rATCHET HEADER 1

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.

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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!

Ratchet & Clank Retrospective Part 2: Going Commando
Satoru Iwata Tribute
The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent be­low.
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.