Ratchet & Clank a stellar game with promising movie tie-in
Available this week on PlayStation 4 for $49.99; movie hits theatres April 29
Ratchet & Clank is a throwback to many gaming trends that have largely evaporated in past years, but proves that its formula still has a lot to offer to gamers old and new.
It's a third-person platformer that shares DNA with mostly extinct franchises led by animal-like mascots, such as Crash Bandicoot or Jak & Daxter.
It's a family friendly game (rated Everyone ages 10 and up) that doesn't come with an accompanying toys-to-life line of merchandise that threatens to cost parents hundreds of dollars.
Perhaps most unusual, it might be the perfect marriage between games and film, as movies based on games have historically ranged from barely passable to unwatchable dreck.
Ratchet & Clank debuted on the Sony PlayStation 2 in 2002, with a mechanic named Ratchet from the cat-like Lombax race and his diminutive robot companion Clank. The two have appeared in over a dozen games since, which were often described as playable Pixar movies with their expressive alien characters and vibrant worlds.
Now fans will be able to judge whether the analogy is true, with the PlayStation 4 game by developer Insomnia Games and the animated feature film by Vancouver-based Rainmaker Entertainment launching in the same month.
Both tell roughly the same story — an extensive retelling of the 2002 original — and certain key sequences appear both in the film and as cutscenes in the game, looking nearly indistinguishable from each other. Insomniac and Rainmaker communicated with each other extensively to make sure character and location designs were consistent between the two.
Watch the trailers of the film and the game below and see for yourself: the differences are minimal at best.
The basic framework remains the same, though: the Blarg, a race of evil lizard-like aliens, are travelling to nearby planets, stealing their resources and in some cases destroying them completely to build their own perfect home at the expense of the rest of the galaxy's inhabitants.
Ratchet and Clank are caught up in the fight and quickly earn the attention of the Galactic Rangers, a group of interplanetary heroes led by the not-very-heroic Captain Qwark.
While the film includes some Hollywood heavy hitters, including Paul Giamatti as the slimy Blarg CEO Chairman Drek and Bella Thorne and Rosario Dawson as members of the Galactic Rangers, the main roles of Ratchet, Clank and Qwark are played on screen by the same voice actors from the games (James Arnold Taylor, David Kaye and Jim Ward, respectively).
Remake or sequel? Why not both
Anyone who played the original will instantly recognize the locations, enemies and sometimes even the same buildings from before, but recreated in stunning detail and HD resolution. It effectively feels like a brand new Ratchet & Clank game, only that it goes over the original's plot.
By modern standards, the 2002 game is a bit of a clunker, and the latest release includes several features, gadgets and guns from recent releases to make it feel more current. Fans will see much of what they've grown to enjoy over the years, but polished with 15 years of iteration.
While Ratchet's default attack is a whack with his trusty wrench, the main draw is the dizzying array of guns. While you've got your typical pistols, flamethrowers and missile launchers, Insomniac's trademarks are the wacky and bizarre devices that inject some much-needed comedy into the proceedings.
Take, for instance, the Groovitron, a portable disco ball that compels any nearby enemies to put down their weapons and boogie instead. Or the Sheepinator, a ray gun that transforms enemies into sheep. Why sheep? Why not?
You get new guns at a regular pace throughout the game, and using them increases their effectiveness, so you've almost always something new to play with, making gameplay feel fresh throughout the 10 to 12 hours of the main adventure. Ratchet handles beautifully, running and jumping around the environments with an almost elastic quality and sublime precision on the player's side.
In no time you'll be running around space stations to volcanic plateaus to a gorgeous tropical resort world, wading through a shower of nuts and bolts — used for buying new weapons — that twinkle like sparks of starlight. It's a stunning aesthetic that looks something like if you took the inhabitants of Zootopia and threw them into Futurama.
Old characters, new motivations
The biggest change between the original Ratchet & Clank and the 2016 remake is a more consistent characterization for the main characters. In 2002, Ratchet was more of a self-interested jerk who only warmed up to Clank near the end. In the sequels, their harder edges softened somewhat, and now they quickly form a heartwarming friendship.
Other cast members have more nuance, too. Captain Qwark, originally a vapid henchman, becomes a flawed individual with flashes of genuine heroism, like in his more recent appearances.
Whether the Ratchet & Clank film will satisfy the fans — and the box office — remains to be seen. One question remains: is the game an advertisement for the movie, or the other way around? With a game this good, it probably doesn't matter.