(Review archived from March 4, 2023)
Ratchet and Clank was the second AAA platformer series to emerge on the PS2; the first having been the Jak and Daxter series which got its start slightly less than one year earlier in 2001 with The Precursor Legacy. But while The Precursor Legacy was a great game mechanically to me it really felt like it lacked a lot in personality. This was absolutely not helped by the fact that one half of the protagonist duo (Jak) is fully mute throughout the game, which leaves it up to Daxter the wacky ottsel (half otter, half weasel) to shoulder the characterization aspects. Coupled with the fact that the world in The Precursor Legacy felt like digital worlds we’d seen in countless other platformers at that point (oops I ordered Sonic set dressing from Wish), it just felt like big budget blandness to me – compelling gameplay in an utterly uninspired environment. In its defense I think that Jak and Daxter did find its series identity starting with Jak II, though I suspect there are many who would argue that it was a change for the worse.
So let’s talk world building for minute. It was interesting playing Ratchet and Clank again in such close proximity to Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon, because in many ways this game strikes a similar tone to the Space Quest series (and of course it needs to be stated that both of them owe a huge debt to the works of Douglas Adams). Like the Space Quest series (and again, Adams), the general setup in Ratchet and Clank is that it effectively lampoons corporate greed and destruction of the environment. I don’t want to necessarily indicate that this is some kind of moralistic screed as it’s absolutely not, but parody is an effective means of commenting on these issues and Ratchet and Clank does do that. This is certainly nothing new in the realms of science fiction which use ‘far off distant worlds’ as a means of mirroring our own … well almost all the time. But Ratchet and Clank is in its own way part of that proud tradition, and it does so fairly effectively.
The gameplay here is frankly a joy. The well designed platforming levels mesh seamlessly and fantastically with the shooting mechanics. It just feels incredibly tightly designed and it’s one of those games where everything flows so smoothly that time melts away as you play through its colorful and exotic worlds. One of the highlights here is the depth of your arsenal and gadget collection which allows for a creative and varied approach depending on your preferred play style. Weapons at your disposal run the gamut from standard blasters to more exotic options like the Suck Cannon which sucks up small enemies that in turn can be fired as ammunition.
There’s probably a lot more I could say about Ratchet and Clank. I haven’t even touched on all the various play modes and level types which include standard platforming and swimming, 3D space shooter levels akin to Rogue Squadron, levels dedicated to the much less powerful Clank who plays completely differently, giant mech combat, hover board racing, on-rails grind boot segments, and probably a host of others I’m forgetting. If I can knock Ratchet and Clank on anything it’s with regard to the occasional camera issues. Occasionally the camera will get stuck on environmental elements, or otherwise obscure what you’re “supposed” to be seeing at any given time, but all told this was not uncommon during this era of 3D gaming, and again R&C is quite a bit better in this regard than most contemporaries.
Ultimately I had a great time playing Ratchet and Clank again. If you have any interest whatsoever in 3D platformers, this is basically required gaming. But then again, if you have any interest 3D platformers, I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. For my money, Ratchet & Clank is in strong contention as the best platformer series on the PS2. There’s one other series that might give R&C competition in this regard and it’s the third ‘big’ platformer series on PS2. But that’s a conversation for another time. Ratchet and Clank is absolutely worth revisiting if it’s not something you’ve played in a while and I’d highly recommend checking it out if you’ve never played it.