Ratchet & Clank has tinkered with a lot of elements over the years. Each game for the last decade has attempted to add some new twist or spin on the familiar Swiss-army-gun gameplay, having seemingly concluded that there's no room in the marketplace for a simple action platformer anymore. The new Ratchet & Clank, an unabashed remake of the first game and very conspicuously missing a subtitle, flips that conclusion on its head. Thanks largely to hewing so close to classic simplicity, it feels refreshingly earnest.
Remade and Rearmed
I use the word "remake" very consciously, because the word has lost a lot of meaning in recent years. This isn't a reboot or a remaster, as it doesn't take too many liberties or smack higher-resolution textures on existing physics systems. If anything, it seems as if Insomniac took the more polished engines of recent R&C games and carefully reconstructed the original game inside of them. It certainly has a few differences, but at its core this is the game you remember, right down to your starting weapon.
Its most noticeable improvements are visual. The new cutscenes are a nice showpiece for the animated style that is being used for the upcoming animated feature film, but I was more struck by the in-game animations. It's colorful and vibrant in a way most games aren't, and the characters' expressions and limbs have an elasticity that looks like they stepped out of a Chuck Jones cartoon. That makes it a joy to revisit familiar spaces and see old characters jump off the screen with renewed vigor.
The writing is still snappy and irreverent, with a slight dash of self-referential fourth wall breaking thrown in for good measure. One somewhat major story change may surprise long-time fans, but the major beats are mostly familiar.
As usual, the real meat is the gunplay, with the wide array of weapon options to wreak havoc on the battlefield. Ratchet's weapons smartly upgrade as they're used, so you get rewarded for naturally playing the way you always would. I found that after a while I had hit the level cap on all my standard weaponry, leaving me to make-do with the strange specialty weapons in hopes of upgrading them too. I would sometimes resort to my best weapons in a pinch, but it's a system built around a feeling of constant progression. I would've liked a few more regular shooter options to turn to, so that they could upgrade at around the same rate as the secondary support-type weapons. But, it did push me toward experimenting, so it accomplished that design goal admirably.
Occasionally it breaks up the pace by introducing other play types, like hoverboard races, dogfights, or simple puzzles with Clank. These are mostly fine, occasionally frustrating, and always duller than the regular weapon-based gameplay. It's a perfectly reasonable way to keep the game from feeling too repetitive, but they're simply not as enjoyable in a vacuum.
A few boss fights also frustratingly rely on your rocket pack, deviating from the usual jumping and dodging of the main game. Again, this seems aimed at differentiating some points for pacing purposes, but it also makes important boss battles into a test of a skill that's gone unused.
The large Golden Bolts are treated slightly differently here. Insomniac borrows the Omega Weapons system from later Ratchet games for its Challenge Mode, rather than using them to upgrade to Gold Weapons. The Bolts are instead used to unlock things like cheats, visual filters, and wings of an Insomniac Museum that houses artwork and old character models from throughout the series. It feels more natural, allowing you to continue the weapon progression without hunting for hidden collectibles.
The remake also adds a new currency type, in the form of collectible cards that review both settings from this game and pieces of history from the entire series. You can trade duplicates for missing cards from your collection, and gathering a set means you get a boost to drop chances for items like Bolts, Raritanium for upgrading weapons, or even more cards. It's a minor addition, but I still always enjoyed cracking open a pack of cards or seeing if I had extras to trade.
Ratcheting It Up
Most of these additions and tweaks are bonuses or minor quality-of-life improvements learned from later games. The core is intact, unchanged, and still spectacularly fun. As the saying goes, they don't make them like they used to. Ratchet & Clank argues that maybe they should.
Ratchet and Clank
- Core gameplay is still incredibly fun
- Updated visuals are gorgeous and vibrant
- Small tweaks show lessons learned from later games
- Some pace-breaking segments are duller than its core
- Story and weapons are very familiar
Steve Watts posted a new article, Ratchet & Clank Review: High-Caliber Rounds