Ratchet and Clank – Quarktastic?

I love Ratchet and Clank.
Not every single one of their games, but the characters. I have a fondness for Ratchet the Lombax that few other video game characters can claim. Clank, on the other hand, is the only robot I have any love for in any form of media. Being perfectly honest, I’m not even 100% sure why I feel such a bond with these guys. The games aren’t anything particularly special – the main trilogy is a third person adventure platformer series, with occasional flight/hoverboarding sections made by Insomniac Games.
Released in the early 00’s, platformers were hardly a rare breed with the likes of Crash Bandicoot, Sly Cooper (Sly Raccoon) and of course the ever present Mario and Spyro games all floating around. Still, R&C has left an indelible mark on my gaming heart that still lifts at the news of a movie and re-imaging of the games coming in the near future.

My original playthrough of the first game (Ratchet and Clank) was attempted during my youth and the demo was one of the most played demos in the house. As soon as my brother played it, he adored it too, which made for an easy purchase. Unfortunately neither of us could get very far into the game and never finished it; I’ll deal with that a bit later.

We put the game down, played other games (including some of the sequels) and grew up. Now I have several more years of gaming experience under my belt and a fondness for PS1 and PS2 games on my Vita. A recent sale saw the original Ratchet and Clank Trilogy going for a fairly cheap price, so I snapped it up.

You are Ratchet, a Lombax from (as far as you know at this point in the series) the planet Veldin. Armed with your trusty ratchet (actually an Omniwrench but whatever), you’re just hanging at home fixing your spaceship. From the sky falls a small robot figure, Clank. Clank is a reject from the robot factory on a nearby planet, who found the reason for his creation and ran away, but crashed his ship on Veldin. The dynamic duo meet up following a short tutorial-esque level and the adventure begins!

So why are we adventuring through time and space? To stop the evil Emperor Zurg of course!
OK, not Zurg but Blargian Chairman Drek, who is destroying other planets to fix/replace his own. And somehow a Lombax and a robot are going to stop him. Going planet to planet as the pair follow a potential ally, the incredible Captain Quark, you control the two through platforming, shooting and flying sections on each planet, returning to older locations as new things are unlocked and bit by bit try to sort the galaxy out.

Gadgetron Vendor, where most of your money will be spent- source:http://www.phoenixgenesis.com/ratchetclank/gadgets/gadgetron_vendor.jpg

Travelling through the galaxy requires the use of a variety of tools and abilities. Most of these come in the form of weapons and modifications to Clank (poor him!), which appear frequently through the game at Gadgetron shops and independent mechanics. More often than not, upgrading or buying new weapons allows for progress through many sections of the game, and allow the player to explore new sections of worlds already visited. Utilizing a quick select system for the weapons and gadgets you feel most attached to and a longer route to access the less frequently called upon things, the action isn’t usually too challenging and puzzles are fairly simple with the right tools equipped.

As with many third person platformers, the puzzles seem more of an inconvenience in many cases, but at least they don’t have the logic skips you often see in third person horror games. For the intended age group, they’re plenty tricky. The platforming however, is a different matter.

The whole reason my brother and I put the game down all those years ago was due to a little level called Blackwater City. A very industrial level, Blackwater introduces the use of the Hydrodisplacer, a gadget used to move large amounts of water, enabling passage through sewer areas. At one point during the game, you are tasked with running through a section of the level as it quickly fills with water, leaving you with the high chance of drowning. Between my brother and I, we tried that section so many times the jump button on the controller starting rebelling and refusing to work properly. So, faced with this knowledge I attempt the level on my Vita.

Considering Blackwater City is relatively early on in the game, it can be a fiendishly tough level and it seemed the flooding section was to be my downfall. I tried several times and eventually luck pulled me through. And as much as I love Ratchet and Clank, luck seems to be the name of the game. There are several points in the game where success feels largely down to whether Lady Luck is on your side or not. Blackwater City has two such sections – the aforementioned flooded area, and the Hoverboard race, both of which you must complete to progress the game. Doggedly having to retry sections until a mix of forced skill and luck allow you to pass seems surprisingly common through the game.

Blackwater City partway through the flooding section – source:http://i.ytimg.com/vi/rxqcdu-p0NI/hqdefault.jpg

And therein lies my greatest bugbear with the game – a lot of patience and luck seems to be required to get through the game. And, lacking these, I had to put the Vita down on more than one occasion. Considering the age group this was aimed at, I can guess a lot of controllers may have been thrown in frustration at the game, at TVs and out of windows.

Even where luck and patience aren’t strictly required, the controls are very loose for a platformer. Too often I found myself bouncing off of walls, aimed at the wrong thing or falling from a great height because the controls weren’t placing me where I thought I would end up. Strafe-aiming with the Omniwrench seems to only work at set angles meaning that, unless you switch to the first person strafe view, you could end up aiming at something completely different to what you wanted. The big feet of Ratchet make for a hard time walking along narrower paths, particularly at height, and the power that Clank can possess when helping Ratchet jump can lead to untimely deaths when you miss a ledge or over jump entire platforms.

That’s not to say that the game isn’t fun…
Even with the challenges, there are many parts of the game I’ve enjoyed. Grind boots allow Ratchet to grind along particular rails à la Tony Hawk, which is quite fun to do, even if it’s short lived. Whole areas are a joy to play in – my favourites are Metropolis (the name speaks for itself) and a tropical planet/holiday resort later into the game full of sun, sea and sand.

And of course, the characters are fantastic too; they are what make the game shine. Ratchet has the sass and sarcasm I use profusely in my own life, whilst Clank is the nerdy sidekick who sees the bigger picture. And then there’s Quark… Captain Quark. Although he presents himself to the galaxy as a superhero figure, his role in Ratchet and Clank is one of the stupid villain, contrasting with the brains of the operation, Chairman Drek. The characters are what make this game and are what I remembered most fondly of the series. Not the plot, the soundtrack or the art style. The characters. And that’s a rare occurrence.

I admit that Ratchet and Clank has flaws. And that I came back to this game with equal parts nostalgia and distrust. I still remain fond of the game, but I respect my younger self for knowing when enough was enough. I was right to put it down at that point and I was right to come back to it now, when I can enjoy the game for what it was trying to do rather than get tangled up in its problems. If you didn’t play it when it came out, you may enjoy it now if you like 3D platformers, particularly from the early PS2 era.
Just be aware of its pitfalls.

And the Sandsharks…

 

Khinjarsi is not affiliated with Gadgetron or its affiliates, and claims no responsibility for misuse of Gadgetron weapons and gadgets. She also claims no ownership of images or properties used in this post, and states that all copyrights belong to their respective owners. 

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