If one was to rank all the characters who could rightfully claim to be the mascots of the PlayStation brand, Insomniac Games’ perennial, intergalactic adventurers, Ratchet and Clank, would inevitably sit somewhere near the top of the list. Over the course of more than ten games across various platforms, the series’ trademark concoction of platforming, shooting and smattering of RPG trappings has enthralled gamers since the first entry on the PlayStation 2 in 2002. While more recent entries such as 2009′s excellent A Crack in Time have failed to make much impact in the post-Call of Duty age where cartoon hijinks and platforming mascots attract little popular attention, there is no doubt that the Ratchet & Clank franchise is one of the true survivors of modern gaming. To help celebrate the duo’s 10th anniversary and capitalise on audiences’ apparently insatiable appetite for HD conversions of their favourites of yesteryear, Sony and developer Idol Minds have bundled the first three entries in Insomniac Games’ saga and given them a high-resolution makeover. Featuring 2002′s Ratchet & Clank, Ratchet & Clank 2 (nee Going Commando or Locked & Loaded) and Ratchet & Clank 3 (nee Up Your Arsenal), the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy is a fine showcase of some of last generation’s best action-platforming games.
For those who may not be aware, the games comprising Trilogy follow the loosely-connected adventures of the eponymous heroes, Ratchet and Clank, the former being a humanoid alien known as a Lombax and the latter a small robot, as they travel from planet to planet meeting strange characters and dispatching enemies with a variety of inventive weapons. Playing each game in Trilogy lays bare the scope of Insomniac’s accomplishment: the series is as charming as ever, and laced with irreverent humour which, while not sophisticated, differentiates it from its peers, and the characters only grow more endearing over time as the quality of the writing and acting improves over the course of the three games. The Ratchet & Clank franchise has never been known for the depth or nuance of its narratives, but its ongoing ability to induce an arch grin or sly cackle makes it a joy for younger and older gamers alike.
Speaking from a contemporary perspective, playing through Trilogy is refreshing, despite the age of its constituent parts, simply because so few developers bother to make joyous, Saturday-morning-cartoon-inspired games anymore. Similarly refreshing is the series’ command of its core pillars of play, and the way in which Insomniac Games’ managed to perfectly balance the mixture of platforming and shooting. Each game in the series bears the same basic structure laid out in the original Ratchet & Clank; players explore and navigate colourful alien worlds by shooting, jumping and engaging in light puzzle-solving. By smashing crates and blasting enemies, players earn bolts (the series’ currency) which can be spent on ammunition and additional weapons and gadgets to fill out your arsenal. Insomniac never really deviates from the formula, save for some occasional mini-games (“hoverboard” races, space dog-fighting scenarios), but when its so good, it is difficult to impugn them too severely. The combination of a cartoon aesthetic and crazy weaponry invites favourable comparisons with games of the distant past, such as Gunstar Heroes, and to this day, each entry in the series retains its hypnotic, addictive allure: earn bolts, buy new weapons, defeat more enemies, earn bolts, buy new weapons, etc.
This is not to suggest, however, that Insomniac was content merely to regurgitate past successes across each of the three games. While similar in structure, each title boasts notable improvements when compared to its predecessors, and playing the games in Trilogy in the order of their release makes for a fascinating examination of game design by iteration and the development and refinement of a core idea. The first Ratchet & Clank is, comparatively the weakest game in the collection, with its relatively tame weapons and loose controls speaking of a developer cutting its teeth. By the release of the third game in 2004, the controls, visuals, writing and weapon design had all improved, and one of the most joyous rewards of playing through Trilogy is sitting back and experiencing how Insomniac honed its craft and fully delivered on the promise of its initial good idea. Ratchet & Clank is decent enough, but its sequels are bona-fide classics and among the best action-platforming titles ever made.
Also remarkable is just how well the series’ simple, clean artistic style and visual presentation has held up over the years. At 60 frames-per-second, and displayed at a resolution of 1080p, all the titles in Trilogy look better than ever, with Ratchet & Clank 3 looking the most stunning on account of its epic scope and improved character models. It’s clear that Idol Minds has spent a significant amount of time remastering original assets and polishing the collection to a sheen, which makes it all the more disappointing that Trilogy is presented so poorly as a package. The front-end menus are particularly awful (in a cheap and confusing move, the title-screen art is taken from last year’s Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, which is obviously absent from this collection), and Sony continues to disappoint when it comes to extra features. For what is supposed to represent a celebration of the series’ 10th anniversary, Trilogy feels threadbare in spite of the quality of its content. Where, for example, are the concept art galleries, making-of documentaries, or developer interviews which would have elevated the package from functional to essential? The cheap feeling of the production is actually a bit of an affront to the games Trilogy purports to celebrate, which is a shame and something of a missed opportunity.
Despite these minor qualms, Ratchet & Clank Trilogy is defined first and foremost by the quality of the games contained therein, and on that count it’s a fantastic package. While the first three games in the series only improve with each iteration, there is an admirable consistency to their design. With each new feature added, from strafing to online multiplayer combat (which is, tremendously, included as part of Trilogy and works very well for what it is), Insomniac never lost sight of what made the series great (that wouldn’t happen until 2005′s misstep, Ratchet: Deadlocked, nee Gladiator). Idol Minds’ precise and respectful conversion is the icing on the cake. For those whose exposure to the series is solely through its PlayStation 3 releases, Trilogy is an essential primer, and for everyone else, well, these games hold up well enough to warrant another go. Three cheers to Ratchet & Clank, then, and to another decade of action-platforming bliss.