(Having recently gotten the Ratchet & Clank HD Collection for the PS3, I have decided to do a retrospective on the series. As I finish each game, I will do a write-up about it here on the blog including memories of when I originally played it as well as some thoughts on replaying it now. I’ll be starting with the first game in the series on the PS2.)
When the original Ratchet & Clank came out back in 2002, I didn’t follow games online like I do now. Heck I only got a handful of games a year back then. I occasionally read about them in Game Informer, but what made me want R&C was the commercial. It showed off a weapon that turned your enemies into chickens. I needed that game. The fact that it featured a duo in a cartoony platforming game probably helped (my favorite game at the time was the original Jak and Daxter).
Playing it today is definitely a different experience than playing it back in 2002. While it is easy to see all the things this game does right and how good a foundation it sets for the series, it is hard to ignore some of the things the later games added that are missing here. But let’s start with all the good stuff. Insomniac created a really fascinating world with Ratchet & Clank. The story focuses on a lombax named Ratchet who is put together with a robot who he names Clank as they set off on a grand planet-hopping adventure. Ratchet is a bit different than the one we have come to know over the years. He’s a bit more a jerk here especially early on and his relationship with Clank is a bit more contentious (fans of the series will also note that Ratchet had a different voice actor here). But you get to see him grow a bit over the course of the game. The ending is great too and it is still fun to see the beginning of these two buddies’ great friendship. The story also features a great sense of humor and introduces series mainstay Captain Qwark. I’d argue these elements also get better as the series progresses, but back in 2002 this was one of the funniest games around.
Ratchet & Clank is a 3D action platformer. What makes this game really unique is its collection of weapons and gadgets. Over the course of your adventure you will gain access to fifteen different weapons. These range from traditional pistol-type blasters, bomb gloves and rocket launchers to more unique armaments like a glove that throw out little robots that attack enemies, a cannon that sucks things up and shoots them back as ammunition, and the aforementioned Morph-O-Ray that turns baddies into chickens. Having access to all these weapons just makes combat so much fun. It is less about trying to survive encounters and more about having fun using all the different tools at your disposal.
Along with weapons, you get a number of gadgets. Clank as your backpack gets a handful of upgrades. These allow for long and high jumps and quick movement through water. I have to make special mention of the latter because once you get the oxygen mask that allows you to stay underwater indefinitely and this water upgrade for Clank, I really enjoyed the water sections in this game. You move quickly and effortlessly and with these things in play, these underwater sections become one of a few I really enjoy in gaming. You also get different boots that let you walk on walls and slide on rails. These all play into the game’s platforming elements. Ratchet & Clank platforming isn’t the most challenging, but it is still a fun element to the game and there are some pretty darn good sequences in here. Other gadgets add a puzzle aspect of the game. One lets you move water from one place to another while another acts as a key to get into different rooms or just continue in levels. These do a good job of changing things up from the usual combat and platforming. Some levels also allow you to control Clank. Here you will command a handful of other tiny robots to proceed through levels. It isn’t anything great, but again a good way to mix things up a bit.
Another great aspect of this series that starts here are the different worlds you travel to. They are imaginative, beautiful (even better in this HD version obviously) and ripe for exploration. Whether it is regular bolts (the game’s currency), Gold Bolts or trying for skill points, there is a ton of extra stuff to do. Each world also typically has several main objectives to tackle within its non-linear structure. Gold Upgrades can be acquired to improve your weapons and are obviously the basis for the upgrade systems that would become such a big part of the series later. The game has a wonderful New Game + as well called Challenge Mode. This is one of many features that gets better as the series progresses, but it is a great reason to replay the game. You get to keep your weapons and there are more Gold upgrades to buy for some of the weapons which are good motivation for you to keep collecting bolts.
The game isn’t without its issues though. As I mentioned earlier, a lot of perceived problems with this game have to do with later improvements to the series (like weapons and health upgrading through experience) not being present here. I’d rather not focus on those though and instead discuss them more as I talk about the games they first appear in. But they are missed here. I will mention strafing though which isn’t the original game. Not being able to strafe makes both aiming weapons and dodging enemy attacks way more difficult than it should be. There is technically a strafing ability gained with one of the Clank upgrades, but it just isn’t very good. Now this definitely feels like a bigger omission due to all the other games in the series having a strafing ability, but even when I first played it, it felt needed. It just happens to be more obvious now. There are also some vehicle sections which didn’t do a lot for me, but aren’t often enough to hamper things much.
A few more things (I’ll be doing these favorites for each game):
- Favorite Weapon: My favorite weapon from the first game is definitely the Morph-O-Ray. As I said earlier, it basically sold me on the game. You get it pretty far in, so it felt like it took forever, but once I did I had a blast turning everything I could into a chicken. The Gold upgrade is fun too (giant chickens!). My runner-up would be the Glove of Doom which throws out a handful of cute little robots that go and kill enemies for you.
- Favorite Gadget: I’ll go with the Tresspasser here. It works like key to access various rooms. It opens a little puzzle for you to solve where you move beams around to hit different spots. It is kind of simple and maybe not that original (lots of games have hacking type minigames similar to it), but I liked it. Honestly Clank is the best gadget with all his various upgrades, but that is kind of like cheating.
- Favorite Character: I am more of a Ratchet fan in the series in general, but Clank is definitely the best in the first game. He is really a lovable character, always trying to do the right thing and really funny as well.
- Favorite Level: I’ll go with the now classic R&C location Metropolis that would appear in several other entries in the series. It has a really nice platforming section as a training course in one direction as well as some nice secrets hidden away throughout the level. And I just love the look of this city with all the flying cars zooming around. Blarg Depot is another cleverly designed level if not quite the looker or overall package of Metropolis.
- Also worth mentioning is that the HD update is well done, but I did experience some framerate slowdown. It takes a particularly large hit during parts of the last level and final boss fight.
The original Ratchet & Clank is a good game. It is easy to see the foundation it sets that the series is built upon. But playing it now, it is hard to ignore some of the advancements both small and large that have occurred in the series since this first entry. This makes it one of the weaker games in the mainline series, but it is still a lot of fun today and when it released originally back in 2002. I enjoyed it a lot back then and had a blast playing through it again this year and reliving the roots of Ratchet & Clank.
I’d love to hear any of our readers’ thoughts on this game. Did you play it back on the PS2? Are you playing it now with the HD Collection? Do you have a favorite weapon, gadget, character or level from the original R&C? Any other memories of this one you’d like to share? Hit up the comments with your thoughts. I will be back soon with a look at Ratchet & Clank’s sequel, Going Commando which elevates the series from good to great and I think represents one of the biggest jumps in quality from a game to its sequel. Thanks for reading!