The market for downloadable content for home consoles has arguably become one of the most important aspects of this generation of consoles. When the idea was first introduced, too much attention was paid to the concept of microtransactions. But as time has passed, it seems clear that it’s the full games and meaty expansion packs available on these services direct from the comfort of one’s couch that makes downloadable content appealing. Geometry Wars was one of the first early successes in this market, and its impact is still being felt in the frequent releases of simple, addictive, arcade-driven fare. Older console content, remakes, and independent games are also starting to make quite a splash.
Ratchet and Clank Future: Quest for Booty, a new downloadable title from Insomniac, doesn’t neatly fit into any of these categories. Although it continues the storyline of Tools of Destruction, it is not, strictly speaking, an expansion. Rather, it is a relatively short continuation, bridging the gap to the next full Ratchet and Clank title. As such, it occupies something of a strange space. By and large, the quality of the bigger Ratchet and Clank games is intact, but with Tools of Destruction not even a year old, and the next title over a year away, the few hours spent here cannot really be viewed as a holdover for series fans.
Given that the concept of episodic gaming has been struggling to gain a strong foothold, and moreover that it has been largely focused on resurrecting the classic adventure style of gameplay, it might have been more interesting for Insomniac to dip its toe into the episodic gaming waters, bringing a platformer to the mix. Releasing platformers every few months that each take a few hours to complete and yet contribute to an overall story would have been rather unique. Further, Ratchet and Clank episodes released between now and whenever the next full title is released might have better served as something to keep series fans busy. But it appears that Quest for Booty is a one-off effort, again raising questions as to its motivation.
In my review of Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, I claimed that in a post-Super Mario Galaxy landscape, it may be time for the Ratchet and Clank formula to evolve. Although Quest for Booty is quite enjoyable, as Ratchet and Clank games largely are, this might have been the perfect opportunity for such exploration. A $15 title that lasts only a few hours would neither make nor break the series, but fundamental conceptual changes could have been easily experimented with. To be fair, given that Tools of Destruction did end on something of a narrative cliffhanger, that might not have been necessarily possible unless Quest for Booty specifically chose to set aside those events for the time being.
Although the general aesthetics of Ratchet and Clank have survived the transition to a shorter title intact, one unfortunate downside to the brevity of Quest for Booty is the lack of exploration. Certainly, Ratchet and Clank games are largely linear, but the ability to go back to previous planets to look for extras or to accrue whatever is required for the title’s most powerful weapon made them seem less so, and those elements are largely absent here, aside from optional weapons upgrades that are hidden from time to time. Another problem is that though the character of Ratchet has made great strides in likability since the early entries in the series, it seems pretty clear that the star of the proceedings is actually Clank, whose dry wit generally serves the role of straight-man to the generally zany sense of humor on display. Quest for Booty is largely devoid of Clank, as it’s essentially centered on Ratchet’s search for him. Perhaps this is meant to serve as a spiritual analog to the PSP title Secret Agent Clank, in which Clank was the star, but Clank’s absence is certainly felt.
What we are left with, then, is a game which very much feels like Ratchet and Clank, but with some differences that may or may not be difficult to overcome, depending on how much the player identifies them with the series. For a downloadable title, it looks and sounds great, likely built on the same engine that powered Tools of Destruction. As always, Insomniac demonstrates a keen understanding for the fundamentals of fun platform level design. Finally, there are some new uses for Ratchet’s wrench that are generally satisfying. But at the same time, Quest for Booty’s position as a bridge between two full titles seems somewhat odd. The target market is clearly existing fans of the series, given that older titles would serve a much better introduction to newcomers. Still, although the content is predictably enjoyable, it is difficult to leave the experience without wanting more.