Ratchet and Clank has always been a series about outsiders. Its titular cast has a cat alien who’s the last of his people and has always dreamed of exploring the galaxy, and a robot who ended up being made smaller than the other killing machines in the assembly line. The early PlayStation 2 games did really nothing to acknowledge this, while the PS3’s series of Future games made that the central point, delving into both characters’ origins and revealing how they came to be in the positions they started with back in 2002. Each game’s supporting cast has largely followed the same format; Up Your Arsenal, for example, had a team assembled of people who could barely hold their own in a fight, such as a geek, a fitness expert, and a monkey. This new entry drives that home for Clank further by enemies constantly referring to him as a “defect.”
Among its distinguished competition of Naughty Dog’s Jak and Daxter series and Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper quadrilogy, Insomniac’s series is an outsider in the sense that it’s the only one of the three that still actually gets new entries. Naughty Dog tried to restart its series with a reboot, but later scrapped it because it wasn’t to its liking. As for Sly, he’s currently MIA on all fronts, as even his movie hasn’t had much news surrounding it. Even Insomniac themselves are something of outsiders, previously a juggernaut that a lot of people believed to be Sony loyalists until they announced Sunset Overdrive as an Xbox One exclusive.
This year’s new Ratchet is a two-pronged effort: a reboot of the first game from back in 2002 that’s also based on the upcoming movie, in turn, based on the first game. As the marketing puts it best, it’s the game based on the movie based on the game. The new version carries over some of the weapons that have been in more recent games in the series, along with cutscenes that are actually from the film. But the core of Ratchet and Clank, the thing that’s made this series what it is– silly humor, creative weapons, morphing enemies into animals– still remains ingrained in the game.
In some ways, the new Ratchet and Clank is to the series as The Force Awakens is to Star Wars. It sounds like a stretch, admittedly. Ratchet’s series lacks the scorn that Star Wars has gotten with the prequels, and his adventures have become grander thanks to time travel in comparison to the ultimately simple war between the dark and light sides. But it isn’t as outlandish a claim as one would think. There have been references and allusions to George Lucas’ work in the games before; Tools of Destruction’s Lombax genocide is very similar to Order 66, there’s a trash compactor riff in All 4 One, and Up Your Arsenal gave players a lightsaber to swing around to their heart’s content.
Even though it’s never been explicitly stated by anyone at Insomniac, you can detect the vibes of Star Wars in the series roots. After all, both franchises start off with a young orphan with no knowledge of their parents and dreams of leaving their desert planet with a desire to explore the galaxy. They both have small robots that escape a tyrant’s grasp with vital information about a world-destroying battle station, and have iconic weapons that never leave their heroes’ hands. Both new entries in their respective series have also found that the best way to start the series back up again is to stick with the core of what worked the first time around.
While the subtext and text of the Force Awakens was the very cyclical nature of things, right down to Maz Kanata flat out going “This will always be how things are in this universe,” this is very much the text of the new Ratchet. The story structure and level design largely follow the same blueprint of the game it was based on, something that fans with very good memories will likely notice with a nostalgic sigh and loving smile. But much like Force Awakens, it deviates to become its own thing.
Even though our titular heroes have existed long before Rey and Finn were even conceived, it’s difficult not to think of them while playing through the game. The original game made the relationship between its two leads more strained, as both of them were openly exploiting the other’s talents to further their goals; Ratchet could defend Clank in a way the diminutive robot couldn’t, and the tiny machine had an ignition system that allowed Ratchet to take a ship and leave his home world of Veldin. Part of the reason this didn’t really work was because Ratchet’s surfer teen voice from Mikey Kelley didn’t endear itself really well. Going Commando recasting Ratchet with James Arnold Taylor makes him sound more like a young man (he’s roughly in his early or mid-20s by now, since he was 18 when Ratchet Deadlocked was released) and imbues him with more charm and likability.
Since Tools of Destruction, the games have featured lip-synced dialogue during gameplay outside of cutscenes, which this game uses frequently. The relationship between the leads in the first game made you wonder why either tolerated each other at all, but that’s not the case with the new one. Here, the two are much friendlier with each other, with Ratchet calling Clank “buddy” and “pal” pretty much from the first moment they meet, and the duo pass compliments to each other for their respective talents that’ll remind people of Rey and Finn gushing to each other after they steal the Millennium Falcon. It’s a moment that shows how these two strangers complete each other in a way, and that’s the same type of energy Ratchet and Clank has. It’s easy to see just why both of these two would stick around each other, and even if it was done because it’s geared more towards young kids, it’s refreshing to see them actually be friends and not just use the other as means to an end.
It seems like a no-brainer that Ratchet and Clank will live on to see another day. Insomniac wouldn’t have a reboot if they didn’t have plans to further the series, either in film or game format (a cartoon wouldn’t be bad, either, FYI). While it probably won’t reach the crazy levels of fame that Star Wars’ most recent film has, the ties here are certainly easy to spot; realistically speaking, neither of these really had a bar to clear besides to be good. Instead, Insomniac and Disney went the extra mile to make products that have faced great acclaim. Now that this new Ratchet and Clank has shown that it can return to the series roots and knock it out of the park, here’s hoping that the next game takes all of that and goes in a new direction for the series.
That said, I wouldn’t turn down what’s basically a PS4 version of Up Your Arsenal. That’s a nostalgic itch I could certainly get behind.
To check out Twinfinite’s review of Ratchet & Clank PS4, click here.