Because most video game remakes only improve the graphics, and even then only slightly, they’re usually pointless for anyone who’s already played the original. But the good people at Insomniac have thankfully bucked this trend, and in a big way, with this upgraded and (more importantly) updated version of Ratchet & Clank (PlayStation 4).
For those who missed the first version when it came out in 2002, or the faithful recreation included in 2012’s Ratchet & Clank Collection, Ratchet & Clank shows how a furry alien with a bit of a reckless streak (Ratchet) and a stoic robot-slash-backpack (Clank) first teamed up to save the galaxy. It’s part buddy cop flick, part sci-fi adventure, and part sly parody of buddy cop flicks and sci-fi adventures, and it’s all cut from the same comedic cloth as Futurama, Wall-E, and Invader Zim.
As for the action, Ratchet & Clank is a third-person action game that has you shooting some enemies with a variety of guns, smacking others with a wrench, and spending the rest of the time running and jumping around futuristic installations, some of which, for reasons unknown, are built like obstacle courses. This also has more collectibles than a comic book convention, with every dead enemy, broken box, and smashed random object giving you upgrade crystals, ammo, and valuable bolts. There’s even a fun bit of racing, a part where you ride the rails, and some aerial combat that requires a bit of problem solving as well.
But despite what the previous paragraph might imply, the game’s disparate elements are actually nicely integrated. When engaged in combat, for instance, players can easily switch between melee and ranged attacks, and may have to do them while figuring out how to get to the next area swarming with enemies. There’s even a fun bit of racing, a part where you ride the rails, and some aerial combat that requires a bit of problem solving as well.
The thing is, as a game that mixes shooting, hacking, and platforming, Ratchet & Clank is decidedly in the Uncharted camp. By which I mean it doesn’t excel at any of them: it’s not as good a shooter as The Division, not as good at hacking and slashing as the God Of War games, and not as good at the puzzle-driven platforming as the Donkey Kong Country series or (to be more accurate but less topical) the Crash Bandicoot games, with which this series also shares a box design sensibility. But what it does really well — again, like Uncharted — is mix these elements together in such a way that this doesn’t feel like someone jammed together The Division, God Of War, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Instead, the game’s disparate elements are actually nicely integrated, and have a similar feel. As a result, it’s not only easy to switch between melee and ranged attacks, but also it also feels fluid when you crack some guy’s skull and then blast his pal before leaping up onto a ledge.
Though it helps that Ratchet & Clank also does a good job of encouraging you to mix things up. Enemies you’ll want to smack will often hang out with ones who have guns, and thus must be shot from a distance, while climbing up a cliff often ends with you being greeted at the top by someone unfriendly. Good thing you can always smack people, but also usually have this game usually gives you enough ammo so you can shoot those you need to, but not so much that you’ll never smack anyone.
So then what does Ratchet & Clank have that, uh, Ratchet & Clank didn’t? For starters, Insomniac have expanded upon the story, albeit in ways I won’t spoil except to say it pulls some scenes, characters, and their respective voice actors from the impending animated movie.
This edition of Ratchet & Clank also adds elements from latter games in the series. For instance, one of the hallmarks of this series is its penchant for odd and inventive weapons that seem like things Wile E. Coyote would get from the Acme Corporation…if the Road Runner cartoons were set in the year 5354. But they decidedly got weirder as the series progressed. Which is why this not only adds such fun and funky armaments as the Pilxelizer, which lowers an enemies health and visual resolution, but also has the Groovitron, a disco ball that forces nearby enemies to dance, and Mr. Zurkon, a heavily armed kill-bot with a solid work ethic, the latter two of which were not in the original game; both were introduced in the sixth, 2007’s Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools Of Destruction. And they’re not the only thing this game culls from the sequels; you can now upgrade your weapons, something you couldn’t do in the original.
They’re also not the best things Ratchet & Clank takes from the sequels. This remake also employs the the smooth and intuitive controls this series initially employed in the aforementioned Tools Of Destruction. And it really does make a huge difference. Four years ago, when I tried playing the original in the Ratchet & Clank Collection, after playing Tools and its first two sequels — 2008’s Ratchet & Clank: Quest For Booty and 2009’s Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time — I got so frustrated by that original’s dated and stifling controls that I quit after a couple hours. But not this time.
That said, I must admit that part of me wishes they had included that game’s control scheme as well as the new one. Not for me, mind you, but for fans of the original game who, for whatever reason, miss the old controls. Especially since, as I’ve mentioned, this isn’t just that first game with new controls and better graphics. But then, I also wish you didn’t have to switch to your grenades before tossing them, that you could just throw them out like you do in most games, especially since you can just call forth Mr. Zurkon without switching to him.
This, however, isn’t the biggest problem with Ratchet & Clank, though “problem” may be too strong of a word. Compared to the Ratchet & Clank Future games, this Ratchet & Clank remake — even with all of it’s improvements — isn’t as clever in its platforming, or as weird in its weaponry, especially early on. Which, admittedly, makes sense, it’s still the first game in many ways, but that also means it’s not as much fun. Though, as I said, this is really just a minor quibble, like how homemade chocolate chip cookies without nuts aren’t as good as ones that do, but are still really good.
The music is Ratchet & Clank is also kind of meh. Which isn’t a problem most of the time because you can turn it off. Except that if you do, you won’t hear the music when you deploy the Groovitron. Though given that the Groovitron’s music isn’t Peaches & Herb’s “Shake Your Groove Thing,” maybe that’s for the best.
In the end, this version of Ratchet & Clank, unlike so many remakes, is not only worth getting if you missed the original, but also for those who remember the original fondly (well, save for its controls, of course). By adding some of the fun weapons and other changes from the latter games, especially the much improved controls, this new edition feels like both an original game and a big upgrade.