Ratchet & Clank for the PlayStation 4 exists primarily to promote and piggyback on the recently released Ratchet & Clank film, which hit cinemas this weekend to a deafening thud of indifference. Original developer Insomniac has reunited with the iconic Lombax/Robot duo, which propelled it to elite status when the first game hit PlayStation 2 in 2002. This is a major reboot that hopes to bring a faded star back into center stage and with it the entire platformer genre. Like the game’s titular heroes, unbelievable stakes are on this game’s back. But the execution of this impossible mission couldn’t be better.
Once the defining genre of an industry, platformers have fallen out of favor in the last two console generations. Audiences transitioned to action games that focused on combat or more realistic characters and settings. In hindsight, the original Ratchet and Clank may have signaled this transition. While the characters are kid-friendly, there’s a focus on ballistics rarely seen in platformers. Ratchet’s arsenal of weapons stretches from standard blasters to strategy-based area attacks to the downright absurd. There’s something tremendously satisfying about blowing up an entire fleet of robots and forcing the few stragglers to dance against their will before zapping them with a laser that converts them into helpless sheep.
Ratchet & Clank constantly throws new concepts at players – entering them into hoverboard races, tasking them with unlocking puzzles, even throwing them into vehicular combat. Most of these side-diversions are fun, though they ramp up in difficulty towards the last act of the game. Boss encounters, in particular, stretch on long past their window of novelty and hold up the action. Yet for the vast majority of Ratchet & Clank, it’s a perfectly balanced blend of wild firefights and inspiring exploration.
The gameplay is fluid and fun, running at a stable frame rate while boasting top-notch lighting and texture design. Insomniac traded assets internally with the creators of the feature film, and the attention to detail shows. Every planet is unique, diverse, and feels distinctly alive. When the PlayStation 2 was initially announced back at the turn of the century, developers remarked how games were indistinguishable from animated feature films. It took 14 years and two entire console generations, but Ratchet & Clank may have fulfilled that prophecy.
Nostalgia is a dangerous drug. Our brains often mute the bad and only remember the good. For Ratchet & Clank, Insomniac has done something incredible: made the version of their game that fans remember playing as a kid.
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