Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus finally returns to the series' roots. As a result, it hews closely to the formula first forged in the PlayStation 2 era. But a few smart moves keep it from feeling redundant and makes for a finely-tuned distillation of everything that made the series so engaging and worthy of its longevity.
Most importantly, this is a very abbreviated Ratchet experience. Everything has been streamlined to make Nexus hit the ground running. There's very little in the way of tutorial segments, apparently assuming that most people interested have played a Ratchet game before. The various worlds introduce new mechanics at a steady clip, but move along from one setting to the next quickly enough to maintain a sense of visual variety.
The weapons--always a standout feature of Ratchet games--have been given a slimming down as well. They level up much quicker, and have fewer upgrades that are each more substantial. Leveling them upgrades strength, but the gear is also complemented by a grid-based upgrade system that grants special new abilities or increases drop rates. I enjoyed the twists on favorite weapons too, like Mr. Zurkon, who now sports an entire Zurkon family when fully upgraded.
The story is once again a sweet-natured (if forgettable) space adventure, with nods to various points of continuity in the series. I've never cared enough to commit the myriad villains to memory, but the references to past games does make for some sense of cohesiveness. The chief threat in this game is actually caused by an artifact from a past game, so long-term fans will be rewarded with a little bit of extra insight.
Its traditional tropes are occasionally broken up by brief puzzle segments as Clank, steering through dimensional rifts only to smack a nether creature to wake him up and draw him back to its entrance. They're never terribly taxing on the brain, but they're brief and sparse enough to serve as little breaks in the action without becoming too distracting.
All this abbreviation means the game is significantly shorter than you might expect from a Ratchet adventure, only 5-6 hours. But when it wrapped up, I felt fully satisfied. Insomniac managed to trim this down to the essentials, making it feel like just the right amount of Ratchet. Of course, if you really crave a longer adventure you can jump back into a harder difficulty with Challenge Mode, a mainstay of Ratchet games that lets you use multipliers to gain more bolts and buy stronger versions of the arsenal.
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As a testament to the game's pure enjoyability, I jumped in immediately to the second playthrough. I wanted to keep toying with arsenal, and see what havoc it would wreak on stronger enemies. The Ratchet & Clank series has seen several iterations over the years, but the core gameplay loop of constant progress and upgrades remains as fun as ever. Insomniac just had to strip out some of the extraneous bits and give us a condensed version to show off how well it stands up.