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Ratchet & Clank Review Rewind


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On 10/13/2011 at 12:00 PM by Chessa DiMola

After nearly a decade, Ratchet & Clank still holds up well today.
RECOMMENDATION:

This title is still worth returning to, even after many years and numerous sequels.

The last Ratchet & Clank game I played was A Crack in Time nearly two years ago, and man, that game was awesome. With the release of All 4 One steadily approaching, I figured it might be fun to return to the series' roots; after all, it has been over four years since my first playthrough of the original.

I was actually a little surprised at how easy it was to come back to this game. With most initial titles in a series, the original tends to lack a substantial amount of polish compared to its successors. While this game desperately needs some TLC after all these years, my second playthrough was a shockingly solid experience from beginning to end.

After turning on Ratchet & Clank, I was immediately struck by the familiarity of it all. So many series tend to drastically overhaul their follow-up titles, but it was intriguing to see so many elements I love about the series established from the get-go and preserved over eight additional entries; that isn't something many franchises can boast about. 

Upon starting, I spent a good amount of time just walking around the first area, Planet Veldin, messing around with my controls, swinging my wrench, platforming, and performing other moves just to see how they held up. After being impressed by the quality of all the basic mechanics I dove right into annihilating some enemies with my melee attack, which felt pretty much the same.

That's about where the polish and similarities featured in newer titles from the series ends. The first big difference I encountered concerned the furry protagonist, Ratchet. Now, while I don't remember the entire plot line of the series from beginning to end, I have painted an image of Ratchet in my mind at this point of him being a mature, strong, and brave hero. So, when I was reintroduced to the Lombax, I had to laugh at how naive and brash his character started out as. Even his voice was different, much higher and more teenage-like than it is now. Of course that's really just due to having a different voice actor, Mikey Kelley, rather than James Arnold Taylor - who has done all the voice acting for Ratchet since then - but it actually works well alongside Ratchet's initial ignorance.

What about Clank you might ask? His serious yet good-hearted and occasionally silly demeanor was pretty much intact from the get-go.

Although the difference in Ratchet's personality was amusingly different from other titles in the series, there were many others that weren't so entertaining. One of the things that hit me the hardest were the differences concerning weapons and combat. Every fan of the series knows Ratchet & Clank is infamous for its wide assortment of unique weaponry, and while the very first batch contains some decently interesting firepower, the weapons never change or become more powerful. 

Leveling-up weapons is a crucial game element that was completely absent from the original title. Without the ability to level up or upgrade my weapons I found myself underpowered at times. Because the only way to become more effective at destroying enemies was to purchase new and stronger weaponry, the gameplay was often uneven, featuring moments of extreme ease followed by moments of frustration.

The life system often exacerbated this issue. Because my life consisted of orbs rather than a numbered bar, every hit, no matter how large or small the enemy, took away one orb. In sections when it was impossible for me to acquire stronger weaponry simply because I had not progressed far enough to purchase it, or was short on bolts, it was incredibly easy to die. Thankfully players ARE able to level-up their health to a maximim of eight units of life. Regardless, I much prefer the numbered life bar featured in newer Ratchet & Clank titles since it allows players to lose a quantity of life that correlates to the size and power of an enemy.

Hitting enemies in general was a fairly regular exercise in frustration, for several reasons. First, the targeting was just horrible and yes, I know the series does not feature an automatic targeting system. I'm referring to the common situation in which a player is facing an enemy with a weapon drawn and it shoots about two millimeters to either the left or right of an enemy rather than focusing on the immediate target. Combine this with a lack of feedback, especially rumble, and it was extremely difficult to tell if I was even hitting an enemy.

Combat frustrations were not made any better by the camera, which was quite sluggish at times. This issue prevented me from putting my view where I needed it to be in order to fight off enemies and attempt to target them rather than the air. Since I couldn't strafe and had to properly position myself in front of most enemies, the game desperately needed a better camera system as it would have saved me from multiple needless retries.

Death may not have been such a big deal had checkpoints been put in more convenient locations. Nothing was worse than losing my last piece of life to a little insignificant enemy I could squash in one swing of my OmniWrench then having to start over from the beginning. Unfortunately, this issue has persisted well into the series, only being "kind of" better in A Crack in Time.

One element that has drastically improved over the course of the series is the presentation. I was floored at how incredibly simple the menus were, more specifically, the player's weapons menu and the merchant's menus. The merchant's menu looks very dated, with nothing graphically appealing to highlight the items for sale. While this may seem like a silly complaint, I urge you to compare the menus next to a newer Ratchet title and you'll see for yourself.

The problem with the player's menu system isn't really so much the appearance, but rather the limited functionality. In Tools of Destruction and A Crack in Time, all of my weapons, tools, and gadgets were easily accessible by cycling between a few different weapon wheels. Here, players only have one wheel for weapons, items, and gadgets. So when players need to use an item they don't have on their wheel, they need to go into their menu, switch the item out and quit back to the game. Even worse is that the game doesn't pause like it does in the newer games when a player wants to switch weapons. These are just two little elements that have been spruced up in newer Ratchet & Clank titles that have had a huge impact.

Now that I've gotten through all of the negative parts of the original game - I'm not going to nitpick smaller issues - let's talk about some of the really great core elements the first title established. Naturally there's the humor, character, locations, ongoing story, puzzles to unlock doors, sidequesting, rail riding, and climbing magnetic ramps (among others),  but by far one of my favorite key elements of the series are the game segments where players control Ratchet and Clank separately. I had honestly completely forgotten that this series staple had begun in the very first game.

Long before the Zoni invaded Clank's dreams, the separate gameplay was simple in both its function and execution. In the original, the duo generally splits up whenever Ratchet can't access a location or to find an item. In order to help the vertically challenged robot survive against the much larger enemies, Clank must find and control little robots that are useful for solving puzzles, opening doors, and fighting off creatures.

The gameplay was incredibly simple and the segments were short but this separation of protagonists formed the foundation for one of the best sections of gameplay featured in many games throughout the series. When I think of how much the standalone Clank gameplay has evolved, I'm really quite impressed.

Because the Ratchet & Clank series is one of my all-time favorites, I found my whole play experience with the first quite endearing. I wasn't trying to evaluate the game on its own merits necessarily, but rather look at it against others that followed it in order to get a clear view of where the series started compared to where it has gone.

For the first entry in the series and as a nine year old game, Ratchet & Clank is a pretty solid experience. It's a great first entry in the series that established all of the character, humor, and gameplay that I love about this series.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

10/13/2011 at 02:29 PM

This makes me want to pick up a copy and play it again! Great review.

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

10/20/2011 at 06:55 PM

Well, I broke down. Bought a copy of this game. Got it cheap for seven bucks. Going to get started on it soon. :D

Anonymous

10/21/2011 at 08:12 AM

I still have my old copy of this and my 60GB PS3 can play it. But when I started attacking enemies, the game started to lag. It's still playable but it really ruins the fun.

Chessa DiMola Assistant Director

10/21/2011 at 11:38 AM

That's actually a really good point. When I initially went back to play the first game to start the R&C recap, I popped the original into my PS3. Like you said, the lag was simply atrocious. Everything from turning the camera to jumping and attacking suffered from extreme slowdown thanks to the emulation. I was pretty sure that the original game didn't have slowdown like that so, sure enough, once I put it in the PS2, it played smoothly.

I'm surprised that the 60 GB PS3 would have issues like that though, since all I've ever heard is praise for its ability to emulate older games much better than the 80 GB PS3 (which is what I own), thanks to the Emotion Engine.

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