Insomniac Games' Ratchet and Clank for PS4 is a joyful return to the heyday of colourful console platformers. A remake of the original PS2 game from 2002, nostalgia is certainly the order of the day, but Insomniac and Sony are also gearing this new/old adventure toward a younger generation, as the animated film based on the series is released worldwide.
It has been a long time since such a high-profile platformer was released outside of Nintendo's realm, so there's something refreshing about Ratchet and Clank – despite it offering little in the way of invention. What it does offer is a hefty dose of nostalgia and fun – if not particularly taxing – gameplay, presented in a loving way that removes the stigma attached to words like reboot or remake.
Ratchet and Clank is certainly both, and not merely a HD remaster. Rather than give the old game a lick of paint, Insomniac has brought together everything it has learned from 14 years working on the series to create a starting point for future games.
Developed from the ground up, the game will be familiar to anyone who played the original without feeling too much like a relic of the past. When it does, it's down to the script – which can feel dated (with a turn-of-the-century skater character for example) and some laborious pun-based jokes. To frame it in terms of animated children's movies, this is much closer to Dreamworks than Pixar when it comes to its writing.
What does make the game feel fresh is the modernity of the controls and combat, and its gorgeous visuals. One of the game's best features is how each new setting is introduced with a beautiful wide shot that smoothly transitions into gameplay as the player takes off.
It may evoke memories of the like of Banjo Kazooie and Jak & Daxter, but Ratchet and Clank has always set itself apart from those purer platformers thanks to its third-person shooter combat and large array of weaponry. Alongside grenades and other more standard armaments, there are also crazier weapons from the series' history – such as the Groovitron, which distracts enemies with disco music, causing them to dance and leaving them open to attack.
Early on its all too easy to rely on Ratchet's standard melee attack, but later encounters require full use of the arsenal available. Upgrades are plentiful and implemented inventively through a screen that depicts upgrade paths sort of like DNA, with hexagonal increments. Regular use of a weapon also ups its level, unlocking additional damage.
In later levels I was using my entire armoury, judging which weapon would be best to take down, say, a tank or a large group of smaller enemies. There are times, however, when the game's difficulty spikes are engineered by simply swarming the player, rather than presenting them with a variety of enemies to think tactically about. It is of course still a game for younger players, so everything is fairly easy to surmount.
Ratchet and Clank gets by on rose-tinted joys, but that's also what holds the game back from being a classic. If Ratchet and Clank 2016 is a stepping stone on the path to sequels that bring new ideas to the table, then it will have served its creative purpose. It may also open the door for a resurgence of the genre beyond the release of Yooka Laylee – the crowd-funded spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie being developed by former Rare developers – later this year. Ultimately, for all it accomplishes and does well, Ratchet and Clank is still, and still feels like, a movie tie-in and a remake – lacking the kind of invention that would evolve the series, rather than just reminding players what they loved so much about games gone by. Sony seems to have realised this however, deciding to sell the game at a lower price than most big budget exclusives. It was a good move, because at £30 Ratchet and Clank is a must-buy for PS4 owners.
Neither evolutionary nor revolutionary, Ratchet and Clank is gorgeous trip back down memory lane that reinvigorates a passion for a genre which never really should have gone away. Hopefully it paves the way for more adventurous sequels, even if the film proves unsuccessful.