Insomniac's reimagining of the original Ratchet & Clank is a vibrant reminder of how much fun 3D platformers can be.
Insomniac Games has made a lot of Ratchet & Clank games. From Going Commando to Into the Nexus, the Burbank studio has spent years reiterating its formula, perfecting the art of adventure. In fact, this game (based on the movie, based on the game) marks Insomniac's eleventh Ratchet & Clank game. Eleventh! What a lovely surprise to discover that fatigue hasn't set in. This is a game from a team that's clearly had fun whilst making it.
That sense of fun is pretty infectious too. Everything about Ratchet & Clank, from the outrageous weapon designs to the goofy dialogue, is intended to make you smile, and more often than not it works. It might be a movie tie-in heavily reliant on player nostalgia, but it's hard to hold on to any cynicism. With each childish joke or fourth-wall-breaking nod aimed at its reboot status, I felt my cold heart warming towards this series that I thought I'd grown out of.
You'll likely know the story by now. Ratchet meets Clank. They become friends. Ratchet then wears Clank like a backpack and the two of them go about saving the galaxy. Along the way, the pair collect a variety of progressively more over-the-top weapons and gadgets, perhaps visiting different planets in the process (one of which will definitely be an ice planet). If you've played the original you'll recognise many of the locations and the general direction of the story arc, although this time around it's being narrated by the somewhat unreliable Captain Qwark.
Ratchet & Clank is meant to complement the movie, rather than simply repeat its narrative, although it's unclear exactly how that's going to work. Regardless, the spectacle certainly proves this franchise has the chops to merit a full CGI film. The cinematics scattered throughout - and there are plenty of them - look incredible. Many are likely to be reused on the big screen, where for my money, they can stand proudly next to the biggest names in animation.
It's not just the cinematics that impress. Ratchet & Clank is one of the most attractive games I've ever played, with each planet (even the ice one) demanding you take a few moments to step back and breathe it all in. I don't often relate to Ratchet, what with him being an anthropomorphic cat-alien, but I do understand his longing to explore this particular galaxy. It's gorgeous.
There are plenty of ways to do just that. Ratchet & Clank begins rather straightforwardly, relying on straight-up running and jumping, but as you progress through each area you'll see that Insomniac has folded in the expertise acquired from its many years making some great 3D platformers. We're talking high-speed rail grinding, magnetic boots and a jetpack section that will feel very familiar to those of you that played Into the Nexus. This is a celebration of the Ratchet & Clank series, but more than that, it's a celebration of everything that Insomniac has accomplished throughout the studio's history. Okay, maybe not Fuse.
Outside of creating fun ways to traverse game worlds, another defining Insomniac trait is its passion for nonsensical weaponry. Ratchet may begin the game by whacking enemies with his wrench, but by the end you'll be transforming your opponents into sheep or pixelated versions of themselves. Perhaps my favourite of the novelty weapons is the Groovitron, which forces almost every enemy in the game to dance. You can transform an enemy into a sheep, then make them dance. That's gameplay.
Each weapon has an ammo capacity to think about, largely to stop you from spamming your most powerful weapons in every boss fight. Really, though, Ratchet & Clank is eager for you to have as much fun with its weapons as possible. With the very occasional exception, the combat isn't meant to be difficult. Instead, the challenge comes from trying to find the most entertaining method with which to defeat your enemies. Use your silly weapons; have some fun. That's it.
Not only are you rewarded a rush of endorphins for doing so, but Ratchet & Clank is also really into weapon upgrades. As you use a weapon, it levels up and gets better at whatever it does. Kill enough enemies with your Combustor and it'll start doing more damage; use your Groovitron enough and its effect will start lasting longer. Reach level 5 with any of these weapons and its name/appearance will change, indicating that something extra cool has just happened. The Combustor, for example, becomes the Magma Buster, which fires three projectiles with each shot, rather than just one. Okay great, the weapons level up. That's nice. We're not done yet.
As you play through Ratchet & Clank, you'll collect bolts which are used as your primary currency for buying new weapons, or extra health and ammo. You'll also, from time to time, get your hands on a rarer currency, called..."raritanium". This is used to unlock individual upgrades for each weapon, most of which are a bit dull (extra damage, range etc.), but if you unlock enough of these upgrades, you'll then trigger brand new weapon traits, which are slightly less dull, and also remain a mystery until the moment you unlock them. If you're the type of person that enjoys unlocking things in video games (and who isn't?), this is probably sounding pretty good. We're still not done yet.
Upon completing Ratchet & Clank, a new 'Challenge Mode' is unlocked, which allows you to restart the game with all of the weapons you've already purchased/upgraded. In Challenge Mode, you can then level up your various weaponry by another five levels, triggering another name/appearance evolution, and providing access to twice the number of raritanium upgrades. What I'm saying is that Ratchet & Clank is a game about playing around with big, flamboyant weapons, before making them even bigger and even more flamboyant. And just as I was in 2002, I'm all about that.
There's a reason that Insomniac Games has been able to keep making Ratchet & Clank games for almost fourteen years now. And that reason is that, when done right, they're utterly joyful to play. This reimagining/reboot/remake is one of the best I've played and one I can easily recommend, whether you've played the original or not.