Before we begin I should clarify a few things for not only the review script, but also for the video review at the end of this blog. For Ratchet & Clank (2002) I played the game using an original Playstation 2 with an Open Source Scan Converter and some RGB cables. It was a casual playthrough so not every weapon was obtained as a result. Special thanks also go out to my friend Sivartz on Twitter for helping to make the border background for the review in general.
If there were a single game series that shaped my love of plaftormers in general and shaped what consoles I wanted as a child no other series would fit that bill more than the Ratchet & Clank series. Though I started the series with Ratchet & Clank 2: Going Commando and would not play the first game until the HD trilogy for PS3 came out I still love the series for what it was. But, did I love the series because of its sequels and not its first game? Well hopefully I can shed some light on that with Ratchet & Clank 1. I opted to play the Playstation 2 original for this review and will do the same for all Ratchet & Clank games on the PS2 since every game past the first game support widescreen and 480 progressive scan. Either way let’s dive into some background for Ratchet & Clank.
Ratchet & Clank was created and developed by Insomniac Games, the makers of the acclaimed Spyro the Dragon series on the Playstation 1. While they managed to move onto greener pastures, severing ties with Universal Interactive Studios they definitely went in a different direction with their next series when compared to the Spyro series. Opting to go for a rated T game focused around gun-based gameplay and platforming as opposed to a rated E collectathon seemed like the natural progression for the studio since the gaming demographic had grown older since the 90s, and even the 80s, and thus more games catering to older audiences started to crop up. With the newly released Playstation 2 in hand Insomniac Games created one of the longest lasting art styles for a gaming series that would span multiple console generations. Sure, resolution wise the games could be better, but even to this day I find that Ratchet & Clank have aged visually well when compared to other games in the early Playstation 2 lifespan. Combine the artstyle with interactive gameplay and an on the nose, but still humorous story, and you’ve got quite the recipe for success here. So, while the art style and aesthetic hold up, how does the story stand on its own? Let’s get into that.
Ratchet & Clank’s story begins on planet Veldin where one of our heroes, Ratchet, is building a spaceship to leave the planet that he finds tiresome and boring. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Solona Galaxy a robot factory on planet Quarto creates a reject robot identified as Warbot Defect B54296 (later known as Clank by Ratchet). After being created Clank views an Infobot that informs the defective bot to the plot of our main villain for this game: Supreme Executive Chairman Drek. Drek’s plan is to create a new world for his people, the Blarg, after their home planet was polluted, by him and his company ironically enough, and plans on accomplishing this by stealing parts of other planets to Frankenstein them together into a whole new world to which Drek then plans to sell plots of land to the Blarg for more profit, all while secretly polluting the new world. Fleeing Quartu with this knowledge Clank crash lands on Veldin and meets up with Ratchet; Clank promising to help Ratchet start his ship if Ratchet takes Clank to find the Solona Galaxy’s hero: Captain Qwark. Traveling from planet to planet looking for Qwark and angering Drek further and further, Ratchet & Clank become more involved in saving the Galaxy from Drek’s plan as time progresses and eventually matures into a hero that can stop Supreme Executive Chairman Drek for good. So that’s a summed up version of the story with half the game looking for Captain Qwark while the other half is focused on stopping Chairman Drek.
There are nuances within the story that I am not a fan of, mainly regarding Ratchet’s behavior towards Clank in the middle of the game, but other than that the only other complaint I have is how easy Clank was able to see Chairman Drek’s plans. They are just sort of there in the Warbot Factory not behind any lock or key. Then again, Ratchet & Clank’s humor in part comes from the fact that the game is as subtle at a rock being blown up by a stick of dynamite. Chairman Drek is so cartoonishly evil that it actually becomes endearing. The characters throughout the game that Ratchet & Clank meet have their own reasons and needs, all while worrying about Chairman Drek in the background. Drek is ever present throughout the story, either through the actions he has done that put Ratchet & Clank in a tight spot on the current planet they are visiting, or through rather humorous cutscenes that cut to what Chairman Drek is going to be doing next. Sure, the story of Ratchet & Clank boils down to “unregulated Capitalism can result in destruction” but the characters of the game really sell that point. Overall the story still holds up to this day, is a great starting point for the series, and is a little more on the nose and relatable now then it was in 2002. While the story holds up rather well the gameplay, while rough around some edges, definitely compliments the game rather well.
Gameplay in Ratchet & Clank can be summarized as this: buy guns, use guns, and platform to use guns on enemies and clear objectives. While that sounds rather boring, it actually has a lot of fun to it with the creative assortment of weaponry sold in the Solana Galaxy by vendor Gadgetron. Each weapon is vastly different from one another and can remain viable throughout the entire game, an aspect that later Ratchet & Clank games would lose track of unfortunately. From a simple blaster, to a flamethrower, and missile launcher all weapons are purchase with the universal currency of the Ratchet & Clank universe: bolts. Bolts are everywhere, in crates around the levels, inside of breakable set pieces and scenery, to even inside of enemies bolts are plentiful to come by; however the problem with bolts in the first Ratchet & Clank is this: as the game progresses enemies get tougher, weapons get exponentially more expensive, but bolt payouts from enemies do not change. Some crates hold more bolts yes, but even those only spawn again upon leaving a planet and going to another one. The absolute worst and most tedious weapon to get would have the be the titular R.Y.N.O, a rapid-fire missile launcher that kills anything and everything but costs a whopping 150,000 bolts. Even if you opt to only buy certain weapons in the game and nothing else you will still be short the necessary bolts to buy this weapon unless you grind, grind, grind. Luckily this bolt issue would be fixed by all subsequent Ratchet & Clank games with scaling and payouts being more charitable overall as the game progresses.
Different planets make up the levels of Ratchet & Clank with each planet having a unique style, aesthetic, and even enemies, barring one or two planets/locations. Each location is split into two or more objectives, one that can move the story forward and another than can snag Ratchet some bonus gadgets, upgrades, even weapons. On these worlds Ratchet will run and gun and platform to make it to the objective, get a new location to go to, and then do those objectives. To do every objective in the game results in some backtracking being necessary, but overall it is tightly woven, and backtracking is never really much of an issue since most secondary objectives are just optional. By far my favorite world in Ratchet & Clank has to be Planet Kerwan home to the city of Metropolis. It’s lively city backgrounds with lovely set pieces and memorable characters make it a nice and welcoming early world in the game.
Low-points in this game aren’t too often for me. I’m not the biggest fan of the hoverboard racing minigame that is done twice within the game, primarily because the speed you go at is too slow for it to feel exhilarating. The small puzzle sections with the Infiltrator gadget are just that, small and simple. The Clank sections where he controls gadge-bots are rather tedious, but not too bad overall to me since Clank can still attack alongside the Gadge-bots. Dogfights in the Blarg space/airship can be dull at times, but they aren’t terribly bad and as I mentioned before with the hoverboard racing only happens twice in the game so it can easily be written off if it isn’t your cup of tea. Giant Clank was an interesting concept and is one that is explored more in the second game, but as of this first game feels under-developed and moves way too slow to make the combat with him feel satisfying.
Scattered throughout each and every planet as well a little collectables that make it more rewarding to explore around each planet and find either Golden Bolts used to buy gold, more powerful versions of weapons, or the even more elusive Skill Points that unlock different extras once beating the game such as concept art. Combine all this with a harder difficulty option once beating the game, known as Challenge Mode, and you have an adventure so fun you could play it twice. Combine gameplay with some stellar music and you’ve got even more of a reason to come back and play this game.
Much like how Stewart Copeland managed to give the Spyro series a certain flare and style of music, David Bergeaud’s music not just for Ratchet & Clank 1 but for most of the series have left a lasting impression on me. Each planet has their own unique theme that blends rock, orchestra, and electronic into a style that not only gives Ratchet & Clank a unique sound but also fits the levels and their themes perfectly. With most planets having at two themes the music variety of each planet will always give you something to bop your head too and it never feels stale or gets ear-grating. David Bergeaud would stay on as the Ratchet & Clank composer well until late entries in the series and with each progressive game the tracks would get better and better, but even with the music in the first game it started out strong. Speaking on sound design for Ratchet & Clank as well, the sound effects Ratchet & Clank has really help immerse the player into the world overall as well. From crisp explosion sounds to even something as simple as the bolt pickup noise all these sound effects combined with the music leave a pleasurable experience to say the least.
In the end, Ratchet & Clank one definitely marks a strong starting point for a new series by Insomniac Games. The strong story that still holds up well, to the fun gameplay and excellent sound design all create a wonderful experience that people of all ages can enjoy. Going forward the series would only get bigger and better with only one or two real down points in the series overall. As mentioned earlier there is a Playstation 3 port of Ratchet & Clank which upscales the game to 720p and adds widescreen support, but those upgrades come with a few caveats. First and foremost, like most Playstation 2 HD trilogies on PS3, the games do not properly support a 16:9 aspect ratio so some areas that would be cut off in the original version being awkwardly stretched for the HD port. At the same time, lighting, graphical, and sound issues plague all the HD versions of the PS2 Ratchet & Clank games which in part is why I am opting to review the PS2 originals rather than the HD versions. I recommend tracking down the original PS2 copies of the games if possible and playing those instead. Either way Ratchet & Clank is a series that I hold near and dear to my heart and definitely left a lasting impression on me as a gamer for decades to come. Thank you all for watching, and I’ll see you all for my next review.