Reviews

Ratchet & Clank. “Frustrating Fun.” A Review.

Ratchet & Clank is a platformer that came out post-platformer-prominence. At a time where First Person Shooters where really starting to dominate. Open World games, such as Grand Theft Auto 3 provided an experience for gamers that was more realistic, gritty, and violent than the mascot platformers everyone played as kids. The popular audience in the console space was moving on from cute characters, cartoon plots, and colorful environments. They wanted blood. Certainly, I was no different.

However there was still an audience for these games. Jak and Daxter, Sly Cooper, and Ratchet & Clank all came out for the PS2 and were all huge hits. Of those three, Ratchet & Clank was my favorite. I loved how the game paired shooting and platforming–it felt satisfying and strategic even though the action often got chaotic and tense. It was addicting to experiment with different weapons, upgrading them as you shoot through the game’s many different planets. The pacing of the game is also incredible in that Insomiac constantly finds new ways to differentiate gameplay so that you’re not always doing the same thing throughout the playthrough. Truly, these games are masterful examples of the platforming genre.

So recently I decided to play through the first game via the HD collection on PS3. This game hasn’t received major changes except for touching up some of the visuals to make the game look nice on HD televisions. Gameplay and controls are completely intact from the original PS2 game.

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The controls are ass. I say that because this is a platformer where you are shooting a gun at dudes that badly want to kill you, and that you are meant to dodge with your platforming ability. Jumping, aiming, and shooting just does not work in this game. You have to stop, take cover (no cover system this is pre-killswitch you musterfucks), aim in the first person, and try to activate the game’s homing capabilities (where a green reticle appears signifying your projectile will automatically fly toward the enemy instead of straight where you are shooting). This feels clunky because there isn’t true cover, meaning you’ll be spending a lot of time seeing enemies, stopping, aiming, and shooting missiles (their range is infinite) and then quickly you must double jump around like a jackass in the hopes that you’ll dodge whatever projectile is coming your way. Then you run out of ammo and what are you supposed to do? Get close and shoot them with a flamethrower, or punch them with the walloper? But then I get hit, and my very limited health drops to zero, and then I’m sent back to the checkpoint which is forever ago.

Very few stages are frustrating in this game. They are divided into planets, some of which you revisit later with acquired equipment and mission objectives. Each planet has something to it, visually or gameplay-wise, that keeps individual planets different from others. I really liked the level design, in that planets had dividing paths that would all lead to something, giving you that sense of exploration games like Banjo Kazooie and Spyro had while tailoring the gameplay to accommodate the running, jumping, and shooting. Several segments contain puzzles the player must solve with gadgets they’ve acquired while other segments contain vehicle based traversal. The hoverboard races were especially fun, especially because you can start the race over at anytime if you feel there’s no chance you can win.

The checkpoints in this game really remind me of Dark Souls and this is where I have to explain checkpoints because most modern games don’t have them as they were designed in the PS2 era. Except, you know, Dark Souls. Back in the days of the PS2, games had a problem where checkpoints where too far and between, meaning players who died would have to replay the same segments until they got it right. This is what made PC games like Half-Life and DOOM so amazing–you could fucking save whenever you wanted, and then when you died and had to repeat a ton of content you only really had yourself to blame. This isn’t a huge problem, especially considering games from the NES and SNES ears required players to play through entire levels until they got it right, except for the fact that PS2 levels tend to be LONG AS HELL forcing players to reply HUMONGOUS segments of levels over again! These segments tend to be littered with tough enemies, and when you respawn your AMMO DOES NOT. So you have to buy it. Good thing you keep your bolts (the game’s currency) from the last try. That’s also kinda Dark Souls, except you always have the bolts you don’t drop them on the ground upon death.

Man I want to play Dark Souls.

There are some levels, especially towards the end, that are absolutely brutal with their checkpoints, asking players to fight armies of assholes flying around in jetpacks shooting shitty laser guns with infinite fucking range and I keep running out of goddamn ammo meaning I have to continuously spend my bolts for more when I respawn but I just spent all my fucking bolts buying the last weapon I needed to buy HOW THE FUCK DO YOU EXPECT ME TO BEAT THIS FINAL BOSS WITH NO FUCKING AMMO?!?

Sometimes you have to stop, collect yourself, and regain your patience. The last level of the game was like this, causing me to stop playing for an entire game until I could come back with a fresh bout of patience. Just like Dark Souls, haha!

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funny junk

Dark Souls shouldn’t be the benchmark for difficulty. Ninja Gaiden shouldn’t either. I understand these games are difficult for some of you out there, America, but listen–Dark Souls isn’t that hard! You just need patience!

Ninja Gaiden on the other hand, if we’re talking about that GODDAMN XBOX GAME, is fucking beetarded hard and I don’t even care about that slur I just dropped because FUCK THAT GAME and its exploding ass shurikens that you cannot dodge I can’t use healing items in a character action game because that’s sinning what DO YOU EXPECT FROM ME VIDEO GAMES GODDAMN.

(Apologies for all the offended bees out there, you never deserved this.)

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(On second thought, you did. Quite getting all PC on me man. Freedom of speech. Insert Ignorant Hate Speak Defense here.)

Every instance of intense difficulty in Ratchet & Clank is solved by simply taking a moment to collect yourself. Sometimes you just need to look around and see that yes, you can collect more ammo you fucking moron it’s just hidden in plain sight right behind you. On the time of the last boss fight I saw that, upon returning to my ship, there were enough crates encasing enough bolts to buy the ammo I needed to beat the final boss. And what a final boss this game has! There’s something like four different forms, three of which require light platforming, and in the end there’s just an all out brawl with super attacks and minion spawning (and ammo spawning). It was fun, but frustratingly fun.

And that’s the best way to describe this game. The early goings are extremely easy, and fun, and when the game’s difficulty curve spikes up, you still feel like you’re having fun as long as you aren’t dying hundreds of times over and over. At least this game doesn’t require you to collect lives. Or one thousand things, like Donkey Kong 64 did. No, this game’s collecting is extremely simple and straightforward–you want to get as many bolts as you can.

This is my favorite kind of collecting in video games. Purposeful collecting. Collecting what would improve you in terms of gameplay mechanics. Like finding new abilities in a Metroidvania. Or, in the case of Ratchet & Clank, collecting currency to purchase new, fun ways in which the player interacts with the world. Most collectathons (Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, Spyro) would have you collect for the sake of collecting, or for the sake of advancing the game’s progression. Collect these stars to open this door, Mario. Collect the eggs, Spyro. R&C asks the players to collect the bolts so that they can purchase new weapons (and ammo) and new gadgets. Now, these gadgets are certainly progression blockers, but isn’t that a better way to disguise the whole “collect stars to open door,”? It makes more sense in the world, it feels funner to collect, it makes you want to collect more, it feels less tedious, and most importantly it feels less like a video game rehash to have your character spend the majority of the game collecting something that actually matters in the universe of that game.

It also just feels good to collect the bolts. You smash open a box and the things pour out, clanking onto the ground in a shiny silver. They spew out of defeated enemies like blood and entrails. They all glide toward you as though you were sucking them with a powerful vacuum.  It’s fun to collect these bolts. It feels rewarding. Like keeping a jar of quarters, and how it feels rewarding every time you throw another chunk and hear them clank upon the pile. Quite frankly the main reason I was compelled to complete this game in a week was to get to Going Commando collect these bolts. If a game’s collectables give you a reason to play the game and see it to its end, then the developers surely did something right.

The other collectables are the golden bolts, the skill points, and the weapons themselves. Golden bolts are standard in that they’re that secret collectable hidden in every level meant to encourage exploration. If you get enough golden bolts you may exchange them for a golden version of each weapon. The golden weapons are improved versions of the weapons. For example, a golden bomb glove enhances the range of the bombs as well as the size of their explosions and their damage. Golden weapons require varying amounts of golden weapons and vast sums of regular bolts. I’m generally not the kind of player that goes after collection 100% of these hidden collectables, and here it’s no different. I could see myself, possibly in the future, going after these collectables to also get all the trophies (as the HD version has trophies), but whenever I saw one (or an obvious path to find one) I took the game’s offer and collected them. Most levels contain entire paths meant only to find these bolts, and for the most part they are actually pretty fun. I’ve always enjoyed exploration in video games and it’s nice that the game isn’t overblown with different kinds of hidden collectables like Donkey Kong fucking 64.

The skill points are fun little objectives the player is meant to perform in every level. Players don’t actually spend these points on anything–they are basically achievements before achievements were created. Well–except for the fact that now they unlock trophies in the HD version. They are fun, and I accidentally unlocked a few during my playthrough. I am annoyed that none of these skill points actually tell you what to do in order to achieve them. If I were to collect all of these skill points I would simply look up how to get them on the Internet, so hiding them serves no real purpose just like hiding achievements and trophies serves absolutely no real purpose. Otherwise, there’s nothing much to say. Skill points are just there to get 100% completion. And unlike simply finding more collectables on the map, these give players fun objectives to do, so I think they’re fine.

Then there are the weapons themselves. This may seem strange to list as a collectable, but they are because no weapon is truly required to beat the game. If you wanted a hard time you could simply beat the game with nothing but the wrench and the bomb glove you start the game with. (There may be weapons you are given for free while progressing I don’t remember who cares.) These are ultimately what you are collecting your bolts for, and most likely the weapons are why you are playing Ratchet & Clank in the first place. The series is known for having creative, fun weapons, and this is the game that started that reputation (obviously it was the first game stupid).

The weapons are fun, and most of them had a function I found useful in certain situations. One of the more interesting and fun weapons is the Suck Cannon, which sucks up weaker enemies into a vacuum and uses those enemies as ammunition. You can only hold up to five enemies at a time, which I thought was too low considering smaller enemies are usually in swarms of more than five. Aiming the projectile was almost always impossible, as the enemies seemed to shoot differently depending on which enemy they were. But I could be mistaken, as I didn’t use this item that much.

The funnest weapon is probably the Morph-O-Ray. This gun turns enemies into chickens. Need I say more? I did find that you can suck chickens into the Suck Cannon to use as projectiles, and that’s pretty hilarious.

The more useful weapons would have to be the Blaster, the Devastator, the Visibomb Gun, and the Tesla Claw. These are pretty basic, but effective throughout the entirety of the game. Blaster is a weak but effective basic assault rifle type weapon that has poor range and poor damage but good speed and cheap ammo. The Devastator has infinite range and amazing damage being it is a rocket launcher, but the ammo is limited to 20 rockets which becomes extremely infuriating during long portions of the game with those FUCKING JETPACK guys. The Visibomb Gun is a very strong guided missile launcher, though flying the missile felt very clunky and weird. I had to use this gun a lot while going through the last levels due to the bulky spaceships that would fly in and shoot missiles. Then there’s the Tesla Claw which I primarily used during the last boss. Besides the R.Y.N.O. (the most powerful, expensive weapon in the game, meant for fun once the player has played through some of new game plus, or the insane player that collected the steep 150,000 bolts it costs during the first playthrough) the Tesla Claw is the most expensive weapon to purchase. It fires like the flamethrower, but is lightening, and the range and damage recieves a huge improvement. You don’t have to aim either as the lightening automatically strikes your target, making it great when you’re just trying to focus on running and jumping to dodge projectiles. I had fun using all the weapons in the game, and experimenting with the different ways I could use them during the different situations throughout the different levels different. I also liked using the Taunter in combination with the Mine Glove to pull enemies into traps. This combination became required in a couple of levels.

Most important to these collectables is the fact that you are collecting them as you play the game. That’s what doesn’t make this game a collectathon. In collectathons, the purpose of playing through the level is to explore your environment and collect what the game wants you to collect. I always found this tedious, even in games with fun gameplay, good music, charming character design, and beautiful graphics (Spyro, Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie). I don’t finish these games because I don’t care enough about collecting everything in a level. It feels like eating junk food–it’s satisfying and then you’re stuffed. Like potato chips. Ratchet & Clank is still junk food, but it’s more like a piece of candy. You eat one, and you get a burst of flavor. And then you’re done.

That said this is a lengthy game, taking me around ten hours to beat. That’s pretty long for a title like this. Then once you beat the game, you are rewarded with playing it again, but with harder enemies and more bolts. Plus, you get to carry over all your upgrades and weapons (just not your gadgets since those unlock game progression). Playing through a second time your goal, generally, is to collect all the golden bolts, complete all the challenges, purchase the R.Y.N.O. and all the golden weapons. I haven’t made it through a second playthrough because I wanted to jump straight into Going Commando write this review, but I could see myself doing so considering the amount of fun I had with this game. Maybe I will do so after I buy, and complete, the new Ratchet & Clank–this game’s modern day remake for the PS4.

Overall, Ratchet & Clank is a fun experience that doesn’t take itself seriously and presents a mode of combat encouraging experimentation, as well as several ways of breaking up that combat so that the experience never becomes monotonous. If you have a PS3 the HD version is available for cheap and includes the two sequels to this game, and it’s MORE than worth the cost of admission. If you have a PS2 the original version of this game is fairly common to come by and extremely cheap. If you like platformers, if you like shooters, if you like mascot platformers, if you like Playstation games, if you like interesting weapons and gadgets that are unique from your standard military arsenal, and if you like a nice challenge, give this game a try. It’s interesting to go back to, and it’s interesting to see how this game progresses. The challenge may get frustrating at times, but it’s still a rewarding challenge to overcome.

This game gets a burnt hotdog covered in mustard out of chocolate pretzel.

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globe-views

 now i’m hungry

09/14/2016

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