In the PS2 era there was a trio of trilogies that all tried to innovate the action-platformer genre and starred cartoony mascot teams. From Sucker Punch we got the Sly Cooper series, from Naughty Dog we got Jak and Daxter, and from Insomniac we got Ratchet and Clank. I have many fond memories of playing all of these series, but the one that always rose to the top of the heap was the wrench-wielding Lombax and his robot sidekick/backpack.
Yet now, on the 10th anniversary of the series, we get the HD collection of the original trilogy. After getting both the Sly and Jak HD collections, it seemed like Ratchet fans were being made to wait for no good reason. So you best believe I am quite happy to finally have it in my hands. I’ll safely stow away my nostalgia goggles in a steel box and dive back in.
Many of the strong points of the series are all here on display in the first game. There is a pleasing mixture of combat and platforming. In many ways, it was a series that successfully translated the core of MegaMan’s gameplay into a 3D environment. Your abilities are meager at first, but as you fight your way through the various enemies and traverse the pitfalls of the various worlds, you build a powerful arsenal full of unique weapons and gadgets at a steady pace. The soundtrack is masterful and catchy, as are the character animations. The inventive sci-fi set pieces are linked together with Saturday morning style humorous cinematic segments that give you a good feel for the characters that inhabit this universe.
Killbots. Why does it always have to be killbots?
But the first game is… rough. It just hasn’t aged that well. The villain feels a bit like a rejected Captain Planet villain (in space) and Ratchet’s original voice actor plus his reluctant hero personality make him feel off. Character movement makes it feel like Ratchet is kind of sliding over the level instead of walking directly on it. The first game is also before the ability to strafe or weapon upgrades were added. It's still a good game and if you have never experienced it go ahead and give it a go. A lot of characters and plot points get introduced here that are referenced throughout the rest of the series, but really it's just a prototype of what was to come.
The second game (Going Commando) is where the series officially began to truly resemble itself. You can now strafe (making combat and dodging much easier) and there is some light experience leveling. Ratchet himself levels up as he deals damage and collects bolts, which increases his overall hitpoints. On top of that the weapons each have their own experience meter that once maxed out unlocks a more powerful version. The number of upgrades, weapons, gadgets, and abilities are still impressive even by modern standards. There are battle arenas where you can earn more bolts and upgrade your weapons. You have a ship (also upgradable) that you will use to engage in a few light space battles. You will even find a place where you can re-acquire the weapons from the original game if you would like.
What happens in the Maktar Nebula ... stays in your save file.
The one sore spot of going back to the second game is just how much of a grindfest it is. As you progress through the game, enemies will start making major leaps and bounds in how much damage they deal and can absorb. This extends the game by practically forcing you to go back to planets you’ve already been to so you can level up your weapons and collect enough in-game currency to purchase more powerful weapons and better armor. Maybe I’m just not in that place anymore where I will gladly spend hours grinding up to the millions of bolts necessary to get the late game uber weapons. It is, however, much more fun to grind in an R&C game than a turn-based RPG, so that’s something.
Oh, Up Your Arsenal, how I missed you. There are tons of levels, oodles of secrets, gaggles of weapons, mounds of varied gameplay, and the best writing, plot, voice acting, and villain of the entire series. The game never stops being fun. The grind is less “grindy” and more rewarding. Weapons now have eight levels (five on first playthrough and 3 more in challenge mode) and each step feels special. You also have the return of space battles and battle arenas, along with the new addition of “retro” 2D side-scrolling segments presented as "Vid Comics" starring Captain Qwark. Far from being a silly gimmick, they are used as character development and back story for the main plot. Being able to play Up Your Arsenal in full 1080 resolution at 60 frames a second makes this collection worth getting. The fact that they also made the multiplayer work online is pure icing.
It's not the fall that kills you, it's the draw distance.
As far as collections go, this one will give you the most bang for your $30. Each game will take an average of fifteen hours to get through and much longer to actually fully complete. See, Insomniac was putting achievements/trophies in their games before it was a thing and they called them skill points. Some are easy, some require thinking outside of the box (or looking it up online, you smelly cheater), and some are downright brutal. With the collection, each game not only maintains its original list of skill points (and the bonuses they unlock) but also a slew of trophies that will push you to 100% completion.
The harshest negative this collection has to deal with is that, unlike both the Sly and Jak series, we have continued to get more from Ratchet. Between various sequels, spin-offs, the Future trilogy, and the decidedly mediocre recent four player co-op game, it's safe to say the series has started to get a little stale. Playing through the remastered original trilogy is less a case of getting reacquainted with an old friend and more a reminder of how far the series has fallen.
All that said, this is still my favorite action series from that era of gaming. It's still satisfying to run through alien worlds with a robot on your back, a funky beat in your ears, while firing a raygun that transforms enemies into ducks that lay explosive eggs. It's still hilarious when you realize that Dr. Nefarious (the third game’s villain and arch nemesis of Captain Qwark) is voiced by Armin Shimerman who is best known for playing Quark on Deep Space Nine. It's still fascinating to get inside the hidden “Insomniac Museum” and get behind the scenes info from the developers.
Look at how many ducks I give.
All in all the strength of this collection is in the strength of the source material. The uprezing makes these games play closer to how you remember them than how they actually were. Thanks to the skill points, trophies, multiplayer, and challenge modes the replay value is quite high. The control is solid, the characters are endearing, and most importantly the game is just damn fun. So go ahead and relive the heyday of this series; you won’t be disappointed.