In the year 2013, the Year of Luigi, is the idea of the gaming mascot dead? Not necessarily. Sony still has a hand in the pot with their perennial franchise Ratchet & Clank, which saw a major overhaul on the Playstation 3 with the aptly named Future series. With a new focus on cinematic scale, crazy mechanics, and giving tiny robot Clank a bigger spotlight, the series has come a far way from their PS2 incarnations. Developer Insomniac Games hopes to recapture that retro spirit with the finale to the Future series, Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus. Will the trigger happy heroic duo go out with a whimper or with a much more appropriate bang?
Into the Nexus opens up with a quick slideshow to fill us in on the story now—Ratchet and Clank have once again saved the universe, and a pair of dimension ripping siblings threaten to connect said universe to an alternate darker and more purple (the universal color for ‘evil’) Nether universe. Over their journey to halt this calamity, the stakes are raised and Ratchet comes to terms with his life as the last known lombax in the universe. The story never gets as complex or heavy as some the previous Future titles over the course of its about six hour runtime, but the story acts as a good coda to the trilogy-and-a-half of games with colorful and beautifully animated cutscenes.
The gameplay mixes things up from the previous Future games as well, not by introducing new mechanics such as how A Crack in Time introduced hoverboots and battlefield fights, but instead by mashing up many of the best elements of all the past Ratchet & Clank games—and yes, this does extend to the original classic trilogy of games. There’s the same hybrid platformer-shooter gameplay players have come to expect, with bombastic shootouts in fantastical sci-fi vistas. There’s a far better balance of platforming and shooting in Into the Nexus, making the game feel less like a third-person shooter for kids and more like the action platforming that made Ratchet & Clank a household name to start with.
There are a few major new mechanics that helps to mix up the gameplay significantly. In the phenomenal opening set-piece, players are introduced to new gravity boots with allow Ratchet to jump from magnetic surface to magnetic surface. It’s quick, smooth, and easy to control, often showing up in many exciting chase sequences over the course of the game. Additionally, halfway through the game, players gain access to jetpack which allows Ratchet to take to the skies, flying around open stages to solve puzzles and even engage in some exciting aerial battles.
Of course, Clank gets his own moment in the spotlight as well a sidescrolling mini-game peppered throughout different levels. Players navigate Clank to one end of a prickly Nether tunnel by manipulating the gravity a la VVVVVV with a flick of the right analog stick. These stages are creative and control incredibly smoothly, almost to point where I found myself looking forward to the next one.
The visuals of the game are on par with the other Future titles, if not a little better. There’s no doubt that at this point, Insomniac knows exactly what the PS3 is capable of pumping out. Graphics are smooth, colorful, and appear very organic in game. There are a few stiff animations here and there, and when the screen is filled with enemies and ricocheting bullets, the frame rate often would drop dramatically, but it can all be forgiven just for the sheer caliber of the graphics on display. It certainly makes me excited to see what Insomniac already has cooked up for the brand new Playstation 4.
To be honest, I’ve never really been a fan of a lot of the Future games. They’ve felt more conservative in their design and gameplay in comparison to the classic games, and I must say, I came out of Into the Nexus rather impressed. The game is admittedly short, but at least this allows Into the Nexus to stay focused with its pacing. No one level overstays its welcome, whether it be the traditional gladiator arena battles or hunting down fossilized crystals in a mucky swamp. The game also features a Challenge mode upon completion, allowing players to replay the game with upped difficulty with their arsenal transferred over.
Speaking of which, the selection of weapons in this game are absolutely superb. While there are a few new guns in the mix, the game serves as a veritable “Best of” of weapons from every game in the series. Weapons level up in battle and can be upgraded, improving their use and sometimes even turning them into different and even better weapons from where they started. The new weapons are also a blast to use including a gun that rips opens wormholes so that a giant purple beast can fly out and eat enemies, and my personal favorite, a gun that transmogrifies enemies into benign snowmen all while ‘Jingle Bells’ blasts out of the gun’s peppermint colored barrel.
Other than the gameplay and weapons there are many shout-outs for longtime players of the series including some brief cameos and an exciting trip through a museum. If you’ve been with the series from the very start, Into the Nexus feels like the love letter every game from the past decade has been leading up to.
It’s explosive, it’s funny, it’s beautiful, and it’s just long enough not to get in the way of any other games you might be playing in this busiest of times. For some players, the game might feel too short, as the end of the game occurs rather abruptly and weapons level up very quickly, especially in comparison to previous games. Though honestly, with its masterfully tight classic gameplay and creative gravity defying feats, this game is an absolute must buy before jumping ship to the next generation of consoles.
Ratchet and Clank might be done with their adventures on the PS3, but Into the Nexus serves as a tasty delicious promise that we can expect even more great things from the two into the next generation and beyond.
[+A return to classic gameplay][+Fantastic graphics and presentation][+New mechanics are really good][+Some fun fan-service along the way] [-A little on the short side][-Some small graphics issues][-It can be hard to platform and shoot at the same time]