Ratchet & Clank (2002) is a combined platformer and third-person shooter developed by Insomniac Games and published by Sony in...you guessed it, 2002. It was later ported to the PS3 in a collection together with two other R&C games. The story concerns the titular pair, a space rodent and a small robot, as they work together to stop an alien executive from stealing pieces of planets.
With the perspective of the whole series behind me, the story of this first game feels rather insular and focused. Which works to the game's benefit, as it establishes our heroes as characters, whilst leaving you longing for more of the zany universe they inhibit.
Ratchet is immature, pessimistic and emotional, while Clank is naïve, optimistic and somewhat emotionless. That's only the start of their arcs of course. As one would expect, they get sassy with eachother and soon take after eachother's traits. Clank laughing for the first time is pretty fun.
It's easy to get critical over how Ratchet behaves in the middle, but he redeems himself completely by then end, thus becoming the character he's known as for the rest of the series. It's an engaging story from start to finish, especially thanks to the worldbuilding present.
The universe of the game is themed around industry and consumerism. The main villain is basically a real estate businessman! Everywhere you go, there are either black market deals happening or corporate death bots patrolling. Governments have basically no say, at least in this game.
These themes fuel the comedy, which is quite lovely. You usually get coordinates from commercials, logs or news reports about planets. These videos are short, funny and give you an idea of what the next level will be about.
No other series of games does weapons as well as R&C. They're ridiculous, fun to use and sometimes even comical (Chicken morph gun anyone?). They're really the series' identity and this first game manages to nail them pretty well.
Every weapon has a purpose and I would only consider a few of them optional purchases. As you go on, you'll accrue a bigger verb set and be ready for tougher combat encounters.
Actual combat is a bit stiff, especially when compared to later installments. Ratchet's turn radius is rather wide and the auto-aim of many weapons feels looser than it should be. Due to this, I find myself starting and stopping at regular intervals when fighting as well as sniping when possible.
You can use the wrench for a good part of the game before guns become mandatory actually. Enemy health is low and they don't attack quickly either. It gives the game a much different feel from the rest of the series' fast pace. With health being so low (4-8 hits), it's almost more tactical as well. A few planets are harder than they need to be, but the game never becomes ridiculous.
Being a planet-hopping adventure, there are many sights to see in R&C. I adore that Insomniac kept their unique skyboxes from Spyro, but added even more detail to this game thanks to the PS2. There are often ships and things like them flying around the sky. Many levels are designed to give you an excellent first impression of their aesthetic, which is awesome.
The first game continues its unique streak when compared to the rest of the series. Progression is somewhat open to choice, even if you have to play most of the content to win. Planets have 1-3 main paths, plus some corners of the map where secret collectibles hide. You can go through most of them on first visit, but a few require gadgets found on different planets. It's not as complex as Zelda, but I find the structure rewarding.
Gadgets, much like the weapons, are pretty diverse. They're usually meant for either puzzles or platforming. The Swingshot is probably the most iconic, seeing as it's in almost every game. It let's you swing on tethers, which is pretty fun. Same goes for the Grindboots sections, even if the passage of time has eroded their spectacle.
The game is a platformer for sure, but it never pushes you far. Clank's Heli-Pack allows for some pretty hefty corrections midair. There is a rather even split between combat and platforming, which I suspect was the goal. Some of the optional puzzles are a bit hard, but the ones on the main path are just a hair above being an insult to intelligence in general. Still fun though.
One thing R&C really gets right is the feeling of attaining collectibles. Bolts are used as currency and earned for blowing up just about everything. Once a group of them are out in the open, it's really satisfying to scoop them up. It's like picking up a whole bunch of gems in Spyro.
Sadly, bolt balancing is a bit off. You need them for weapons, story progression and a bit of ammo. You don't need to grind if you know what's coming and skip buying a few weapons, but the chance of that happening naturally on a new playthrough is small. And if you factor in the R.Y.N.O (Rip Ya a New One) super weapon meant for NG+, the economy just breaks. Thankfully, the PS2 version has a bolt glitch to exploit.
Other than that, there are Gold bolts spread around the various planets that you can use to buy upgraded gold versions of most weapons for huge prices. The Gold bolts are hidden in pretty fun ways, and with the addition of a gadget, you can be shown their general location of the map.
As a carry-over from Spyro, there are also Skill Points to earn. These are secret challenges spread around the planets. Frankly, I find them quite unfair. You only get a list of them (in NG+), with no knowledge of where they are earned or what needs to be done. Spyro's Skill points worked in a similar fashion, but those games have much lower fidelity, so it's much easier to find them there, since there are only so many places to go and stuff to break. Good thing the reward isn't gameplay related.
Another carryover from Spyro is the quality of the music. It's subdued, but amazing nonetheless. It's a mix of electronica and funk, if I understand things correctly. The soundtrack always reflects the planet in question and even changes slightly depending on the context. Hell, it even manages to get a bit oppressive during some parts. Have a listen to the Metropolis track, it's iconic and stuff.
There are a fair share minigame sections, but they are a bit plain. Ship combat is dull and Clank's sections with the Gadgebots aren't as cerebral as one would think. The most developed one is the Hoverboard racing, but the kinesthetics aren't as good as they should be. I think the acceleration is a bit off. Thankfully, there's at least a basic trick system to keep it from feeling lackluster.
I also just realised that the Hoverboard racing is just a reskinned version of the skateboard races in Spyro 3. Very sneaky, Insomniac. Almost as bad as the collectibles you hide behind starting points!