Connect with us


Ratchet & Clank – Looking Back at 20 Years of Planet-Hopping Adventures

Back where the adventure began.



Ratchet & Clank – Looking Back at 20 Years of Planet-Hopping Adventure

Retrospective: Ratchet & Clank 20 Years Later

It’s been 20 years since the release of the original Ratchet & Clank game, and in that time the series has ballooned into a worldwide phenomenon. It’s had its ups and downs, struggled with its identity on more than one occasion (here’s looking at you Ratchet & Clank: Deadlocked), and has experimented heavily over the past two decades. But based on fan and critical response to its latest outing, 2021’s Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart, it’s just as popular as ever.

I remember renting Ratchet & Clank from the local Blockbuster one Friday night, slotting it into my PS2, and immediately being blown away by the colors, carnage, and pure creativity. I pooled all of my pocket money together and bought it outright the day we had to return it, and from that moment on, I didn’t look back, I was hooked. I played every mainline entry, and as many of the spin-offs I could get my hands on (except All 4 One – I don’t know what Insomniac was thinking there), up to and including Rift Apart, and while I know it’ll never quite be the same as that first wide-eyed moment of wonder, I still look forward to each and every new entry in the franchise.

But nostalgia is a powerful thing. The game may have inspired my love of platformer-shooters, and was even remembered so fondly by fans that it received a reboot in 2016, but just how good was the original Ratchet & Clank, really?

Image: Insomniac - This is where it all began.
Image: Insomniac – This is where it all began.

Something Bold, Something New

Released November 4, 2002, Ratchet & Clank was Insomniac’s first foray into something new after the success of the Spyro the Dragon series. The developer had already cemented itself as a capable platformer company, but they wanted to do something different. They began working on two potential new games: Monster Knight – a medieval-inspired world in which players would be able to use monsters as creative weapons and armor – and what was internally known as Girl with a Stick – an action/adventure Legend of Zelda- and Tomb Raider-style mashup. When neither of these projects got off the ground, Ratchet & Clank rose up from their ashes.

It took inspiration from both of these discarded games – the creative weaponry and wacky enemy designs from Monster Knight, and the melee combat and world design from Girl with a Stick. Afraid that those two projects had been too simple and safe for the new wave of games being released on the PS2, Insomniac threw everything they could into Ratchet & Clank and dared to dream big.

Image: Insomniac - Gadgets and exploration play a big part in Ratchet & Clank.
Image: Insomniac – Gadgets and exploration play a big part in Ratchet & Clank.

And boy, did it pay off. Ratchet & Clank was an ambitious game for its time, with its quirky story and humor, detailed and diverse planets and environments to explore, huge collection of over-the-top weapons and gadgets, and a variety of cartoonish enemies and bosses to use them on.

But it was Insomniac’s decision to lean as much into combat as platforming that separated Ratchet & Clank from the crowd, a move that ensured it was remembered and which kept the series relevant even after all this time.

A Little More Bang For Your Buck

Ratchet & Clank’s combat turned what could have been a simple platformer into something delightfully memorable and moreish. When players think of Ratchet & Clank the first thing that comes to mind is the weaponry – gloves that fire explosive mines and others that launch tiny robotic minions, guns that fire great arcs of electricity or that turn foes into chickens. The later games may have dialed up the wackiness and creativity, but it all started here.

The guns were a big selling point, too, with many comical adverts and commercials showing off their silly effects. And actually getting your hands on them in-game is always an exhilarating power trip – especially with behemoths of destruction like the RYNO (a suitable acronym for the devastation it brings) – just as long as you aren’t too busy wrestling with the camera.

Image: Insomniac - Guns pack a punch, but aiming them can be nigh on impossible.
Image: Insomniac – Guns pack a punch, but aiming them can be nigh on impossible.

This is one of the few ways the game really shows its age. These were still very much the early days of open 3D platformer adventures and as such precise camera controls were still a long way off. As a result, it can be tricky in certain sections not to accidentally walk or jump off a ledge while simultaneously trying to swivel the camera around to aim at a swarm of oncoming enemies. Weirdly, the game’s “normal” camera settings are what many would refer to as “inverted” nowadays, and something to bear in mind if you’re thinking of jumping back in.

Even worse, players can’t properly strafe in this game – side-to-side movement is possible with Clank in jetpack form, but it’s a little cumbersome. And as the later games massively improved the aiming issue, it can be a little jarring to come back to. Thankfully, most of Ratchet’s weapons auto-target enemies, and while it can be a bit fiddly, the majority also deal tremendous amounts of AOE damage, meaning that even if you miss your target, you’ll damage something. And it doesn’t detract from the sheer fun of experimenting with each new weapon you unlock.

Image: Insomniac - The Pyrocitor is perfect for keep pesky critters at bay.
Image: Insomniac – The Pyrocitor is perfect for keep pesky critters at bay.

Guns are unlocked organically over the course of the entire game. Generally, each new planet will have a handy Gadgetron vendor right beside where Ratchet parks his ship and each one will tease players with a new weapon to try out. Once you’ve gathered enough bolts to purchase them, the fun can truly begin. Typically, the guns match the planet they’re found on, and are uniquely suited for the threats Ratchet and Clank will face there – e.g. the Pyrocitor flamethrower for dealing with hoards of smaller, swarming enemies – so it’s always in the player’s best interest to pick up each new gun the moment it becomes available.

Unfortunately, one of the series’ main staples and a major draw of experimenting with each weapon, leveling them up, is absent from the original title. It was only introduced in the sequel, Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando. The fact that the weapons can only be powered up by purchasing new Gold versions of them does take a little of the fun and sense of progression out of combat, but it’s a small detail in the grand scheme of things.   

Aren’t You a Little Short to be a Hero? 

The game’s story – while maybe a little simplistic compared to his later outings – is also masterfully handled, gradually raising the stakes from trying to get away from a dull life on a backwater planet to saving the galaxy. The humor can be a little hit-and-miss (again, considering how well its successors did in this regard, many of the jokes can come off as a little dated), but they mainly hit their mark and always help to keep things light.

Ratchet & Clank starts with Ratchet repairing a spaceship that he hopes will take him away from his boring life and get him out among the stars in search of adventure. As he’s busy working, Clank, a defective battle robot on a mission of his own, crash-lands on his planet.

Image: Insomniac Ratchet & Clank - Even the title screen is atmospheric, and it tells the player all they need to know about Ratchet's longing for adventure.
Image: Insomniac – Even the title screen is atmospheric, and it tells the player all they need to know about Ratchet’s longing for adventure.

Ratchet goes out to find the crash site and the player takes control for the first time. Veldin works brilliantly as a tutorial planet, with each section carefully crafted to teach the player new things – such as spacing out rocky platforms to get the player to jump instinctively, or placing crates beside enemies to show they can be broken for bolts – all without the need for lengthy tutorial text boxes. These tutorial boxes do still pop up throughout this section, but they are played off as in-universe advice from Gadgetron and add some flavor to the world, as well as some fun early jokes.

Ratchet finds Clank and learns about the game’s main villain, Chairman Drak’s, secret plan to destroy planets and use their pieces to make one perfect superplanet. And the pair then team up to save the galaxy.

Already in that short opening, the game’s writers show off their ability to write quick wit and dry humor, quirky and eclectic heroes, and sarcastic, sardonic villains – staples of the series as a whole, and the second thing that comes to most players’ minds (after the guns) when they think about Ratchet & Clank. Drek is cartoonishly evil, dry-witted, and brutally sadistic, the kind of villain you love to hate. The writers would later perfect this kind of comic-book villainy with Dr. Nefarious, but it all started with Drek.

Image: Insomniac - Drek is a delightfully devious villain.
Image: Insomniac – Drek is a delightfully devious villain.

The only downside is, even though he is the main character, Ratchet can often come across as a bit of a jerk. For someone who always wanted to get out and see what the galaxy had to offer, he doesn’t stop to think before he speaks and is quick to put people down with a snarky comment or two. Part of the problem may have been down to original voice actor Mikey Kelly’s delivery, and why he was replaced with the far more chipper and friendly-sounding James Arnold Taylor for every subsequent game.

A Galaxy-Spanning Adventure

While Veldin makes for a fun introduction, the game doesn’t really get going until players leave for the planet Novalis. Where Veldin was barren and brown, Novalis is lush and green. It shows off Insomniac’s level of detail when creating a world that feels lived in, but also introduces the player to the idea of branching paths.

Each planet has one main path the player must take in order to progress the story, but also contains one or two other smaller paths which usually reward the player with some sort of goodie at the end. These side paths tend to be a little more challenging than the main path, with more enemies, more precise platforming, gadget gauntlets, or best of all, fast-paced grind rail sections. Getting to the end typically rewards the player with a collectable, such as the elusive Gold Bolts, a series mainstay.

One planet even allows Ratchet to try his luck at hoverboard racing. In this frantic mini-game, Ratchet can race against other contestants, hitting boost pads and crates while avoiding holes and attempting to stay on the twisting track, all in an effort to win some prizes.

Image: Insomniac - Hoverboarding is a wild ride! Ratchet & Clank
Image: Insomniac – Hoverboarding is a wild ride!

Side paths and mini-games were greatly expanded upon in the later games, but as with everything else that makes the series what it is, they both started here.

The planets themselves are incredibly varied, with each one unique enough to be told apart at a glance. Some are bright and vivid, with warm and welcoming color palettes, rolling oceans, and clear blue skies; others are more muted, monochromatic, and oppressive. But they all have character. And they all introduce something new, be that a new enemy type to master, a previously unseen environmental hazard, or a new way of getting around entirely. Take the Magneboots, for example – once Ratchet gets a hold of these, he is able to traverse previously unreachable areas, walking up the sides of walls and dangling from the ceiling or from upside-down moving platforms, all while trying to fend off enemy attacks.

The most visually impressive of all the planets, however, has to be the Metropolis. Like Star Wars’ Coruscant, it is one big planet-sized city. Skyscrapers stretch up into the clouds and way out over the horizon, flying cars whiz by overhead, and the ground is nowhere in sight. With so much detail and so many moving parts, it’s still astounding that Insomniac was able to pull it off on such an early PS2 game. And it still looks amazing to this day, especially if you’re playing the HD remaster collection.

Image: Insomniac - It may look a little dated now, but Metropolis was a marvel of its time. Ratchet & Clank
Image: Insomniac – It may look a little dated now, but Metropolis was a marvel of its time.

Eight Games and a… Movie?

But I can’t get this far through a retrospective without at least mentioning the 2016 reboot properly. 2016 was an odd time for Ratchet and Clank, the last big game, Into the Nexus, had released three years prior and interest in the franchise seemed to be waning. So, Sony decided to drum it back up with, of all things, a CG movie, loosely based on the original title.

Despite (somehow) getting big stars on board like Sylvester Stallone and John Goodman, the movie flopped, failing to recoup its budget and faring dismally with critics. However, some good did come out of this strange venture, as Insomniac used it as a perfect excuse to remake the original title from the ground up.

Image: Insomniac - As every reviewer at the time had to mention, 2016's Ratchet & Clank was like playing through a Pixar movie.
Image: Insomniac – As every reviewer at the time had to mention, 2016’s Ratchet & Clank was like playing through a Pixar movie.

Like the movie, this new version of Ratchet & Clank was a reimagining of the original story, only this time, as if retold by Captain Quark. The shiny new lick of paint and revamped controls went over very well with fans and critics alike, and 2016’s Ratchet & Clank became the best-selling entry in the series.

But while it looked the part, something about it felt a little off. It didn’t have the same soul the older games had, and, story-wise at least, felt like a step in the wrong direction. It just lacked that spark that made the 2002 original great. Thankfully, Insomniac brought the soul of the franchise back with full force for their latest foray, Rift Apart – and I, like many others, am glad to see the pair back on top form.

They’ve Still Got It!

So, while it may not be as polished as the later entries in the series, and it certainly has its flaws – animations jump between clunky and over-animated, and character models are rather blocky, not to mention the dreadful camera and aiming system again – Ratchet & Clank is a twenty-year-old game. And one that has held up remarkably well.

If you’ve never played the series before, it’s probably not the best place to start, but if you are a fan who missed out, or one who hasn’t touched it in years, it’s well worth the trip back in time. Ratchet and Clank have come a long way together, and it’s amazing to see that their original adventure still holds up so well today, still retains that nostalgic magic.

Image: - Insomniac - Ready for the next adventure. Ratchet & Clank
Image: Insomniac – Ready for the next adventure.

So, do yourself a favor, blow the dust off your old PS2 and boot up Ratchet & Clank or, at the very least, purchase the HD collection off the PlayStation store, and strap yourself in for a planet-hopping adventure that has withstood the test of time. You won’t be sorry.

Max Longhurst is a keen gamer, avid writer and reader, and former teacher. He first got into gaming when, at the age of 8, his parents bought him a PS2 and Kingdom Hearts for Christmas, and he’s never looked back. Primarily a PlayStation fan, he loves games with a rich single-player experience and stories with unexpected twists and turns.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *