It has now almost been two decades since the tiny robot and Lombax duo Ratchet & Clank first stepped onto the scene and over the years they've starred in many standout games stretching across three different console generations. With a Rift Apart landing next month (please don't delay this one, Insomniac) I thought I'd reflect on how the pair's series of games really worked to redefine the platforming genre and gaming in general. Personally, it's my platforming series and even two decades later, it's still continuing to surprise me to this very day.
Something that is testament to the series' quality is how it has been able to out stay its competition. Launching back in 2002, the original Ratchet & Clank released within a sea of mascot platformers on the PS2 with some of its biggest rivals being Jak & Daxter, Sly Cooper, and Ape Escape. Unlike those aforementioned games though, Ratchet & Clank still remains a force to reckoned with within Sony's portfolio of IPs, and its most recent outing, A Rift Apart, has been used extensively to showcase the power of the PS5 hardware.
So then, what exactly makes these games so special?
Ratchet & Clank games have always distinguished themselves from more traditional entries in the genre as they feature elements of third-person shooting. The weapon selection in each Ratchet & Clank game is plentiful and each new installment brings with it another set of hilarious ways for you to dispatch your foes. The weapons themselves just have so much personality and they keep the combat feeling endlessly entertaining. Some of my personal favourites include the Sheepinator, a ray gun which turns enemies into adorable sheep, Mr. Zurkon, a robot companion that can temporarily take down enemies by your side, and the Bouncer, that launches bouncing explosives.
As well as being hilarious, the gunplay remains addictive due to an almost RPG-like system. As you use your guns they gain XP and when they level up they become more powerful and gain secondary effects. Due to this you'll always find yourself switching between guns to ensure that they are as powerful as you can possibly get them. The games also feature an addictive post-game too where you retain your weapons and can work to modify them even further.
The Side Activities
Along with the elements of shooting, the Ratchet games also stood out as they weren't afraid to delve into different genres from time to time within side activities. The original Ratchet introduced competitive hoverboard racing to the series and its sequel added elements of space combat between planets, where you had to gun down foes and explode rocks for upgrade materials. My very favourite side activity in the whole series though is the Battle Arena. First appearing in Going Commando, this activity sees you take on different challenges to defeat different waves of exclusive enemies and bosses and it can get awfully difficult.
The games are also hilarious and that's one reason why I believed the series received a movie adaption ahead of the likes of Sonic and Uncharted. Every time the clumsy and dimwitted Captain Qwark graced my TV screen I couldn't help but crack a smile and I love how adult humour is often subtly mixed in to help broaden their appeal. One of my favourite examples of this was Ratchet's reaction to weapons dealer Slim Cognito in the second game when he asks him to "put it in the slot." There's hilarious moments like this scattered through each entry and as a kid I would find myself excited to see every new cutscene.
The game's also have a lot of heart. The friendship between Ratchet & Clank feels genuine and this has been evident in many entries in the series where the pair have been separated. One moment that never fails to choke me up is at the end of the first game when Clank wonders off alone and injured only for Ratchet to shout him and say "hey, tin can! where do you think you're going?." We might have warned you for spoilers almost 20 years ago, but you should be aware that the pair maintained their friendship by now!
I absolutely adore the designs of the planets within these games and it's great how some encourage you to return later once you've got a specific gadget, just like a metroidvania. I still have really vivid memories of receiving a tour around the rocket exhibit on Tordano in Going Commando and searching for the mysterious 'swamp monster' on Florana in Up Your Aresenal. What's great about A Rift Apart too is that it will feature alternate versions of older planets, so hopefully we will get to see some of these old favourites re-emerge.
One other factor that has likely contributed to its staying power is how consistently solid each entry is. Besides spin-offs like Full Front Assault and All 4 One, each entry has met with some pretty positive reviews and they have consistently found themselves within best of lists from the PlayStation 2 onwards. Just looking at Metacritic, the lowest score that a mainline entry has received is 76 and this is for both Quest for Booty and Into the Nexus. There pretty much isn't one single dud within its catalogue which is a rare for a series that has gone on so long.
It's great to see that the Ratchet & Clank series is still going strong today and its latest outing A Rift Apart looks like it's set to push the PS5 hardware forward in many exciting ways. The mark that the series has left on the platforming genre is an undeniable one and I'm sure that we've got many adventures from this unlikely duo to look forward to in future. It's great to see that Insomniac Games has stuck with the series for all this time and have been able to produce consistently excellent releases in the series for almost two decades.