Like a circus performer on a tightrope, when creative minds decide to reboot, remake, or re-imagine an existing franchise they must also perform a delicate balancing act. While the latter of the three is what we ultimately see in 2016’s Ratchet and Clank, a re-imaging that mixes new ideas with established cannon is never an easy task. Leaning too far with new ideas might be off-putting to the existing fanbase, while not implementing enough undermines the point of a re-imaging. Make no mistake, Ratchet and Clank largely follows the same core concepts and gameplay the series is known for. The biggest changes are delivered through the game’s story and characters. After playing through the game no less than three times (Groovitron trophy woes) I’m curious to know what’s in their secret formula, as you’ll be hard pressed to find a reboot, remake, or re-imaging that compares to its execution.
After playing through the vast majority of the games in the Ratchet and Clank series, I’ve often come across this statement in one form or another ‘It looks like a Pixar movie.’ A statement that can be found on forums, comment sections, even in the reviews themselves. People tend to draw a parallel to Pixar movies based on the game’s visual design. A Crack in Time or even Tools of Destruction were fair comparisons in retrospect. Nowhere is that comparison more evident than now. Ratchet and Clank delivers eye-popping textures, colors, and details that deliver the game to reach this elusive Pixar quality while, of course, taking advantage of more this generations advanced hardware.
The planets are largely the same as the original version, with slight differences in secret locations, where to find certain items, etc. Planets like Quartu get a complete overhaul, while Novalis is pretty much a 1:1 replica of the original version. Taking the original worlds, adding in slight differences, and basically recreating them was the right idea. Take for example the train sequence on Kerwan. It’s still exists on Kerwan, in the same exact location, but has been improved drastically since 2002. By going about the worlds and levels this way, it pleases long-time fans, who yearn to see their favorite planets, graphically improved, but also with added improvements.
Each individual level doesn’t take that long to beat, but doing all the optional missions add to the length of the playthrough. Without rushing through the game, the credits should roll between 12-15 hours. I say first, because challenge mode (a staple since the original game) also returns for the re-imaging. There’s no reason to skip a second playthrough that adds quite a bit of replayability to the game. Omega weapon versions, additional levels for guns, and more difficult enemies are always a welcome addition. Besides, who doesn’t want to mow down everything with a maxed out RYNO?
The gameplay here is first and foremost the driver of the game’s success and where established players will easily waft nostalgia fumes. Insomniac deals out enough changes and gameplay improvements seen in later games to keep it feeling new and while the core gameplay of the series is largely the same (it’s that tightrope again, yay themes!). Familiar controls? Check. Crazy-fun weapons? Check. Classic gadgets? Check. Insomniac knows what fans of the series enjoy and makes sure to deliver. The end result is pretty much standard fare for the franchise as a whole. With every iteration of the core series being improved upon, there’s no reason to completely overhaul the gameplay. It still holds up, and more importantly, it’s still fun. Ratchet is agile and the weapons feel powerful. Strafing, jumping, and spraying enemies with bullets from a myriad of different weapons is as good as it has ever been. The game brings back guns from the original game (Pyrocitor), adds series favorites (Mr. Zurkon), while bringing some new weapons to the arsenal (Pixelizer). Old weapons, such as the Pyrocitor have been overhauled both aesthetically and functionally.
Ratchet and Clank also doesn’t shy away from the collectibles. Gold Bolts are back and can unlock various extra features ranging from concept art to cheats. Insomniac also added in collectible cards, which can be found in the wild as packs, or by defeating enemies. Collecting card sets also unlock some rewards and highlight events, characters, and weapons throughout the series history.
For the most part R&C is able to mix in gameplay elements that don’t involve blowing everything up without making them overstay their welcome. I’m referring to Magneboot segments, Grindboot segments, ships segments, Clank segments, and Trespasser puzzles. Flying on the rails with the Grindboots is still a blast after all these years, while Magneboots offer a bit gravity defying traversal needed to further the plot, or reach hidden areas. The main issue I had with the game’s non-weapon focused game play, is the ship based missions. To put it bluntly weren’t particularly fun to play. The controls felt sluggish, both in terms of controlling the spaceship and aiming.
The trespasser puzzles were a bit of a hit or miss. They increase in difficulty as player progress through the game, while non-story related door are the most difficult to open. I didn’t find them to be too difficult except for a handful (2-3). The lines on the rings could have been a bit thicker, I often forgot a ring was turned off, or got lost in all the mess of barriers and lasers when there were four rings on the screen. The Tresspasser sees heavier use towards the end of the game, necessitated by location and story context, can throw off pacing when all you want to do is tear through waves of enemies. Auto-hack is available for use for frustrated or annoyed players (warning: no bolts are given and the trophy cannot be unlocked on this playthrough).
Insomniac has always given some of the limelight to Ratchet’s robotic buddy. Clank’s gameplay has evolved overtime and mostly features the use of Gadgebots to solve environmental puzzles, with a bit of platforming. While A Crack in Time still has the best Clank gameplay, Clank’s puzzle-platforming was till enjoyable in comparison. I didn’t find myself in a single location for too long, but I would have liked to see more variation in the Gadgebots for added complexity. Clank’s segments felt a bit too similar, given a lower variety of Gadgebots.
The largest deviation from the original game as a whole doesn’t come via the gameplay, weapons, or gadgets, but through the story. It closely resembles the original game via the major plot points. This is especially true regarding the Blargian threat to the Galaxy. New to Ratchet and Clank’s origin story is the addition of the Galactic Rangers. Well, that… and Dr. Nefarious. Compared to the rest of the game, the story is definitely the weakest part.
It was hard to gauge the threat and severity of the Blarg’s impact and Chairman Drek’s plan. It was better executed in the original. While its obvious planets are in danger due to Blarg soldiers, ships, and various objects blowing up, why the Blarg were there and the severity of the situation was harder to truly grasp until late in the game. When comparing levels between the two games, cut planets such as Eudora, Olantis, and Orxon are all able to convey, through the planets themselves, why the Blarg are so dangerous and their motivations for doing so in the first place.
The game also features two villains with both Chairman Drek and Dr. Nefarious. Both villains are forced to share the spotlight, with neither getting enough time to come into their villainous roles by the end of the game. At a high-level, Drek’s role, motivations, personality, and all around dastardly-ness was better executed in the original version (ignoring the smaller details changed in the 2016 version).
Qwark’s arc was also slightly disappointing. Returning players knew what was going to happen with this character. But it was always a treat to see the direction his story took in the original. Here, the opening cutscene undermines the impact Qwark has on the story. Although, he is effectively used as a narrator; a clever disguise for tutorials and hints. More importantly, Qwark’s motivations made more sense in the original game. Leading to his transition from hero to zero to be less rewarding. Overall, some transitions happened a bit too fast, both with Qwark and with Ratchet. Late in the game Ratchet returns home to Veldin for a quick cutscene that gets him back on his feet. Much like Qwarks moments, it felt too rushed and unnatural.
Despite my above issues, the story and characters are comprehensible and entertaining respectively, just not executed as well as the original version on some aspects (using a high-level comparison). The stakes are high with entire worlds being at the mercy of the Blarg. Overall, the story and narrative do a lot well, despite their issues with Qwark and Drek. The writing is still funny, delivering the same humor Insomniac always does time after time. Ratchet and Clank are still a great team to play as, as well as watch during the cutscenes. Capain Qwark is still entertaining; a hero-villain that you love to hate and hate to love all at the same time. Plus, the most important part of the story is done well; Ratchet and Clank become believable heroes in a galaxy in desperate need of some.
Treading the thin line of a re-imaging, Insomniac delivered an old classic to the new generation combining classic levels, weapons, and characters and with new ones. Later improvements found in the sequels and incorporated into the original game only improve upon the trigger-happy Lombax and his arsenal of weapons. While some parts of the game such as the ship missions ultimately miss the mark, from the gameplay perspective Ratchet and Clank rarely stumbles. Despite the execution of some story events and character motivations, the overall story still manages to be entertaining. Fourteen years later after the original, its time for a garage mechanic and a defective warbot to save the Solana galaxy once again.