I’ve played Ratchet & Clank games since the duo first appeared in 2002, and I’ve been a big fan of the series since those days. Playing the PlayStation 4 reimagining of the original game was definitely fun, but some small changes make me uneasy about the game as a whole.
Before I get into the uneasiness though, I want to be clear: I had a good time playing the game. Ratchet and Clank holds up well 14 years after its initial release, especially since the game was updated for 2016. This isn’t a straight remaster, but the game’s backbone is still there: beautiful and varied worlds, imaginative weapons, and fun, if simple, platforming. Plus, developers Insomniac took advantage of over a decade of computing improvements to make this the best looking game in the series by far. Since at least 2007’s Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, people have been comparing these games to Pixar movies, but this is the first one which actually reaches that lofty goal, aided in no small part by the accompanying animated movie (this is “the game, based on the movie, based on the game”). Each level is vividly rendered and brings the game to life with a vibrancy impossible in previous editions.
In addition to the gorgeous presentation, some smart quality-of-life changes in this reimagining make it the best place to start if you’re new to the series. Among them are a proper control scheme and an easier-to-control camera, both problems in the first game which are now fixed. And to keep the player interested, the weapon set is a mix of original and greatest hits, featuring the funny robotic bodyguard Mr. Zurkon and the instant dance party Groovitron, both introduced in the PS3 titles. For me, though, the most impactful change to the game is the seemingly minor addition of card collection.
Collecting sets of three cards gives passive bonuses such as more bolts (the game’s currency) or more raritanium (used to upgrade weapons), so it’s a feature that I would’ve taken advantage of regardless, but it actually changes up the game in unexpected ways. Most simply, card packs are another hidden collectible, giving more incentive to search all of the game’s nooks for secrets, which is a series staple. But more significantly, it prevented me from hoarding bolts for the RYNO, the game’s most powerful weapon.
In the original Ratchet and Clank, bolts were hard to come by. (They aren’t necessarily plentiful in this reimagining, but every game after the first provided more ways to earn them.) The final boss battle was really tough for me back then, and I couldn’t beat it with the game’s other weapons, so the overpowered RYNO was my only hope. In order to afford it, I had to not only replay levels to grind out the last few bolts I needed, but I also had to be stingy with my weapon purchases. Any weapon I deemed non-essential was avoided, which is a problem when one of Ratchet and Clank’s selling points was its creative weapons. This habit also carried over to the other games in the series that I played: until I knew how much the RYNO cost I didn’t dare buy anything that seemed unnecessary, because I didn’t want to have to face the final boss without it. Plus, worrying about bolts made me severely conserve ammo and hunt for every last bolt-containing crate. Looking back on this strategy, that just wasn’t a fun way to play.
I have no idea if this was something the developers at Insomniac realized, but by making the RYNO only available by collecting the nine RYNO cards, that habit got thrown out the window. When the only thing to do with your bolts is buy non-RYNO weapons, well, why not buy them all? I got to enjoy all of them this time around, without worrying about needing to backtrack through levels or go out of my way for every crate, just because of that switch. That alone made the card collecting worth it for me. Because so much of the game’s mechanics are derived from previous series titles, which as I mentioned before, I’m more than familiar with, card collecting turned out to be the biggest gameplay change for me.
In addition to the RYNO, each weapon in the game gets a card set including that weapon and two other incarnations of it. For example, the Sheepinator, which turns enemies into sheep, is also in a set with the Winterizer, used to make snowmen of your enemies, and the self-explanatory Chimp-O-Matic. I like the idea using the cards’ descriptions to get new players acquainted with the series’ past, but in combination with the game’s many inside jokes, it emphasizes the retconning of Ratchet and Clank’s original story line in a way that makes me uneasy.
When I first heard that the developers were retooling the duo’s origin story, I was skeptical. Ratchet and Clank is my favorite video game series of all time, and I didn’t really want it to change. But I know that the folks at Insomniac cherish the series too, so I trusted they knew what they were doing.
Having played through the game, I don’t mind what they’ve changed in the story. There may be some specific changes I don’t like, such as *spoilers* I thought the final battle was more impactful when it was Ratchet’s home planet Veldin that was threatened with annihilation, as it was in the first game, rather than some planets you have no connection to. And considering Dr. Nefarious’s original introduction in the series’ third game, turning him into this game’s ultimate villain feels forced, even if he is a more charismatic character than Chairman Drek *end spoilers*. But overall, I wouldn’t say that the original’s story is necessarily any stronger than this one, it’s just different.
Even though I have a lot of history with Ratchet and Clank, I was ready to put my nostalgia behind me and move forward with this new direction. But this new game is so self-referential, that I just couldn’t stop thinking back to the 2002 version. What’s worst about it is that the changes that stick out most to me are the minor ones, like how they replaced the original’s quirky soundtrack with a generic one, and that they completely ruined the “plumber’s crack” joke on Novalis.
And so, I’m conflicted. On one hand, Ratchet and Clank’s 2016 reimagining is a game I highly recommend: mechanically, this game is easily superior to the original, and it’s a wonderful series that I think more people should get into. On the other, there are some small but real disappointments I felt when playing it. While my nostalgia certainly plays a part in this, Insomniac’s callbacks to the original keeps them from being faultless.
Hopefully if/when Ratchet and Clank’s sequel, Going Commando, gets reimagined, they stick a little closer to the original script.