Greatest.GAMEs.EVER: Ratchet & Clank

Greatest.GAMEs.EVER: Ratchet & Clank

Normally in this series, I want to talk about one game at a time. A stand out game that, to me, is one of the greatest games ever made. For this Ratchet & Clank I can’t do that. When looking at Ratchet & Clank, one of my favorite series of all time, it only makes sense to address its quality as a series as each title stands together to represent one style of experience. The Ratchet and Clank games don’t change much from iteration to iteration, and while R&C 3: Up Your Arsenal is generally considered the series’ best, the overall familiarity from game to game makes me assess them as a whole.

You ever accidentally come across something you find out you love? I’ll give you some backstory, sorry for the personal nature of this anecdote, but I think it drives home what makes Ratchet and Clank great.

I never had much intention to play Ratchet & Clank, I’m not entirely sure why. It may have been that I was a grumpy teenager or I was at the height of being a high school weeb. I wrote the game off and continued to play what I was comfortable with. In the summer of 2004, 2 years after R&C released on PS2, my brother asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I was in a bit of funk, so I didn’t know what to tell him. We went to Gamestop and I couldn’t pick a game. I saw that Ratchet & Clank was used and relatively inexpensive so I said that would be fine. I didn’t want to play it, but for some reason I decided that was my choice. I got home and let the game sit there all evening. It was late August, so most of my friends had already moved off to college and I was staying locally. It was a time in my life where I was experiencing some major regrets about not going away to college and attending a commuter university. I felt a little lonely and bored and sad. I remember sitting in my basement with the lights out, looking at my blank TV screen with the Ratchet and Clank case in my hands. I kept fighting with myself about playing it. Eventually I said, “what else are you going to do?”. I put R&C in my PS2 and after a few minutes of playing my mood and attitude completely changed. I was overcome with a feeling of cartoonish elation and joy. The fuzzy fox guy and his robot friend were so endearing and fun that a feeling of childlike enthusiasm washed over me. There was an immediate connection between me and Ratchet and Clank and it’s since become one of my favorite series of all time.

Insomniac Games knows how to make a game weird, wacky, and fun. If you look at their pedigree it’s remarkable to see where they dedicate their efforts. Insomniac’s games are about giving the player access to a set of wild tools that are completely and utterly disruptive. Whether it’s Ratchet’s disco bombs that make enemies dance uncontrollably or Sunset Overdrive’s Roman Candle launcher which launches fireworks like mini rockets at monsters created from an energy drink…yeah it’s insane. I don’t remember the Spyro games having this diversity in weapons, but it’s been the Insomniac way since R&C and Spider-Man proves that they’re not looking to get away from this anytime soon. Even the Resistance games, which are the most serious of the Insomniac games, have a slew of insane alien weapons that are both fun and unique. They fill their games with colorful characters, hilarious dialogue, and have found a way to take 90s edge and adapt it to be timeless. Oh…and Captain Qwark is awesome…

Ratchet & Clank was advertised as having the most unique set of weapons in a video game, and they’re right. There’s a blaster and a grenade, but there’s also a gun that turns your enemies into sheep. The series embraces a Saturday Morning philosophy of humor and chaos without the gratuitous violence that pervaded in the mid aughts. Playing this series throughout the PS2 and PS3 generations was a nice diversion from the Grand Theft Autos and Call of Dutys that reigned supreme. I’m not prudish when it comes to video game violence, but it’s nice to have something that scratches the shooter itch without covering you in blood and gore. R&C’s comedic tone can also use this aspect to its benefit as they can have fun with the way the robots are destroyed and burst into bolts, which is also currency. Yeah…don’t think too hard about that.

The series takes place in a fictional galaxy where Ratchet is the last of the lombaxes, his species of fox-like humanoids. He’s stuck on Veldin as a mechanic until Clank enters his life and informs Ratchet of his mission to stop an evil businessman from destroying planets so that he can rebuild his own home planet. The story is cartoony and simplistic, but eventually we’re introduced to different villains and ultimately the series tackles the history of Ratchet’s race, time manipulation, and more and more explosions. 

The Ratchet & Clank games offer fairly similar experiences from game to game but they iterate upon each other nicely. If you jump into ANY of the games it’s easy to grasp, but they also reward players who have stuck around since the beginning. Sometimes with additional content! Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando was one of the first games I remember accessing your memory card for the previous game’s save file and giving you cool in-game items because of it. I like when a series rewards you for continuing to be a fan! This is what also makes me judge and asses this series as a whole, it’s a continuous story and the universe grows a little bit from game to game. Once again, I’ll make the comparison to a Saturday Morning cartoon, as if each game is a season of a hit show. 

What makes me consider this series one of the greatest games of all time? It’s pure, unadulterated, wacky, fun. I love when games, or any entertainment medium, don’t take themselves too seriously and allow the creativity to run wild across a galaxy of quirky and weird robots. Jumping into a new R&C game, you expect that you’re going to have a big, dumb grin on your face for most of the time as your enemies burst into hundreds of bolts as they cling and clang into your wallet. These games are also very well written, so expect to laugh a lot at some of the silliness that’s inherent throughout the series. While the stories, to me, kind of blend together, it’s the fun and unique game experiences that keep me coming back for more. This trailer for Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, is still one of my favorite video game commercials ever. The Joey Ramone song helps too.. 

R&C represents the video game version of the id. It’s about being impulsive and ridiculous and acting out on your whims. Yes…I would like to make these robots dance to disco until they explode, please. There’s an energy rush from R&C that feels unlike many other 3D platformers out there. Insomniac’s ability to combine great 3D platforming with 3rd person shooting was reinventive to a genre that was in a strange place in 2002. The great 3D platformer generation was on life support after Rare was purchased by Microsoft. Super Mario Sunshine was trying to hold the genre together while Crash and Spyro lost their way after being purchased by Universal/Vivendi. Even Super Mario Sunshine was a bit of a change that many Mario fans didn’t expect. While it’s impossible to follow up Super Mario 64, Sunshine left a bad taste in many fans’ mouths, even if I think it’s a superb 3D platformer. Donkey Kong 64 was a mindless, frustrating collect-a-thon, The 3D Sonic games were clunky and fun, but messy. Sony stepped in and held the genre together with 3 of the best 3D platformers of the era: Jak and Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, and Sly Cooper. All three are quite great, but Jak eventually went the route of GTA and Sly Cooper’s developer, Sucker Punch moved away from their series to work on Infamous. While Insomniac has moved to other series as well (Resistance, Sunset Overdrive, Spider-Man), R&C has stayed around as a mainstay, with the 2016 reboot/remake being one of the most fun games in the series! 

What helps R&C is that it performs incredibly well. It’s overall variety of playstyles and minigames allow the series to give you breaks when your platforming is weak or when you’re exhausted by big battles. The series’ pacing is quite good and Insomniac has made traversal and combat so snappy and tight that the game feels like constantly moving at a steady pace. There’s always something to whack with your wrench or always some weird enemy to shoot. Normally combining a 3rd person shooter with a 3D platformer seems like it would be a terrible combination, R&C makes it work and it’s pure joy. The duo system also adds a nice level of complexity as both Ratchet and Clank have their own sets of unique abilities. They help each other out, making up for the other’s shortcomings. Clank mostly resides on Ratchet’s back, like an non-annoying Kazooie, and provides you with the ability to double jump or long jump, which have become platforming mainstays. Some of my favorite moments of R&C is when Clank gives Ratchet the ability to fly. It feels so good to fly around a planet blasting aliens with your Combuster. Insomniac has even found out how to make the game fun when the duo splits! Some of the most fun and interesting elements of the series are playing through puzzles with Clank. Clank has been able to manipulate time or get into very small spots that Ratchet cannot. Sometimes he needs to run away from a big, angry enemy in a very Indiana Jones vs. the Boulder sense. My favorite of the Clank segments are when you get to control little robots to help you through puzzles. It’s very reminiscent of Lemmings and I love it! And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the AMAZING Kaiju fights that showcase Clank in R&C 3….

As many of you definitely know, I’m a huge Mega Man fan. I love the simplicity in concept: you play as a little robot that shoots everything in its wake. Everything blows up and you collect the scraps. Ratchet & Clank, though not official, is like a spiritual successor to Mega Man. While there are no enemy weaknesses to remember and no Master Robots, it seeks to achieve many of the same goals as Mega Man. You run, you gun, you upgrade. As the Mega Man games started to move to the SNES you saw more armor and mobility upgrades, R&C continues this trend. The gadgets and armor upgrades you purchase and find in this series are very similar to Mega Man. Mega Man in its purest form never truly saw a 3D update and while I love Mega Man Legends, that series was more like Zelda than MM. Ratchet & Clank has filled the void left by Mega Man in the 3D space. 

Videogames are amazing, but they can often get too bogged down with trying to be cool and real that they lose any instance of joy. It’s great that gaming has taken itself more seriously over the past few years while giving players more incredibly deep and narrative driven experiences, but sometimes you just want to shoot lasers at aliens until they explode. R&C contains a lot of the same energy that you would see in a first party Nintendo title. I often prefer Japanese developed games, Ratchet & Clank is one of the instances where I have to give props to the American side. They helped reinvent the platformer when it needed the most help and have provided us with hours and hours of some of the most fun, frantic, and frenetic gaming experiences of all time. Ratchet & Clank makes me happy and I’m glad we have it.

I will always praise this series for its overall quality. When I worked at Gamestop I sold a LOT of R&C. Many times a customer would enter the store looking to buy a good game for their kids and bring up something terrible and licensed from some kids’ movie. I would often pull that classic Gamestop Employee move and say “you don’t want that, it’s not good and you’re going to spend $50 on something your kids will hate..” While the customer was often taken aback by my honesty, I would, in that situation always, suggest they spend the $15 on Ratchet & Clank (PS2) used. If they didn’t like it they could return it and if they DID like it, there were 2 more games in the series. More likely than not, the customer would come back within the next week and purchase Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal. Why? Because Ratchet & Clank is great and you all should play it.

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