Going Commando was the game that really pushed the Ratchet & Clank series into elite territory, but Up Your Arsenal takes things to the next level. It is less revolutionary and more evolutionary, making smaller changes to the series’ formula than its predecessor while refining existing systems to be even better. The end result is, in my opinion, the best Ratchet & Clank game to date and one of my all-time favorite games.
The story is my favorite in the series (I’m going to be saying something like this quite a few times before this blog is finished). This is in large part due to great new characters as well as returning favorites. The star of this story is new villain Dr. Nefarious who plans to rid the universe of organic life. He along with his butler Lawrence are so hilarious and while they have appeared in other entries in the series, I really think they are at their best in UYA. I also love Courtney Gears, a robotic pop star whose name’s obviously a play on Britney Spears. She and her various female pop star counter parts (I myself was more of a Mandy Moore guy), were all the rage back when I was in high school which makes this bit even funnier to me (or so I think). Of course, Ratchet and Clank are back to save the universe, but Qwark returns too. He really takes a step forward as a character, shedding his villainous ways for a much more fitting role as just a bumbling and inept superhero. The humor has a lot more bite than more recent games too. You will be hard pressed to find many games funnier than this one anywhere.
The gameplay here is a similar mix of shooting and platforming though it continues to go in a more action-oriented direction. But there is still enough hopping around here to satisfy platformer fans and the series combat and crazy weapons are really where this series shines anyway. But even within the tried and true formula there were little tweaks and improvements. The experience-based weapon upgrade system moves from a two-level progression to a five-level progression. And I think more than any other game in the series, you really feel it each time your weapon levels up. Take the new morphing weapon, the Quack-O-Ray. Obviously it turns enemies into ducks, but as you level it up they will lay explosive eggs and eventually fly through the air attacking enemies. It makes for… you guessed it… the series’ best weapon upgrade system.
Up Your Arsenal also gets something right that the earlier games got wrong: vehicles. The Hovership is a lot more fun than the first two games’ spaceship sections and the new land vehicle easily bests the hoverboards and bikes from before. The Turbo Slider is a three-wheeler type vehicle you get to use in some more open battlefields and is nice way to zoom around between blasting baddies.
There are a handful of legitimately new things added to the game. Platforming is the focal point of some new gauntlet challenges that go alongside returning arena fights while new combat-centric missions have you moving around some multiplayer style maps taking on a variety of enemies with your commando buddies. One of my favorite new features are the Qwark vid-comics. Ratchet gets to play a video game within the video game: a 2D platformer starring Captain Qwark. These aren’t the deepest experience, but they are a fun change of pace and also do a good job of fleshing out the backstory between Qwark and Nefarious. The game also introduces the Starship Phoenix which you will return to throughout the adventure. It hosts various vendors and acts as a place to store some of your collectibles and I just like having a central base like this.
Probably the biggest new gameplay addition to the series in Up Your Arsenal comes not in the story mode, but in the form of a new competitive multiplayer mode. It does a good job of translating Ratchet’s combo of platforming and crazy weapons to the multiplayer arena. I actually wish some of the PS3 games took a shot at a competitive mode similar to this.
My favorite stuff from this game (I mostly go with new stuff in these) plus the series so far:
- Best Weapon: The Quack-O-Ray is my favorite which I talked about earlier in the blog. It along with the Bouncer are probably my favorite weapons in the whole series. The Rift Inducer is another great weapon from this game which throws out a black hole that sucks up enemies. And the weapon set as whole is… you guessed it… my favorite in the series.
- Best Gadget: I’ll go with the Tyhrraguise for best gadget which allows Ratchet to disguise himself as a Tyhrranoid. You get to do some rhythm minigames, but the real reason I love it is all the great conversations you have while pretending to be a Tyhrranoid. Very funny stuff. The Refractor is another good gadget that allows you to redirect lasers to solve some puzzles. If I had to pick a series best gadget I’d go with Clank which is kind of like cheating, but come on…he’s the best.
- Best Character: As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Nefarious is just amazing. He’s probably my favorite video game villain ever. For the series, I’d go with Ratchet though. I just love that Lombax.
- Best Level: The Nabla Forest on Florana is a really memorable level for me which sees the art and graphics in top form along with great level design. I like the Korgon Base on Tyhrranosis too where you get to use the Turbo Slider to travel around to take on various tasks. For series best level, I will just go with Metropolis which actually shows up again in UYA. Just that classic Ratchet location.
Along with everything I mentioned here, you get the tightest controls and shooting, the best graphics, just a ton to do throughout your campaign and the best Challenge mode yet. The Clank sections aren’t remarkedly better here and the one Giant Clank section is still kind of a miss, but with everything else going pretty much as well as it could, these are minor blips on the radar. Up Your Arsenal is the culmination of all the work Insomniac put into the series over the course of three games. It is one of the few games ever I view as near-perfect and something any action platformer fan really needs to play.
That will do it for my Ratchet & Clank Retrospective. I had planned on at least doing Deadlocked as well, but with the HD version delayed, I will be putting that off (plus personally I’d like a Ratchet blogging break). I hope you enjoyed this look back the first three Ratchet & Clank games. I will be back throughout the rest of the year with various year-end gaming awards, so keep an eye out for them. Thanks for reading!