Ratchet & Clank

"Please return your appendages to the steering mechanism, sir."

Source // Ratchet & Clank Wiki

I've spoken about this series often enough, and it's finally time to see Ratchet & Clank's first entry on the 1001 list. The PlayStation 2 is the place to be, 3D action platformers are everywhere, but why did I find myself gravitating towards Ratchet & Clank?

From the characters, to the settings, to the weaponry, Ratchet & Clank stood out. I like my humourous characters, I like my science fiction, and I like weapons that turn my enemies into chickens. What more could you ask for?

Fun Times

I was always going to be looking forward to this one. I haven't played the original Ratchet & Clank in a loooong time, and there have been a great many games in the series since its release nearly two decades ago.

The series is so loved that there is The Ratchet & Clank Trilogy remastered collection on the PlayStation 3, and a remake/reboot/movie tie-in version of this first game on the PlayStation 4. The less said about that, the better. While it is glorious to look at, it's not the Ratchet & Clank we know and love. Even the PS3 collection has graphical issues coming from its conversion into widescreen resolutions and whatnot. And I don't have that version to play anyway.

Sadly, I no longer even have my original PS2 disc. I don't even know what happened to it. Probably sold, long enough, thinking I had my fun with it and will need it no more...

Fast forward to the present day, and I'm resorting to emulating it. Doesn't this first establishing shot look good?

Ratchet is milling about a garage, the stars twinkle in the sky. Planets loom large on the horizon, one of which is clearly Mars, but ignore that. We're not in the Solar System here. In fact, right now, we don't know where we are, but it's damn interesting to look at.

Does go on a bit, though. I wonder what's going on?

Ooohhh... I see. Some elements of the game don't appear in hardware emulation, and software modes will result in quite a bit of slowdown. Let's see how far we get.

This is the bigger half of our heroic duo, Ratchet. He's attempting to fix up a ship with dreams of heading out into space. His freakishly large hands seem to pose no problems using a wrench, but the repairs just aren't working.

The smaller half is Clank, a mistakenly made product of a factory line churning out massive robots. Fearing for his existence, he escapes down a chute into a conveniently parked ship and takes off for parts unknown.

Unfortunately for him, his ship is shot out of the sky and sent plummeting towards the surface of the planet below, which - of course - just so happens to be...

The planet we find ourselves on at the start of the game, Veldin. And thus, we begin Ratchet & Clank. Armed with a wrench and a bomb glove, we set out in search of the crash site. The left stick controls Ratchet, the right stick moves the camera, the X button jumps, square swings our wrench... you'll adjust to the controls in no time at all, whether you've played a platformer or not.

This tutorial level guides you through the use of your wrench and your bomb glove, with enemies specifically designed to sit just within range of your bomb glove, but out of range of their own weapons. A quick tap of the circle button launches a bomb, and their detonations look lovely. Enemies, as well as bits of the level (notably crates),  get flung out of your way most satisfyingly.

Also satisfying - immensely satisfying - is collecting bolts. The in-game currency of the Ratchet & Clank universe are handfuls of nuts and bolts, and they're everywhere. They're lying on the floor, they're packed into crates, and they are even hiding inside the lights and signposts that dot the levels. Sneaky bolts...

Get close enough to them, and they'll get hoovered up like magic, accompanied by such twinkly, jangly sound effects that you could happily farm them for hours on end. Maybe that's just me. Perhaps the Pokémon grind is getting to me. Whatever it is about these bolts, I think they must be the greatest in-game currency of them all.

Moving on, though.

Ratchet picks up Clank and takes him back to the garage, plonking the inactive oddity on the floor and getting back to his ship. Waking up, Clank waddles up behind Ratchet and comments on the problem, startling the furry fella into speech for the first time. Our heroes have come alive, one a smart, butler-like robot, the other a kind of teenager, but not a useless one.

But, I note, I turned the subtitles on, and there aren't any subtitles...


There they are, hiding in software mode. Now everything is crawling along, and the sounds are starting to garble. Do I need subtitles? I'm sure I'll manage without them. Back to a reasonably smooth hardware mode we go.

This is Drek, the villain of our story, and while his eyes do come across as a graphical bug, they are actually meant to look like that. He's certainly a man with a plan, and the business savvy to put it into action.

If Ratchet & Clank didn't look cartoony enough already, Drek's plan involves literally stealing chunks of planets to build a bigger home for his overpopulated homeworld. Like plucking continents off and dropping them elsewhere in the galaxy. Unfortunately, he says, this change in mass will cause the unlucky planet to spin out of control and drift into the sun, where it will explode into a flaming ball of gas. Sacrifices must be made indeed.

So we've got a galaxy to save, and conveniently, a new robot pal who knows how to fix our ship to go planet-hopping in an attempt to save the galaxy. Result!

Oh, no. Clank's invisible and Ratchets' hand is missing. I'm not going to be able to enjoy much of Ratchet & Clank in this state. I'll see what our first main level is like, but I need some awfully good luck to continue emulating it.

Further Fun Times

Determined to try and enjoy my time, I crash-landed on Novalis, and this is where Ratchet & Clank starts to show what it is capable of.

In the early days of development, Naughty Dog saw what Insomniac was trying to do and offered some of their rendering engines to help out, with the conditions of use simply being "whatever you do to the code, we get to use too". This enabled Insomniac to show vast levels stretching out into the distance full of lush plant life, futuristic architecture, flying cars and more crates to smash than in a crate smashing simulator.

We all know Ratchet & Clank and Jak and Daxter are similar, and the reason is partly thanks to this code sharing. Each breakthrough one team made, the other could take advantage of, driving up the quality of each title in the series.

With large levels to platform through, multiple routes were made to fill with gadgets and rewards. Most need to be explored to further the plot, and some are off-limits until you had a specific gadget to get through to them, often found on a completely different planet, encouraging you to explore every avenue that was open to you, knowing that at some point, you could go back and explore a whole load more.

A cave looks to capture our eye behind us, but a bright green expanse lay before us, and in the distance, the city is already starting to burn. That's probably the more urgent route to take, but we don't have time limits to worry about. Just invisible gloves and slow down when there's too much going on at once.

Further Frustrations

There is, sadly, too much going on at once sometimes. Levels come alive the second you walk into range of an enemy, and things get so chaotic with everything blowing up and showering you with bolts that you'll barely see where you are. In one fight, the enemy even shot themselves in the back, there was so much happening.

Back on the PS2, this looked amazing and sounded like nothing else. Music ramped up in the background, sound effects flooded the speakers, and if memory serves, a rock-solid frame rate of whatever it was ensured that nothing slowed the system to a crawl.

But I don't have that right now. Instead, I've got a good experience once everything has been dealt with, an ok experience when I need to fight something, and I'm just taken out of the world entirely when a cutscene comes around.

You, sir, are most definitely not this invisible in the actual game.

Source // Ratchet & Clank Wiki
Source // Ratchet & Clank Wiki

We're introduced to Captain Quark at this point, who Clank believes is just the man to help us defeat Drek. He is a superhero, after all, but one that doesn't quite come across as a competent one. He's one of the series' ever-present characters, and he's filming an advert in Metropolis, which was the level to show off Ratchet & Clank. A megacity full of flying cars, platforming which takes you up and down great distances, enemies which nip and your heels and try to blow your face off.

I'd like to do a better job of showing it all off to you, but I just don't have the means.

I can say that the gadgets and weaponry available allowed you to play the game in numerous ways. You could get up close and whack everything with your wrench, or sit back and pop foes from a distance. You could even turn them into chickens for an easier time, as alluded to way back at the top of the post. But I can't show you any of that, nor tell you what it feels like all these years later.

I can say that the characters were well voiced and animated, pulling off the Pixar cartoon look quite well, but it doesn't really come across in the stills I've been able to capture, and we all know how great I am at describing the music of a game. Ratchet & Clank's music isn't forgettable, I just can't remember how to describe it...

Final Word

The important thing to remember is that if you want to play Ratchet & Clank, you have options. They're not all brilliant, but they're there, and you really ought to play them. If I want to play Ratchet & Clank again - and like I say, I've not played in a long time, and really would like to have a crack at them all over again - I'll have to look out for one of these options myself, probably the PS3 collection.

I spent hours and hours and hours with this series as a teenager. The gameplay just felt great, the challenge of finding hidden areas kept you going, the planet-hopping nature allowed you to go back through previous levels for additional help if you were stuck, be it getting more bolts to buy a new weapon, or being able to unlock a new gadget down an unexplored path. Everything, to my memory, was enjoyable about Ratchet & Clank.

Except maybe having to finish the game and start it again to have enough bolts to buy the RYNO rocket launcher. But going through the game a second time with the RYNO was enough fun to justify having to go through the game in its entirety beforehand.

I can't quote the characters, but I know what they looked like, and how they acted, and some fan favourites were able to stick around through multiple sequels, which makes them even more memorable of course.

Whatever attracted me to that first game stuck with me through its sequels. Not all of them, mind, but many. I'm not a massive fan, I can't tell you what the planets are called or where characters are first seen, or what weapons come from which game, but I know I had a damn good time playing them, and I think you'll have a good time playing them even after all these years too.

Fun Facts

The reason for the character introductions for Ratchet and Clank being devoid of speech is that they were made so late into development. As it happens, the silence works perfectly for Clank then alarming Ratchet from behind by speaking. Interesting.

Ratchet & Clank, developed by Insomniac Games, first released in 2002.
Version played: PlayStation 2, 2002, via emulation and teenage memory.