas­sic” games. Ratchet & Clank is a game where there are a lot of very good ele­ments. Nothing gen­re re-defining, but it nails most of what it does and pro­vides moun­tains of fun in doing so.

I think when we “go retro” we need to look more to the expe­ri­ences in the PS2 era of gam­ing and not auto­mat­i­cal­ly think of the gam­ing world as big 3D block­busters and tiny 2D scraped togeth­er indie games. By mod­ern stan­dards, Ratchet & Clank was built on a shoe­string bud­get yet there is lit­tle in the way of ambi­tion from inde­pen­dent cre­ators to live up to games of its ilk.

Here we are, a full 13 years lat­er, and I still feel con­fi­dent rec­om­mend­ing the first game in the series as a more than worth­while game to play. I do miss the days when top shelve games were not afraid to be a lit­tle more fam­i­ly friend­ly, and a bit less cyn­i­cal. Nintendo thrives pre­cise­ly because it is able to do this. I can also rec­om­mend Ratchet & Clank because it’s some­thing we see less of in the HD and “next gen” eras of gam­ing. It’s a bright and fun expe­ri­ence with­out hav­ing to ven­ture into the mine­field of indie or casu­al gam­ing. Family friend­ly gam­ing has got­ten a bad name for being phoned-in and shal­low in the inter­ven­ing years, and that’s a lit­tle sad. I love first per­son shoot­ers, but some­thing was lost when the indus­try pushed into ever nar­row­er gen­res and themes. Ratchet & Clank has been one of the few sur­vivors of that push and I’m very glad of that.

Favourite Weapon: The RYNO.  The Rip You a New One

Favourite Gadget: Swingshot

Next time on the Ratchet & Clank Retrospective, we’re Going Commando!

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John Sweeney
John Sweeney is a ter­ri­bly British man with a back­ground in engi­neer­ing. He writes long-form edi­to­ri­al con­tent with analy­sis of gam­ing, games media and inter­net cul­ture. He also does the occa­sion­al video game ret­ro­spec­tive with a week­ly column about Magic the Gathering thrown in for good mea­sure. He also does most of our inter­views for some rea­son, we have no idea why. A staunch sup­port­er of free speech and con­sumer rights; skep­ti­cal of agen­da dri­ven media and sus­pi­cious of unac­cou­table author­i­ty but always hope­ful for change.