During one of the many hours I spent on Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal, I was playing in front of my girlfriend. She was watching me beat the hell out of a robot with a wrench or paraglide down a chasm with the help of my helicopter backpack, Clank, or sucking an alien into a gun only to shoot him into another enemy or something along those lines. Regardless, after watching for about 30 seconds, she said, “All games should be platformers.” Sometimes, when I see the detritus that passes for games these days, I wish that were true. It hasn’t really been since the platformer days that critical acclaim and mainstream acceptance were so well-aligned. Everybody loved Super Mario World. Everybody.
Alas, not every game can be great and not every game can be a platformer. Is it Prince Hal in Shakespeare’s Henry V that has some soliloquy about how there have to be weekdays because if there weren’t weekends wouldn’t seem like a holiday? I think so. I think I had to memorize that dumbass soliloquy for a 10th grade English class or something, but I definitely could be wrong. I’m too impatient with my parents’ dialup connection to look it up. Anyway, whoever said it, I understand the sentiment. If all games were platformers of the caliber of Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal, none of them would seem nearly as good.
What I find fascinating is that Insomniac has released one of these games every year for the past three, like a sports franchise. Yet this is one of the few series that has absolutely never lacked in terms of quality. I remember when the first Jak and Daxter came out. People had said it was good, given the lack of platformers on the PS2, but that another game called Ratchet and Clank looked a lot better. I decided to wait, and that Christmas season I picked up the first Ratchet and Clank instead of Jak and Daxter, and an addiction was born. I told a friend a few weeks ago that this year was going to be strange without a Lord of the Rings movie to go to, but at least I was getting my annual Ratchet and Clank fix.
The perfect blend of humor that was actually funny, running-and-gunning action, and platformer puzzles and timing was almost more than I could handle. Also, levels were extremely well designed with multiple paths through each that all dumped you back at the starting point so you could go down another path as required after completing the previous objective. Add to the mix infinite lives and planet-jumping shenanigans reminiscent of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and you have a winning formula.
If we take for granted that the first game in the franchise was great, we must next ask ourselves what has changed between the iterations of the series to make each subsequent title just as good if not better. For the second game, Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando brilliantly added RPG elements, allowing players to level up as they were playing the game. Using particular weapons made them more powerful, and defeating enemies gave you a higher capacity for life. This made the game the perfect difficulty for everyone, because even if you got to a part you couldn’t beat, you could play it over and over again getting progressively stronger ’til you finally were able to take it on.
For the third game, such visionary additions to the genre are largely absent. What we are offered instead are more well-designed levels born of a preternatural understanding of what makes platformers fun. Some of the things added to the second game that didn’t quite work (i.e. the flight missions) have been wisely removed. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to articulate why the game is as fun as it is, but it is addictive and challenging without being frustrating.
A notable addition to the franchise is that of online multiplayer. Unfortunately, my only experience with online console play has been with the Xbox, and I do not own a PS2 Network Adapter. The pervasive opinion of the gaming press, however, is that the online game serves as icing on the cake and a welcome surprise, but certainly not that which makes the game great.
The story for Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal, which is surprisingly rich considering the normally ridiculous supporting narrative for most platforming games, purports that Clank has become an intergalactic television star for his role in the smash hit Secret Agent Clank. Ratchet is his chauffer. Without giving anything away, there is a bad guy who plans at intergalactic domination, and Ratchet and Clank are helped by the series’ resident villainous comic relief, Captain Qwark. All in all, the writing in the series continues to be amusing, and there continue to be jokes with a Pixar-like quality that are funny to both children and adults alike.
At the same time, as I try to be discerning with my games and I try not to only look forward to proven franchises, I find myself drawn to Ratchet and Clank. Another consecutive great title in the series, and it may well supplant the Mario franchise in my mind. Given the glut of quality titles that were released in the last few months of this year, I’m not hearing very much about Ratchet and Clank: Up Your Arsenal, and I fear that it’s being ignored. It is an intensely amusing game, and may well offer more enjoyment than the other sequels that peppered this holiday season.