The Ratchet and Clank series is one of Sony’s most iconic gaming franchises, starting out being a successor to the original Spyro games and soon morphing into something completely different.
Insomniac Games has produced many games in this franchise since it’s launch in 2002 on the PS2 and for the next few days, I will be talking about most if not all the games in this series on 3WIREL.
We kick things off with the original Ratchet and Clank, as we dive into how a traditional 3D platformer starting using guns.
The History of Insomniac Games
The series origins stem post the release of Spyro: Year of the Dragon, as Insomniac Games moved on from the Spyro series after feeling like they retched a limit on what they can do with a four-legged creature.
So, Sony and Insomniac dropped the Spyro IP in favor for making a new series that Sony owned. They called the original game ‘Girl with a Stick’ and it was going to be more of a Zelda-like adventure but they changed it to something closer to their past work on Spyro, but in space. After prototyping with various creature prototypes, they came to the final designs of Ratchet and Clank. Once this process was done, they gave the game its ‘gimmick’ being the various weapons they collect and exploring unique planets.
Fast forward to November 2002 and Sony publishes Insomniac’s news title Ratchet & Clank just a year after the release of Naughty Dog’s Jak & Daxter. Both games shared the same tech (core engine) across the PS2 Era, showing how friendly Naughty Dog and Insomniac Games were during the PS2 days. Ratchet & Clank was going to be a success and Sony expected this, pushing ahead with a sequel well before this games launch.
The Origins of Ratchet’s Expansive Arsenal
Ratchet & Clank feels like a natural successor to Insomniac’s past work with Spyro the Dragoon; large open levels to explore with various paths and objectives to complete. It can also be argued that the guns are less for heavy combat and to just push foes away faster (like the Spyro series). The guns do not having a strafing feature until later in the game, so you are pushed into using your wretch far more (the melee weapon of the game). Guns come in a large variety, and they are the heart of the series going forward.
The blaster, the bomb glove, the agents of doom (little robots that attack your foes when planted on the floor), flamethrower (more or less a gun version of Spyro’s breath ability but far more effective), Sheep-Ray (that turns your foes into sheep). Lastly, you have the RYNO; this games BFG gun, the nuke, the most powerful weapon in the game and while it takes a while to buy, it is worth it in explosive fire power!
This gun comes back in every single Ratchet game and it works different depending on the game. One last element about the guns, is that you need bolts to collect them. You get them from bashing creates, collect bolts on the ground or from defeated robots/creatures.
Using the bolts you collect, you can buy various gadgets, weapons and later in the series, armor to increase your health. It’s as if your coins from Mario can be used to get stronger power-ups or if the Rings in Sonic can be used to purchase upgrades to your spin dash; it GIVES greater meaning to your currency and it makes collecting them addicting and really rewarding. Plus, the feeling of smashing boxes and hearing that iconic bolt sound……so good!
Gameplay – Jumping Across Unique Alien Planets
So, you must be asking “Wait…..this IS a platformer, right? You only are talking about the weapons now…..” Yes! This game is a platformer, and a really fun one at that.
The original Ratchet and Clank is very close to being a core platformer compared to the rest of the series (which taps into its gunplay a bit more), with Ratchet having a lot of weight, feeling a bit slippery and his double jump not being that effective. This leads to level design focusing on fun platforming sections and each level has at least 2-3 paths to take.
Each path you can take offers something ‘different’; climbing up a sewer system, exploring an underwater cavern and fighting through a construction site in Novalis for example. Every world works like this and it makes every planet feel like, well, a full planet! That was really impressive to accomplish and despite the game not being open world like Jak & Daxter, it instead feels like a large galaxy is open at your fingertips to see and explore. The impression that you are exploring a galaxy is this games greatest accomplishment. ?
The gadgets and Clank sections are also important parts to the gameplay. Ratchet gets a lot of gadgets across the game like a slingshot, gravity and grind boots, hoverboard, thruster for faster swimming, heli-pack to hover in the air, jet pack that allows you to strafe and more! They make exploring the world really fun and it makes things really replayable (as some level chunks require specific gadgets you get on later planets).
Clank has sections where you can control little robots that can attack foes, enter switches and stop in place. These sections are a bit challenging and they offer some fun puzzle elements. This mechanic stays in the series for a very long time and it only gets more & more in-depth as the series goes on.
We also get……Giant Clank! He destroys everything in his path, shoots a barrage of missiles and is raw destruction! ……It’s fun. It only gets better in later games where Giant Clank has more usage.
Sadly I feel the core gameplay does have a few minor issues. One being that the games does not pauseo when selecting weapons/gadgets, making fights a bit more fustrating if you want to switch out weapons frequently. Another issue is that the games weapon wheel (can hold up to 8 weapons) is too small, so you frequently go into the menus to re-adjust the wheel or select the weapon/tool you want to use in the pause screen.
This is a bit of a pace breaker when using gadgets specifically, and while not a major issue is one that can be annoying if you want to get through the planets at a faster pace. My last issue is that you do not get a strafing or lock on feature for your weapons until very late in the game and that is a big problem for the combat. The game was designed to be more Spyro-like when it comes to combat but when you have a large library of weapons to use, they should over a number of aiming options.
One may thing think the above issues are major but they really arent, as later games eradicate them outright. This presents the core Ratchet & Clank gameplay as a wonderful ‘testing bed’ that only gets more refined and perfected as the series continues across a number of games. So overall, the gameplay here is a great start for something even greater to come but for what it is, you are still having a great time exploring the galaxy with your robot buddy.
How the Lombax Meets the Robot
The story is where this game really shines bright, as Insomniac tried hard to make more or less a playable cartoon. I feel they do a good job here for a number of reasons; strong writing, great characterization, and a fun adventure to go on.
The core plot is that Dreck’s species is trying to make a new planet after destroying their homeworld and they are using parts of other planets to accomplish this…..but that will destroy them. Clank gets wind of this after being made and crash lands on Ratchet’s planet of Velden. Ratchet and Clank come to an agreement to work together to save the day with distractions and other problems having them but heads after a while.
Ratchet is a bit of nasty person who is open to adventure but is quite selfish until later in the game and Clank is a little robot who wants to become a hero. This character dynamic works out great as while their personalities clash at various points, they become better friends in the end for it. Proper and strong character development is on display and I really like that. This makes Ratchet stand out as he is very different in later games. He disagrees with Clank a lot, he outright yells at the little robot and he is very vengeful/angry later in the game. But that makes him more human and makes his friendship with Clank all the more realistic. They dislike each other, but slowly become friends over time.
Dreck is a great core villain that is quite funny at points through his deadpan expressions and really great voice acting. He can crack a joke but do a horrible thing right aftward; makes him a fun and complex character. Captain Quark is more or less a kid friendly Zap Brandagan from Futurama as he is full of himself, frequently puts himself over others and causes a lot of problems for our heroes. But his personality only improves as the series develops and while Quark isn’t my favorite character of this game, later Ratchet & Clank games make him a strong character.
The other characters here are really funny as well. Skid Midmarks being a ‘chill’ dude, the Plumber being quite funny, bikers that have a soft side to them; the game has a strong personality and the story opens this up in spades. It shows how creative and charming Insomniac can make their cast of characters and this heavily mirrors the charm that we saw in the original Spyro games. The cast in that series had funny lines and vivid personlities. That carries over to Ratchet & Clank but the writing is even stronger, allowing the story and overall characters being some of Insomniac’s strongest.
The presentation is really impressive, with detailed textures, massive locations to explore and every level looking different. The world also looks very alien and futuristic, setting up the location greatly. We also got a lot of strong visual effects and a lot of detail on the character models; a lot of care was put into making this cartoony world feel ‘alive’.
Ratchet & Clank runs at a locked 60FPS on the PS2 and this gives the game a great sense of control. While things feel ‘heavy’, it always feels responsive and that is very important in a 3D Action platformer.
The sound is strong as well; Explosions sound great, ambiance is done well and the sound of smashing creates just pushes you to keep on breaking them! It feels rewarding to hear sound effects in this game and that is a great example of this games strong sound design.
This game has some of the series best music as well, with many of the tracks offering a catchy beat and match the various planets you come across.
To this day they are some of my favorite tracks in the series, as they have an alien-like take on the ambient music tracks from the Spyro series of games. It works out really well and it gives Ratchet & Clank an unique identity
It sets up a very strong mood and is more varied in comparison to the later games in the series. Love this soundtrack a lot.
This game is a great title that offers a lot of reasons to replay it. You can go back to the game when you beat it to get gold weapons using bolts/gold bolts you collect, play with your weapons some more and have an easier time with the larger health you have (if you upgraded it across the game originally).
Ratchet and Clank is a game with a few flaws and due to it feeling quite different then later games in the series, many might consider ignoring this title in favor for the later ones. But if you never played Ratchet & Clank before (the PS2 original, not the recent PS4 Remake), then I highly encourage you try this title out. With a strong story, enjoyable gameplay and some strong presentation, you will be playing the true successor to Insomniac Games Spyro series.