Ratchet and Clank shouldn’t exist. It’s not a first person shooter, nor is it a military cover-based shooter. It’s choice of color, compared to other popular games, is the equivalent of someone taking psychedelics and watching Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. It’s not hyper-realistic visuals that we’ve come to expect, it’s a playable version of Toy Story. Ratchet and Clank is a time machine – a look back into the early days of gaming. If you gauged the climate of mainstream gaming, we as gamers expect an epic tale of adventure. We want war and violence. We want a mature story with relatable characters. We don’t want platforming. Or cute characters, or a lighthearted story. A game like Ratchet and Clank would be something we ignore, not because of the genre. Because it’s a game “for kids”. Yet, here it is and I’ve played it. And while the game displays the best of what a platformer can be, it also presents its worst.
The ‘Toy Story’ Promise
Visually, Ratchet and Clank is up there with Nintendo’s best. From the choice of colors, to the polish of the character designs and movement, the game is the answer to the promise that one day we would play games on the same visual level as Toy Story. This is not to say that other games of this generation aren’t visual treats, but there is a price that you must pay when shooting for photo-realism. Ratchet and Clank serve as a reminder that games can step outside the lines of various design and art styles and still make or surpass the benchmark for what we consider visually stunning. Which makes the story elements so disappointing.
There is a disconnect between the fluidity of the gameplay and the cutscenes. The transition from action to cutscene is reminiscent of platformers of yesterday. A complete break in the action for a minute of story. It’s how storytelling was done back then. However, gaming has begun to evolve and storytelling doesn’t just happen with a complete break in the action. Sometimes the story is told while playing the game. Other times developers try to blend the transition from cutscene to gameplay in order to keep the flow of the game. In Ratchet and Clank you go from beautiful action sequences to a static, and sometimes lifeless conversation between two characters. Not only do cutscene fall short, but they all seem to follow the same routine.
- Ratchet meets new character
- Character says a few lines
- Character turns on an infobot that gives the details to the mission.
Because this game serves as the digital component to the movie, I have to believe that the decision was made to keep the best action sequences to the movie and leave the game with just enough to get by.
The story itself is a mixed bag. The premise is entertaining and the characters are relatable but the jokes are just lame. But then again I might not be the target audience. Unlike Pixar films, where the comedy walks a fine line of adult and children’s humor, Ratchet and Clank present humor like a sledgehammer. “Hey this is a joke! Isn’t it funny?!” No. At least Captain Quark, one of the game’s main characters, who seems to be based off Zapp Brannigan, is tolerable. Only because his presence is a constant reminder of Futurama.
Satisfying Gameplay with Weird Vertical Ramp
While the quality of the story is debatable, the game mechanics are not up for debate. The game is a solid platformer. There are a variety of weapons, each with their own style and them, which change your style of play. You have your traditional weapons, like a blaster rifle and grenade, but then you have guns that turn enemies into sheep and or pixelate them, making them look like 8-bit sprites. You can hit swap between four weapons or hold the triangle button for the weapon wheel. The amount of weapons adds variety and some strategy to combat and the progression systems makes it easy to collect and upgrade 90% of the weapons within the game. The one area that I found an issue with was the various strengths of each weapon. During one of the latter boss fights I decided to use the peacekeeper, the upgraded version of the warmonger(rocket launcher), which is supposed to be one of the more powerful weapons in the game. Unfortunately, the peacekeeper never felt more powerful than the upgraded Blaster, which presents a problem. If every weapon is pretty much equivalent, why spend time upgrading?
Death can happen quite often in Ratchet and Clank. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a child’s Dark Souls, but shooting with reckless abandon will not lead to positive results. It’s actually one of the highlights of the game because you’re initially presented with what you think is going to be a kid’s game. You’ll jump on the head of some enemies and breeze through checkpoints. What you get is quite the opposite. As you progress through the game you face an increasing amount of enemies with various attack styles.
Using a flamethrower to keep mechanical dogs at bay while dodging grenades thrown by enemies in the distance become the norm. No combat situation feels impossible, however the difficulty goes from a predictable increase to a vertical spike in the later levels. Near the final level of the game I found myself at a tactical disadvantage, pinned down against a wave of enemies. I took a few frustrating attempts before I could finally clear the area, however the spike in difficulty was at odds with what I had encountered before. I found myself questioning why the game decided to increase the difficulty so quickly.
Outside of combat, Ratchet and Clank is a system of give and take. You acquire various abilities that can only be used on select levels. You might have the ability to use a jetpack on one planet, but lose it the next. After you win your first bronze medal in a hoverboard race, you’ll want to run the next race, hoping that you encounter a new track, but you’ll run the same track with some new obstacles. Or you’re grind on a rail that is built like rollercoaster, but it’s the only ride in the galaxy. Insomniac created a galaxy that I want to explore, but I’ve never been given the chance to explore how I want. What I expected was something akin to Legend of Zelda or Metroid. Where the more abilities I unlock, the more I can explore. What I received was a more linear experience.
I never played any of the previous Ratchet and Clank games. It was a series that I just didn’t have interest in playing. But, after playing the reboot I’m interested in playing the next entry in the franchise. Are there issues with the game? Yes. But those issues do not outweigh the positives. With most AAA games following the same trend (looking at your first-person military shooter) it’s refreshing to play something different. A game with color, and life. Something that doesn’t take itself too seriously or 100 hours to complete. Ratchet and Clank follow in the same steps as the Sonics, Marios, and Crash Bandicoots of the world. It is a game that reminds me of the games I used to play as a kid. And that alone is worth the price of admission.