Ratchet & Clank Original Trilogy Retrospective: Part 1
Ratchet & Clank is a series of 3D platformer/action games developed by Insomniac Games, then known for developing Spyro the Dragon and known nowadays for developing Sunset Overdrive and Marvel’s Spider-Man.
In this series of articles, I’m going to talk about the original 3 games, covering off their major features, plot, equipment, control, and how it felt finishing them today. I’m going to be upfront, these games were some of the first I played; I still adore them today 15/16/17 years later, so gushing may occur.
With that out of the way, let’s get started.
Introduction and Plot
Ratchet & Clank was released in 2002 on the PlayStation 2. The game starts with Ratchet working on a ship he’s built from scratch, with the last step being a “Robotic Ignition System”, which he has no idea how to get.
Meanwhile, on a production line of robots, the machine suddenly freaks out and out pops Clank; who as a defective model – who also just saw some very sensitive information on an Infobot – is targeted for destruction. He escapes, but in pursuit is shot down over Ratchet’s world of Veldin.
The lombax (Ratchet’s race, admittedly not brought up much in the trilogy aside from a few mentions) goes to investigate the crash site and retrieves Clank, who after waking up shows the Infobot to Ratchet.
Chairman Drek of the Blarg is building a new home world for his people after the previous one was polluted. How is he doing this? By finding other planets in the galaxy and removing the best chunks from them to add to his own. To try and stop this, Clank wishes to track down the greatest superhero the galaxy has ever known…
Ratchet agrees to this, as Clank is also able to act as the aforementioned Robotic Ignition System, which allows him to start his ship. This begins the duos adventure across the galaxy, taking them to unique planets with different problems to solve. As it progresses the plot almost seems to take on a “buddy film” kind of vibe, with these two very different personalities able to work together well, eventually forming a tight friendship.
Starting out, you only get Ratchet’s Omniwrench and a Bomb Glove to use for fighting enemies. As the game progresses, each new location gives a new weapon for the player to purchase, for a total of 14 – These weapons range from the conventional, the powerful, and the somewhat ridiculous.
Personal favourites of mine include the Pyrocitor; On the surface it’s a bog-standard flamethrower for a decent Area-of-Effect attack. The refresh rate was changed in the PAL version, which makes it deal more damage per-frame. The joys of unintentional bugs.
Another is the Tesla Claw, one of the more expensive weapons in the game and only unlocked at the third-to-last planet. This is a high ammo claw with shoots out a homing bolt of electricity, prioritising enemies closer to Rachet.
Finally, we have the Visibomb Gun. A sniper rifle weapon only becomes a series mainstay in the sequel but the Visibomb does all the work and more. It’s a remote-controlled rocket launcher in which you see the Point of View of the rocket, and it will detonate on contact with a surface or can be remotely detonated to deal with a group of enemies.
Although, I cannot write a Ratchet and Clank article without bringing mention to the R.Y.N.O (Rip You a New One). This weapon is not available in conventional vendors and must be brought from the Shady Salesman for a whopping 150,000 bolts (the in-game currency). Once purchased the game becomes a cakewalk, with a massive 50 ammo capacity and each shot having the potential to launch 9 heavy damage rockets, single targets and groups fall within seconds.
The game has linear progression through the plot. You go to a planet, solve the problem presented in the cutscene or by an individual you meet on landing, watch another cutscene and go to another planet.
However, the levels themselves are designed in a very non-linear way, with most planets have 2-3 routes to traverse through, each giving a different reward – the only time this differs is for plot-centric planets, where the game will direct you through. There are also instances where a planet needs a revisit when new equipment has been acquired, leading to new areas being available for exploration.
Hidden within levels are Gold Bolts, 40 of them total are scattered across the planets. Either hidden in hard to reach places, or behind longer platforming challenges, these collectibles only begin to serve their purpose after reaching the Gemlik Base level or finishing the game, as this allows you access to purchase Gold Weapons which are mechanically upgraded versions of 10 weapons in the game.
The game, like previous Spyro the Dragon titles, hosts a Skill Point system. Achievements before achievements in a way, these rewarded the player with a point for performing a specific task, such as completing a platforming segment without touching the floor or beating a level with only one type of weapon. 15 points will earn you a Sketchbook full of concept art, and the full 30 points will earn you a “where are they now”-style Epilogue.
Level presentation holds up insanely well after all these years. Each level begins with the camera being set to a specific angle to show the player what is ahead as the music swells. The soundtrack in this game is fantastic, with all the tracks matching the atmosphere of the level perfectly. The game running at 60fps is also a plus.
As mentioned in Weapons, the primary currency of the game is bolts, acquired from destroying enemies or breaking crates. These are primarily used for weapons and ammo but are sometimes used to advance the plot.
However, the game is terrible at giving players access to these bolts. It’s likely to take a few planets worth of grinding to be able to buy a single weapon, which is also only supplied to you at half ammo. Unless you put in a lot of time grinding, it’s likely to take repeat playthroughs to buy the R.Y.N.O. Repeat playthroughs go some way to fixing this issue, as all bolt drops are increased by an unspecified multiplier, making each planet more valuable to run through.
Various gadgets become available to the player throughout the game’s progression, used for either advancing through a plot-mandatory route, or for accessing hidden secrets. A lot of them are used for mobility, Grind Boots for grinding rails, Swingshot for swinging on targets, Magneboots for magnetising yourself onto surfaces and a Hydrodisplacer to create areas to swim in.
I’ll give particular focus to the Trespasser though. Each game in the trilogy has a gadget that lets you play a minigame to open a lock, and the Trespasser is this game’s version. It’s an untimed challenge which has you directing 3 rings of lasers into various ports by rotating them by set angles, focusing more on logic of how the lasers interact and block each other rather than reaction times.
Scattered around the game are a few mechanics used for a handful of gameplay segments.
At two points during the game you can enter a hoverboard race, one of these is optional for a side mission, the other is mandatory to get a gadget for progression. They function well enough, but they don’t really have any reason to replaying them, other than for bolts and an arbitrary score.
There’s also points where, after obtaining a pilot’s helmet, Ratchet gets to pilot a fighter jet to secure the path, get a new item, and even a late game boss fight.
Finally, the game features a two-name title, so you get to play as Clank every so often. His levels are more focused on slow platforming and using Gadgebots to handle your combat and puzzle solving, although that doesn’t mean he can’t see action. In two segments, Clank can become Giant Clank, a building-sized behemoth equipped with missiles, energy bombs and fists that can shred through enemies, these may be short segments compared to the rest of the game but my god, they are fantastic.
As a 3D platformer, Ratchet controls pretty good. His jumps have weight and the sound of the double jump still feels satisfying to me. His turning circle does feel a bit wide in sections, but he is able to change directions on a flick of the analogue stick incredibly well.
To aid in platforming – and later swimming – segments, Clank obtains three backpack upgrades. The first of these is the Heli-Pack which opens the possibilities of slowing your descent in a glide, a high jump and a long jump.
Later, you earn the Thruster Pack (my personal favourite to use going forward) which has mostly similar functions with faster movement due to the rocket propulsion. Two new moves unlocked are a power slam allowing you to break metal crates and operate switches, and a rudimentary strafe (more on that in a bit).
This culminates in the Hydro Pack, a backpack that is automatically equipped when underwater. With a click of the R1 button it activates, automatically propelling Ratchet through the water, where you only need to control depth and direction. This is needed to access some hidden areas for both Gold Bolts and upgrade items, as the normal swimming speed is nowhere near fast enough.
However, there are two main areas where I have criticisms, one of them is a product of its time and the other was rectified in the sequel.
The former is the third-person camera, it’s workable and won’t cause many problems during gameplay but it suffers from the sins of early 2000s game design, as it got stuck in scenery in tight spaces. Even on its fastest setting, the camera doesn’t rotate fast enough to face an enemy behind you, combined with a patchy-at-best targeting system, this can result in a fair bit of damage.
After playing through the game, the main conclusion I came to is that the camera is a perfectly good camera for a 3D platformer. It is what you’d expect from the people who made Spryo, but it would take a few years before it became good for a 3D action shooter.
The other issue is the ability to strafe (moving in cardinal directions to aim/avoid attacks). This is mostly unimplemented in the game, with the only option being the Thruster Pack which only allows for better aiming as you cannot jump in this strafing mode. It does make later combat segments easier to navigate due to this refined movement but the lack of a flip for quick dodging leads to more enemy attacks connecting than they should.
Finishing it today
Despite my grievances with how the bolt economy works and some of my issues with the controls, I still really enjoyed getting to experience this game again. Slight confession here, I did my full playthrough of the game for this article on a second playthrough. I briefly attempted a normal run, but the bolt problems just got a bit much.
Having the unspecified multiplier and the bolt pickup range upgrade brought the gameplay more in line with a first playthrough of either of the sequels, which built on the underlying gameplay in each instalment. This made the grind towards Gold Weapons and the R.Y.N.O not feel like a slog.
This game started off a franchise that lasts to even today, when this game was re-imagined in 2016 alongside a feature film. However, that’s a topic for another day.
And the franchise is only going to grow in the sequel, Going Commando.
Did you grow up with Ratchet and Clank, or is this your first time looking back at it? Do you agree with the points above? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, or over on Facebook and Twitter.