I’m on something of a nostalgia bender after playing Ratchet & Clank (2016), so I’ll be journaling a handful of the series, starting with the 2016 entry. Next will be a shorter entry on Ratchet: Gladiator (or Deadlocked in the US), and then the PS3’s Future series chronologically, and then we’ll see how burnt out I am after finishing that up.
Despite growing up with videogames, I’m not personally attached to many series at all. I could count them all on one hand (with about two or three fingers…). But Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series is one of them: it’s a series that, so far, I’ve always enjoyed and find hard to stop playing. They’re easy and rewarding, with art direction and writing I genuinely enjoy, and they make for fun, relaxing gaming sessions. For a series with a dozen or so entries, their quality is pretty consistent, too.
So, Ratchet & Clank (2016) was sort of interesting for me.
First off, I have an unreasonable affection for the original Ratchet & Clank, released for the PlayStation 2 in 2002, which R&C2016 is mostly a remake of (as well as a movie tie-in, though I can’t comment on that aspect without seeing it). I’ve even replayed it a few times in the last five-ish years and still love it, despite all its glaring flaws – but flaws build character and all that.
For one, R&C2002 has a full cast of sci-fi weapons, a defining trait of the series, but without all the RPG-lite upgrades that would come with every game afterwards, and it makes for a very different game than its successors. It’s more of a 3D platformer than a hybrid action-RPG-platformer, like the rest of the series. It even lacks the ability to strafe side-to-side, meaning action plays out less-than-gracefully: instead of playing like something of a shooter, it becomes more about jumping artfully around enemies as you spray fire or bullets or lightning as a furry flurry of elements.
The character of Ratchet is more than a little different, too, in that he’s kind of a dick. About halfway through the game, after being betrayed by Captain Qwark, Ratchet spends most of his lines outright insulting Clank for being an “idiot”. Clank, meanwhile, spends the rest of his screen time visibly frowning with his chrome muppet mouth. Like the other Insomniac creation Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet has an odd unhero-like voice to match his unhero-like demeanour, this tired and husky voice that, while admittedly perfect for a mechanic in his early-20s, isn’t the best for a burgeoning space hero. Interestingly, Clank and Qwark turn out fully-formed in their first appearance here, and are almost completely untouched in every game afterwards. But they do replace Ratchet with Nu-Ratchet from R&C2 onwards.
I’m not saying that I really like either of these things, but they’re bizarre and curious traits to rediscover. It reframed the game as something else entirely, joining my rose-glassed affection with this jarring but somehow wonderful revisit. It was coming back to something I had a variety of memories of (mostly of the vague sort) but instead discovering this incredibly intriguing videogame that’s as charming as it is flawed.
It not only reaffirmed my love for the original game, but I somehow love it even more now for being so flawed.
So, with all that out of the way…
I’d forgotten by the time I played it that R&C2016 was meant to be an actual remake, but it very much is, with most of the game composed of remade levels from the 2002 original. A few of them are almost exactly the same, too.
But the changes Insomniac made are still substantial. In many ways, Ratchet & Clank (2016) is literally ‘What if Ratchet & Clank was made in 2016 instead?’, and almost every change reinforces that.
First, the gameplay as a whole has been lifted from the most recent games and added to this one. The weapon upgrade system – the version seen in the Future titles, with an experience-based side to evolve the weapon into a new form (like Pokemon) and a currency-based side, where you buy incremental upgrades with Raritanium (which is a little less exciting) – and the polished-to-a-sheen shooter-platformer gameplay, which has probably been tweaked and polished since the Future titles but I can’t personally tell.
This also applies to the Clank sections, focused almost exclusively on puzzles and cutting the Giant Clank kaiju gameplay altogether. Probably a good call since those were always a little odd…
The cast of weapons weren’t really preserved, sadly, and – to my admittedly hazy memory of the overall series – results in one of the weaker casts in the series. It’s especially disappointing since so many of my favourite weapon and gadget designs (if not the names) come from the 2002 original, like the ‘Blaster’, the ‘Bomb Glove’ and the ‘Suck Cannon’, and it would’ve been great to see modern renditions of these designs plus their newly-designed evolved versions.
Second, the story and characters have been tweaked pretty significantly.
It was mostly required for the characters, changing Ratchet for Nu-Ratchet with a more heroic, Skywalker-esque background and character; adding a redemption arc to Qwark’s villainous persona and heel-turn (which is surprisingly strong towards the end, in my opinion) and some context to Qwark’s whole ‘Galactic Hero’ deal (context in general is something that’s sorely missing from R&C2002); while tweaking the villain Chairman Drek and adding a pre-robot Doctor Nefarious (from the original R&C3) to boot. Unfortunately, this also meant cutting out all of Clank’s journey from the first game, infiltrating the robot factory of his ‘birth’ and meet Clank’s ‘Mother’ – but this might be related to either a limited budget or a need to keep to whatever the movie’s plot was.
Otherwise – and again, it could be because it’s a movie tie-in – the story’s much more succinct and focused than the rest of the series, generally. Compared to most other games, R&C2016 feels far less exploratory in nature, with a greater focus on Ratchet as a Galactic Ranger and their mission to stop Chairman’s Drek plan to Frankenstein up a new home planet from the chunks of other planets. It results in a story and cast that come off noticeably underbaked, told too swiftly, as if the game cut out a lot of exposition and characterisation. Admittedly, story was never a core trait of the series (even if I’ve always enjoyed it): it’s just something I noticed this time around.
R&C2016 is also something of an anniversary project, with a cast of weapons and a new trading card system (plus a few overt nods) that make direct reference to the wider series. Most weapons and gadgets are pulls from the previous games (even if it’s not an especially inspired list), while the collectable trading card system is almost purely dedicated to referencing weapons, characters and locations from the previous games. It gives the game a sense of retrospective that I didn’t expect, even if it doesn’t really go beyond that.
Lastly, the visuals are outstanding – I especially love the new ship designs – and it’s great to see a few old levels revitalised with modern tech and assets. I’m disappointed they changed the planet Batalia from a Vietnam-like jungle level to a snowy one (I’m assuming to replace the snow level from the original they chose to cut this time around), plus a few other levels that didn’t show up either, but otherwise R&C2016 is visually phenomenal.
R&C2016 is a great revisit for the franchise, especially as a fan of the original, but it doesn’t quite hold up with the best of the franchise. It’s still fun and relaxing, as they all are, but with a tepid weapon cast and some weaker-than-expected writing (which I didn’t mention, but it’s a little worse than usual in the dialogue), I’m hoping for better things from whatever’s next in the franchise. In the meantime, it’s a great stopgap for a peek at what the next entry in the series might look like.
All images are property of Insomniac Games/Sony Entertainment.