Long-time gamer, aspiring writer, and frequent bearer of an afro. As an eternal optimist, I like to both look on the bright side of things and see the better parts of games; as a result, I love a game with a good story and awesome characters...and anything that lets me punch the heresy out of my enemies.
I'm a big fan of Atlus' games, and I've enjoyed my fair share of fighters and RPGs. Just...please, keep Final Fantasy XIII out of my sight. It never ends well for anyone involved.
You can check out some of my game musinga/stories/random stuff at my other blog, Cross-Up. I've also got a TV Tropes thingamajig, and I'm trying to get some freelance work going. Among other things. Like a web serial novel. And getting books published. If ever there was a time for the world to learn the joys of ghost-punching, this is it.
No one is more than aware of my aptitude of making crushingly long posts. So in an effort to try and get over that bad habit, hereís everything you need to know about this post condensed into one sentence:
$8.99 is all you need to own one of the most enchanting and rewarding games ever created.
ÖAnd now to spew four thousand words explaining my claim. Nobody said that breaking bad habits was easy.
(My love for you is like a truck SPOILERS! And potentially, BERSERKER! Also, fans of Borderlands may want to be a little wary...)
Auspicious fortune. Thatís what led me to this post, I suppose. You can thank a combination of PlayStation All-Stars: Battle Royale, a special deal at GameStop, and my brotherís impulsive habits for my shot at playing Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction.
I have to admit, first off, that I never put much stock into the Ratchet and Clank franchise. I didnít have a PS2 at the time when the series made waves, so I missed out on the duoís adventures and had no drive to pick up any of the games. The same goes for their PS3 outings. Beyond that, I always thought the pair was more than a little redundant -- Sony already had a gun-slinging duo to its name. Jak was a colorful, cartoony hero exploring wild worlds with fantastic guns, and had his own (albeit radically different) sidekick. What was the point of having Ratchet around, if not to jump on the Me Too Express?
To this day I still think that having both pairs on one system is a little excessive. But it wasnít until semi-recently that I started to see the appeal in Ratchet and Clank. I played All 4 One with my bro and a buddy, and we all agreed it was a fantastic game (not in spite of, but because of its childish veneer). Incidentally, from what I've heard that was supposed to be one of the weaker games in the series; if that was the case, I told my brother mere minutes before popping Tools of Destruction into the console, then this game would be ďutterly awesome.Ē
And to my surprise, it was. It was more than just better than expected. Folks, weíre talking about a game that may now be a part of my Top 25. Maybe my Top 10.
Iím more than a little eager to figure out why, because frankly I havenít sorted out my final opinion just yet (and probably wonít until days after this post). A part of me is worried that I just like it because of a knee-jerk reaction to the games of today -- Iíve made my distaste pretty clear for Halo 4, Borderlands 2, Resident Evil 6, Darksiders 2, and Gears of War 3. I couldn't bring myself to get past the prologue of Assassin's Creed 3. I consider Final Fantasy 13-2 to be the WORST game I've ever played. But regardless of those games or the industry standards, I feel pretty strongly about and for ToD. Is it a perfect game? No, not even close. But it is a very, very good game -- itís what Iíd call a ďgame-ass game.Ē What do I mean? Well, Iíll get back to that.
Letís go over the basics first. As you can guess, this isnít the first game in the franchise -- maybe fourth or fifth, but itís the first to be featured on the PS3 (made all too clear by the old PS3 logo on the side of the box). Hereís the story: one day, Ratchetís minding his own business working on his new vehicle, ready to go for a ride on a machine his robot pal Clank has reservations about. Before they can have too much fun -- or disaster -- with it, they get a message from the superhero pastiche Captain Qwark, who calls on them to help with a robot assault in the city. What starts off as a seemingly-simple rescue mission turns into a galactic struggle (doesnít it always?); the tiny tyrant Percival Tachyon begins infecting the universe with his empire, eager to exact his revenge on the Lombaxes -- cat-like aliens, a species our hero Ratchet belongs to -- and spread his dominion over all species and all planets. The lynchpin of his goal? The ďLombax secret,Ē technology left behind before the Lombaxes mysteriously vanished, which could very well unravel the universe if used unwisely. Ratchet and Clank -- along with a slew of friends old and new -- have to find the secret first, braving betrayals, ghosts of the past, and even each other as they travel through the cosmos.
Remarkably (and thankfully), you donít have to know very much about the canon to play this game. Itís a self-contained story that you can jump into; no need to search codexes or read wikis online to catch up. Ratchet is the spirited hero, and apparently the last cat in the universe. Clank is his best friend and a robot, and matches his hot-blooded partnerís enthusiasm with level-headed politeness point-for-point. Qwark is an on-again, off-again comrade whoís more cowardly than his physique would suggest. The universe is full of crazy planets, with technology thatís a blend of real-life concepts and fancy-sounding gibberish. Robot pirates, alien dinosaurs, and casual travel into black holes are just common knowledge in this game. Whatís important isnít what happened in Going Commando or Up Your Arsenal; whatís important is whatís happening in the context of the game. So give a point to this game for not requiring you to watch a miniseries to know who some of these people are.
Okay, letís get the bad out of the way first. The biggest problem with this game is that it was made in 2007 -- not a fault in itself, but that means itís likely to fall prey to certain trends. The trend in this case is Sixaxis motion controls; at that point in gaming, I suspect that Sony pretty much required all its games to have some form of it. And I suspect every time it appeared when unneeded, it came off as a gimmick. Thereís nothing Sixaxis adds to ToD that couldnít be done with an analog stick and buttons, but theyíll try their damnedest to outshine the Wii with a last-minute addition prove that Sixaxis control is the way of the future. Youíll do freefalls, hack technology, fly through the air, and do a little dancing with pirates. While none of them are broken, none of them (bar the dancing, because you use motion controls sparingly) are engaging or even all that good. The precise motions required for some of them donít mesh well with what your body does; itís not uncommon to want to tilt a little bit while flying, but end up swerving way off-course. And in the freefall segments, making it to your destination is as easy as flailing about -- in fact, thatís probably the preferable strategy. And why theyíd try and include a gun thatís controlled solely by the Sixaxis -- in a game heavily dependent on movement and positioning and focus -- youíre better off never using it, and coming off no worse because of it. Itís a relic of the past, and it shows. Repeatedly.
Iím also not 100% sure how I feel about the difficulty. It gets tricky at times (and youíll certainly notice it), but ToD is not what Iíd call a hard game by any stretch. Part of the reason is because of your tool set; in addition to getting lots of fancy, useful, and powerful guns, youíll also be able to upgrade them, get one-off items that shift the firefight in your favor, and you can buy armorÖAND your health levels-up as you play. AND your guns level-up even if you donít upgrade them. Itís still more than possible to die, and you will run out of ammo for several of your guns, but if youíre expecting a game to push you to your very limits, this isnít it. Once youíve upgraded, say, your Predator Launcher to a certain degree, you can lock on to enemies with up to eight missiles at a time and do some serious damage to them; you donít even have to aim. Your shotgun will eventually be able to freeze enemies in place, you can throw out a disco ball that immediately stops enemy attacks so they start dancing, and even your basic gun eventually fires three shots per bullet while spraying magma all over the ground. But the award for ďMost Broken WeaponĒ HAS to go to the Nano Swarmers; you throw out a ball that extends into a mini-satellite, and focuses a laser on enemies. Once it does, it sends a swarm of bees at them and keeps doing so until theyíre dead, only to lock on to the next enemy. And you can throw out multiple Swarmers at a time. And you can upgrade the weapon. And you can switch to other weapons while the bees are still going. Basically, you can think of the Swarmers as indestructible sentry guns that rip the ass plates of enemy robots in two.
Itís worth noting that the story -- and the gameplay tied to it -- is more or less ďsafe.Ē If you think Iím going to praise this game because there was some incredible plot twist that left me speechless, youíre in for a shock. This is a very straightforward, very competent story, which is both a benefit and a weakness. Other than the ending, there arenít exactly any huge surprises; itís a WYSIWYG type of adventure. The back of the box has a blurb where USA Today calls it a Pixar movie in game form, and it shows; you donít go in expecting some massive upheaval in the narrative, and thatís all right (Iíll come back to this point in a minute). What isnít quite as all right is the way the game handles getting Ratchet from place to place. Yeah, you can backtrack at your leisure and find hidden items, but going from planet to planet and plot point to plot point has a pretty predictable pattern.
Step One: Ratchet lands on a planet.
Step Two: Ratchet explores a planet.
Step Three: Ratchet finds a clue about the Lombax secret.
Step Four: Ratchet heads to the planet hinted at by the clue.
There are variations, but it kind of undermines the adventure when you start to realize that youíre on a wild goose chase. There is a payoff well before the game ends (the Lombax secret is actually a reality-warping hat), but a big chunk of the game has a ďThe secret has to be here! Nope, not here -- next planet!Ē cycle that lessens the impact of the planet youíre on. Itís kind of like an amusement park, actually; you donít get to enjoy a single ride for long, because your aunt is shuffling you off to the next ride. Now this isnít exactly a deal-breaker, because it gives the story a narrative and linear structure, and I guess there isnít a much better way to have what IS a galactic goose chase in a game. But you start to take notice when a cutscene or the voice of one of your friends tells you to head for the next planet before youíve even felt satisfaction for conquering the boss beforehand.
There are a few minor nitpicks I could make (some enemies are way too strong, the last level kind of drags), but those points and the ones I listed above donít do anything to lower my opinion of the game.
Letís start with a definition. I mentioned this in a comment a while back, but I want to start putting the phrase ďgame-ass gameĒ into rotation ASAP. The gist of it is that a game-ass game this: it doesnít try to put forth any delusions that itís an epic thatíll leave you breathless. Nor does it allow conventions to dictate its motions. A game-ass game is simple and natural. It doesnít have to try to be anything grander than it is; it just is. Itís inherently simple, but all the parts that comprise it are top-of-the-line -- even if there are only a handful of parts to speak of. No delusions of grandeur. No catering to tastes, be it the creatorsí or the consumersí. No fear of being misunderstood. No excess, no confusion, no disarray, no broken promises, no forgotten elements.
Itís focused on the intent. The creative vision. The expression, and communication of ideas, and invitation for the gamer to engage with those ideas -- the game, in every facet. Context, challenge, gratification, impact, sensory responses, everything comes together. Everything. And if you didnít know any better, youíd say that the game didnít even try. It just does its thingÖand because of it -- because it did so with skill and simplicity, almost by mere virtue of existing -- you adore it. That is what I call a game-ass game.
You can call that definition a knee-jerk reaction, but itís one that has merit, I think. And I think itís a lesson that carries over across every medium: if you have to try to be epic, youíve already failed. No matter what medium youíre working in, you have to be honest with yourself and your work. You have to know what youíre going for, what your work calls for, and what your audience needs -- not wants, but needs. Chase after something, or put up an insincere effort, and youíre more likely to betray yourself, your tale, and your fans. But do what comes simply or naturally, and youíve got a much better shot at making something better. If nothing else, youíre making something that you (at least at the time) think is great. If nothing else, youíre fulfilling your creative vision. And who knows? Maybe someone else will like that vision, too.
Or you could screw it all up. You could try and shove everything at once into your game like Resident Evil 6. You could make a gamer a slave to numbers and loot like Borderlands 2. You could make your hero out to be a messiah when he's got the personality of a lunch box and the purposefulness of a garage door opener like Halo 4. Or you could take an example from Final Fantasy 13-2 and suck. But itís not all bad news; as long as there are games, there will inevitably be game-ass games. And Nintendo has practically made a business out of putting out game-ass games. Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword? Game-ass game. Kirbyís Epic Yarn? Game-ass game. Any given Mario game since 1996, and arguably well before that? Game-ass game. In fact Iíd argue that their biggest misfire (besides the Virtual Boy) is Metroid: Other M -- and that one pretty much speaks for itself. Too much.
There are other games and other companies that have gotten it right, of course, and I could sit here and rattle off names for quite a while. But for expediency -- and because youíve just hit the two-thousand four hundred thirty-fifth word -- Iím qualifying Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction as a game-ass game. Thatís made possible because of the two points that are a decisive factor in plenty of titles: the gameplay and the story.
Letís focus on the gameplay first. As Iíve said before, Iím pretty bad at shooters -- my aim is terrible, I have slow reflexes, and while trying to maneuver itís not uncommon for me to walk right off the edge and into the abyss. And while I happened to kill myself more times than I care to admit in ToD, Iíd still argue that itís not just a competent shooter, but one of my favorites ever. Why, I can hazard a guess:
1) Maybe about ten chest-high walls in the entire game, and no dedicated cover system.
2) The ability to jump and double-jump freely.
3) Circle-strafing as a viable (and sometimes preferable) strategy.
4) No regenerating health.
5) The ability to carry multiple -- and varied -- weapons.
6) Wide open environments of varying size and shape.
7) A largely-solo experience, NPC or otherwise.
See those points? Pretty simple stuff, right? Now hereís the thing: I donít know if youíve played a shooter in the past six years or so, but thereís something pretty interesting about ToD thanks to those points. Basically it does the exact opposite of everything the modern shooter does nowadaysÖand Iím convinced that itís better for it.
You get to move around. Youíre not hiding behind walls for dear life, hoping that an enemy will pop out from behind their wall. You can maneuver as you see fit, moving side to side and jumping over enemy fire to get in a clean shot. No regenerating health means that when youíre down to your last few points of health, youíre starting to feel the pressure -- and the rush that comes with it. You always have the right weapon for the job, all of which function in a different but specialized category; thereís a certain element of strategy in picking the right weapon for the right time (and even though I think the Nano Swarmers are overpowered, you canít just go BEEEEEEEEEEEES and win every firefight; its ammo is extremely limited). That strategic element is emphasized because you can hold Triangle to select the right gun for the job, and pause the game in the process. It gives you a breather, and time to plan your next move. You donít have anyone, a friend or an NPC, yammering or spouting off bad one-liners or making you unnecessary. This is your fight; you have all the tools and skills you need, and conquering them comes down to using ingenuity, reason, and quick thinking. You have to focus on what youíre doing, and focus on ensuring your survival, or else youíre doomed to suck down laser beams through your teeth.
Itís strange, because I canít say that the pace of ToD is anything near breakneck. An enemy may shoot at you, but you have plenty of time to move out of the way, be it sidestep, strafe, jump, or just run away. The speed of your shots varies from gun to gun; some bullets travel nigh-instantly into enemy faces, while there are others you have a chance of outrunning. And like I said, you pause the action every time you switch guns with Triangle. But none of this makes the game bad; only different, at worst. Actually itís for the best -- if the shots moved at the speed of a regular bullet, Ratchet would bring about the extinction of cat-kind. And between you and me, I would rather be able to brag about jumping over a hell-storm of bullets from every direction instead of saying ďI hid behind a wall and pecked away at enemies whenever they popped up.Ē Besides, youíre a cat. Youíre supposed to be agile. And that agility makes all the difference.
Okay, thatís not 100% true. The guns go a pretty long way as well -- and trust me, there are a lot of them. Enough to fill three quick select wheels, literally; you get so many guns and devices that by gameís end you have to decide which ones are in the wheels and which ones have to be accessed from the Start menu. Each one is varied, colorful, and customizable, just as youíd expect from/might have heard about the series -- but if youíre the traditional sort, many of the guns fit the expected roles. The Shard Reaper works like a shotgun, but its crystalline bullets can be upgraded to explode on contact (and then evolve into the Nitro Reaper, which freezes opponents). Youíve got a pistol, a machine gun, and a flamethrower, but the pistol can fire off three rounds per bullet, the machine gun shoots ricocheting saw blades, and the flamethrowerÖokay, the flamethrower just spews flames. But if you use a gun enough and give it a little love -- i.e. money -- you can turn a simple weapon into one thatís not only bonkers, but super-effective in certain situations.
I remember shortly after getting the machine gun (the ďBuzz BladesĒ), I put in a few upgrades and entered a room with a nasty-looking boss. ďSo the Buzz Blades bounce off walls, huh?Ē I asked myself, readying the weapon. So I unloaded with everything I had -- and to my surprise, the saw blades tore the hell out of the boss. I didnít even need to switch weapons. It felt like a victory, and a major one at that; Iíd not only figured out a surefire way to clear a boss and which weapon to use indoors, but it opened my ideas to the possibilities. I was willing to play through the entire game assuming that the starting gun was the best, but the fact that some weapons are phenomenally more effective than others against enemies (and I speak from experience) invites experimentation for every fight. Add to that the infectious drive to level up your weapons and see what theyíll become or do next, and suddenly battlefields become a testing ground as well as a proving ground.
Some praise has to go to the game for offering something beyond combat, of course. The worlds are massive -- they look massive, and feel massive. This may have been an early PS3 game, but the tech was well-tapped. Thereís plenty of room to walk around and explore, but the worlds never get so huge that you end up lost (and even if you did, thereís still a map to rely on). You can explore, and of course thereís plenty of incentive if you want to unlock skins and such, but itís very easy to move on with your mission if you prefer. Either way, each world is a visual treat; colors everywhere you look. A menagerie of flora and fauna. A seamless fusion of technology and biological life. All manners of climate and environments. If Skyward Sword left you wanting for an ice level, you wonít be disappointed. And if for some reason all that fails to impress you, there are space battles.
Peppy, you wanna take this one?
All right. Thatís enough about the gameplay for now (long story short, better than Halo 4). Now letís talk about that story.
If you've read my post about ďkidsí games,Ē you may remember me asking why developers arenít trying to ape Pixar movies instead of summer blockbusters. It seems like the obvious choice -- multi-generational appeal, limitless creative potential, expression made possible by virtue of the worlds needing dreamy rendering, levity as well as drama and depthÖall these things and more. Of course one could argue that in order to make a Pixar-style game you have to have talent, buuuuuuuuuut you didnít hear that from me. In any case, if there was ever a company and if there was ever a game that managed to capture that quintessence, itís Insomniac Games and ToD. Itís a simple story at its core, but the ideas and execution elevate it into something fantastic. Or rather, let me put it this way: in spite of its childish veneer, ToD manages to be more mature than half the games released this generation.
For starters, this may be a galactic goose chase, but itís just as much a story about interracial struggles and the responsibility of oneís desperate actions. Itís very easy to assume that the Cragmites are all planet-conquering assholes, and for the most part they are (especially when Tachyon starts summoning with the Dimensionator to start his conquest of the universe). But hereís the thing: the Lombaxes arenít exactly in the clear, either. The Cragmites may seem like the bad guys, but as the story unfolded I got a very ďshades of grayĒ sense of the big picture; for one thing, it was the Lombaxes who built such a dangerous device. For another, rather than eliminate them outright, the Lombaxes banish the Cragmites to a corner of the universe. So no, they didnít build a hyper-dimensional killing machineÖthey just built a machine that exiles entire species to a different realm. Or if you prefer, deportation. And then rather than work to clean up the mess the Cragmites made with their no-doubt incredible technology, the space-cats apparently decided to leave the dimension behind and start anew somewhere else (leaving Ratchet behind for reasons unknown). All of this of course is glancing over the fact that there was a WAR between the two species, and you can bet there were atrocities on either side of the fence. Just think about what Ratchet can do, and then multiply that by about a factor of...oh, let's set it at a conservative five million.
Things like that help to explain Tachyonís motivation besides ďbecause I want to rule the universe!Ē In spite of being raised by Lombaxes, once he finds out the truth he decides to exact his revenge -- not just by taking over the universe, but by making sure that every property he owns and every soldier makes sure to put in effort trying to turn the last cat in the universe into a taxidermistís fantasy. Itís a reasonable motivation, and I can buy itÖto an extent. Revenge is a major motivation, as is the madness that comes from learning the truth about your species. But Ratchetís species had it rough too (albeit on a different axis); you donít see him deciding to wreck everything that doesnít suit him. No, Tachyonís issues run deeper, and thatís made clear from his introduction onward: he wants people to take him seriously. And that is a very, very hard thing to do.
Heís the villain, but heís a walking joke. Tiny, bigheaded, surrounded by bumblers, and thwarted every other day, respect is something thatís hard for him to come by. But he wants it, and he needs it, and heíll have it. As you wander through levels youíll find TVs that broadcast his image, and spread his word as law. Heís quick to aggrandize himself at every turn. His personal mech is obviously (if youíll let me make a tired old joke) compensating for somethingÖthough one canít help but wonder if Cragmites -- or Lombaxes, for that matter -- have the same sexual characteristics as any given Earth creature. In any case, Tachyon wants people to see him as a big man, a threat, a true force of power and prestige to be feared and revered. And despite having the toughest boss fight in the game, itís too little too late -- Tachyonís beaten by the heroes, and specifically his foil Ratchet.
The last cat in the universe is, as per his hero duties, doing what he can to stop the bad guys and recover ancient technology. And while heís the typical spirited, leap-before-you-look type of hero, thereís more to him than his voice actorwould suggest. For one thing, heís clearly inherited the technological skill of his Lombax forebears (the guyís using a giant wrench like a sword, and he tried to make ďstunderwearĒ), so if nothing else heís got enough knowledge to work a machine. His hot-bloodedness isnít a result of being an idiot, but because heís earnest in his pursuits. Like any good scientist, heís always pushing the limits and believing that nothingís impossible -- and given that the Dimensionator is not only an enthralling piece of technology but may help him discover the secrets of his MIA species, itís no wonder that he becomes obsessed with finding and using it. The problem is obvious, isnít it?
Getting obsessed is very rarely a good thing, least of all when it involves a verifiable doomsday device you can put on your head. Ratchet gets his chance to destroy the Dimensionator and keep it out of Tachyonís hands for good -- and even before he does that he likely could have destroyed any of the clues leading up to it, just to make sure the emperor didnít have a trail of bread crumbs to follow. But he doesnít. He just chases after it, and finds it, and plans to put it too good use, in spite of his vehicle from the start of the game nearly turning him into a well-cooked blood smear. The single-minded resolve that makes him a hero very nearly makes him his own worst enemy -- and potentially, an enemy of the universe.
Thankfully, Clank is around to keep his buddy from going out of control -- or at least try to. Clank has his own issues in this game: heís apparently some sort of king to blockheaded creatures called the Zoni. Problem is, only Clank can see them, so Ratchet thinks heís just dreaming them up. But theyíre quite real; youíll do a few simple puzzles with them throughout the game, many of which involve Clankís apparent ability to slow time to a crawl (whether thatís an ability heís always had or just one used in conjunction with the Zoni is beyond me, but given that he only uses it when theyíre around I lean toward the latter). If Ratchet is a leap-before-you-look type of guy, then Clank is the type that doesnít leap, period -- and his cautiousness and constant questioning of Ratchetís actions drives a wedge between the two of them. Itís actually something foreshadowed from the first few minutes of the game, but has buildup and payoff later on; Ratchet calls Clank out, and not long after the two get split up when Tachyon activates the Dimensionator.
Itís when they get separated that you really start to realize how much of a bond the two share -- both from a story perspective and a gameplay perspective. See, Clank is fastened to Ratchetís back throughout the entire game, giving him the ability to double-jump, high jump, long jump, and glide. And then you lose him and all the abilities therein. And then immediately after you lose him, you enter an area that requires platforming. The jumps you need to make arenít exactly difficult, but after spending at least a dozen hours with a double-jump, you really start to feel vulnerable -- incomplete, even -- without it. Story-wise, as soon as Ratchet discovers Clankís not on his back (the guy whoís literally had his back throughout countless adventures), he feels the pressure. Once heís able, he lets his comrades and the player know how important Clank is through his words and body language. The cat-boyís screwed up. He should have listened to Clank when he had the chance, because in the end he was right. Itís a simple scene, but an effective one -- and it makes their reunion all the more poignant.
Except thereís a certain imbalance to their relationship. Donít get me wrong; Clank is as glad to be reunited as Ratchet is, but thereís a difference between the two of them. When Ratchet gets split up from Clank, his tool set is cut in half. When Clank gets split up, his tool set expands. Without Clank, Ratchet is utterly alone against the elements. Without Ratchet, Clank has the Zoni to fall back on -- to the point where the little fairies will fight on his behalf. Ratchetís destiny is unknown by virtue of being abandoned by his people; whatever future he wants to have, heíll likely have to make it on his own. Clankís destiny is known by creatures more than willing to stand by his side and bring him to some semblance of a promised land where he can rule and act as the chosen one; whatever future he wants to have is a predetermined yet grandiose oneÖbut ultimately, one heíll have to live without Ratchet.
Thatís right. At the end of the game, when all is said and done, Tachyon is defeated and the galaxy is moving back toward peaceful days, this happens.
Of all the ways to kick a player in the ballsÖ
Iím not sure why, but I actually donít have a problem with ToDís ending. Itís sequel-baiting of the highest caliber, yes, and to some extent it immediately undermines the work and successes of the heroes. But even so, it deals a surprisingly emotional blow to the player, and Ratchet even more so. So for the most part it works; the credits hadnít even started to roll, and already I was thinking to myself, ďSo do I need to get A Crack in Time or Quest for Booty?Ē The series is called Ratchet and Clank -- and Iíll be damned if those brothers in arms arenít reunited. (Though given that theyíre back on the front lines in All 4 One, Iíd assume everything works out in the end.)
Itís a little difficult to point out exactly why ToD -- and by extension the entire franchise -- works. Doubly so because my enthusiasm and praise is ultimately my opinion; what you get out of it and how it affects you depends on your preferences. And on top of that, I still believe that this isnít exactly a complex game or a complex story. Like The Avengers, this game is akin to a sandwich -- simple and generally without frills, but still more than satisfying if the components are good enough. Thereís no denying that ToD and The Avengers are like well-made sandwiches, but in the end theyíre still sandwiches; theyíre several steps below metaphorical fine dining. But with that in mind, I feel like I need to append my definition of a game-ass game a bit to accommodate; it doesnít necessarily have to be a sandwich, but by design it offers something for a player to sink their teeth into. Speaking from my perspective, there are three things that players can sink their teeth into.
1) Ratchet, and by extension Clank. Like I said, I havenít played any of the other games besides All 4 One -- but if the wikiís anything to go by, Ratchet used to be kind of a jerk. He started out as selfish, arrogant, and suspicious of everyone; thanks to the magic of character development, he ended up becoming the character that I know him as from ToD. Itís a change that I approve of; the main character is the means for exploring and interacting with a world, and having him anything besides energetic and adventurous would harm our ability to enjoy said world, and the game at large. Though on that noteÖ
2) A world worth exploring. I know I mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating -- this gameís world is fantastic. Even if you donít feel like putting in the work to track down every hidden item or Easter egg, you can get plenty out of the world just by knowing that the option is there, or forgoing it just to get to the ending faster. Grind rails, catapults, and tubes that can only be navigated by monocyclesÖimagination flows through each world, and endears merely by existing. But even if youíre immune to its charms, thereís alwaysÖ
3) The humor. I donít think Iím all that funny; I do all right, I guess, but I know I can do better. But the reason why I donít think Iím funny is because I know for a fact that there are significantly funnier products out thereÖand ToD is one of them. Itís incredible how many jokes they managed to get in there, and how itís not as much a ďhit-or-missĒ situation as it is ďhit-and-hitĒ. Part of the secret to good comedy, Iíd argue, is unpredictability -- and itís that unpredictability that makes a gamer long for every new cutscene. You might see a boxing glove pop out of a shipís console and knock Clank the hell out. You might find a clue to the Lombax secret, and be greeted with a 50ís style PSA. Thereís a plumber that travels the universe via toilet, Qwarkís crayon doodles, Tachyon bumping his ship into walls as he tries to make a triumphant exit, an eye patch-wearing smuggler with two fully-functioning eyes, and in case you missed it, the doomsday device is a hat.
All of these things -- the characters, the gameplay, the world, the humor, the story, the customization, the strategy, everything -- melds into one. It asks the player a simple question: ďYou wanna have some fun?Ē And given that the game handles every element with incredible skill and thoroughness, there is only one acceptable response. Hell. Yes.
This game is good. Itís likely that part of my praise stems from my weariness with the gaming industry (though I think my problems are more than a little justified). So you can read this post and believe as much or as little as you see fit. If youíre like me -- if you think that this ďburied treasure from a forgotten ageĒ is more precious than most things crafted today -- then thatís all right. If you think Iím lying or much too biased, thatís all right too. But whatever the case, I think you know what you have to do. If you have a PS3, all the working components, and ten bucks in your pocket, I think you know what needs to be done. Track it down, bring it home, and try it out for yourself. See if it does for you what it did for me.
Itís a game-ass game. And that's more than enough for me -- hopefully, it'll be enough for you, too.