I’m not VP or CEO of many things, but I can do things the everyday man can do… like pretend I can do a better job at something I’m not in charge of. That’s a little extreme, as I’m not saying these people are bad at their jobs, but I do feel like I should step in and voice my opinion on a particular topic that I feel is a little misguided. A mindset such as this birthed this feature where I find something and say what I think should happen to it to put it back on track.
Mascots have come and gone through my childhood, as evidenced by the coveted PS1 stars Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. They’re both relics from my early years of gaming; ones seared into my mind and responsible for molding my gaming persona. After being sold off and crushed into oblivion, the fondest memories of Crash and Spyro will stay just that: memories. Ratchet and Clank have been in my collection since pretty early on but haven’t been sold off and completely raped at market like the two aforementioned mascots. A decade later, Ratchet and Clank still see almost yearly releases, with ten big titles and two more if you count the mobile title and Secret Agent Clank PSP game.
Coming in at over a game a year, the job gets increasingly harder to fight stagnation and strive for relevancy. Spyro was a nightmare scenario of what could happen, a situation that would be devastating if a similar fate were to befall Ratchet and Clank, a franchise with, in my opinion, better games and a potentially brighter future. As spooky as it seems, Spyro’s demise is an odd foreshadowing of what could happen to Ratchet (although Spyro’s case was admittedly much more severe).
Insomniac seems aware of what could happen, as evidenced by the many reboots and genre switches they’ve gone through with the series. Ratchet: Deadlocked was the first attempt at veering in an uncharted territory, as they put more of an emphasis on shooting, multiplayer, and co-op, excising gadgetry and platforming almost completely. Some scoffed at the change, but it was a well-crafted, slightly different experience. I know I enjoyed it.
Tools of Destruction, the first PS3 iteration, got a pass because of the new technology, so it didn’t really need to reinvent much. Just looking at the wide array of gorgeous, HD visuals was impressive enough to ignore that it was pretty similar to earlier titles. Quest For Booty was a downloadable experiment under a year later, venturing into the $15 space and offering minor tweaks to the signature wrench. Even though it lacked an expansive arsenal, this bite-sized game wasn’t bad, but began to flash minor warning signs that the series might need to ease up on the frequent releases.
Thankfully, 2009 blessed the PS3 with Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, (arguably) the best, most expansive (yet focused) entry in the series. Everything from Ratchet’s RPG/shooting mechanics to Clank’s incredibly intricate time bending puzzles to the urgent story felt like the franchise had hit its natural peak and this entry would have been a perfect high point to rest at. Once you scrape the ceiling, you can only head downward.
And downward was right.
Feeling the urge to put out yet another game, Insomniac chose to go in a drastically different direction with Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One. Alarms were raised immediately at the lack of a sexually charged punny title, but a name is only window dressing on a (hopefully) good game. Optimism and goodwill were still there for All 4 One.
Such goodwill was trashed for a title that was bland, boring, and almost insulting to anyone that liked the series. I wasn’t docking it because it wasn’t traditional. I was docking it because it was a drab pile of trash and placed a hefty blemish on a pretty pristine series.
Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault, the newest release, is yet another “oh-crap-we-need-to-do-something-new” Ratchet title and has met similar disdain. Once again it draws from a well of a different genre and seems worse off for it. Tower defense may be well-worn, but the development team has failed to craft to a solid game around this root idea. Diluting the core essence of Ratchet and tossing his name on this poorly balanced tower defense game didn’t feel like the fresh installment this series needed, but more of a questionable decision from those on the outside.
So what is strike three? I don’t want to find out, but I feel like another genre switch and soulless reimagining would do the trick. Which is why the series needs to do two things: stop putting Ratchet in “non-Ratchet” games and just stop altogether (for now).
Ratchet shouldn’t have a problem venturing into new genres, but it just hasn’t worked out. The dumbed down co-op in A4O was badly designed (in comparison) and lacking depth and the tower defense in FFA, according to reviews, has balance issues and a disappointing campaign. Tertiary branches of Insomniac worked on these two titles, so that could be the root of the problem, but when a team whiffs at both of the different titles it produces, something needs to critically analyzed.
Sometimes just hibernating can yield a fresh take, even if it mostly the same game. The upcoming Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time looks eerily similar to the PS2 saga almost to a fault, but it’s been so long since a good Sly game (I refuse to acknowledge that Sly 3 ever came out) that I’m just excited to see another one. Had Thieves in Time been scheduled for a 2006 release, just a year after Sly 3, my excitement would be tempered and drastically less palpable.
If Ratchet buried itself under some snow for a winter (hopefully several, but let’s stick to this metaphor) and rose up in the spring, the sheer fact of another Ratchet game would yield some sort of discussion. People underestimate how taking time off actually affects a expectations, which is partly the reason why fighting games have made a comeback over the recent years.
I hope I’ve made this clear but I love Ratchet & Clank. This demand is a gesture that stems out of a genuine, passionate admiration of the franchise. I don’t want to see Ratchet and the gang whored out and jammed into genres that it can’t succeed in. Not only that but Insomniac never gives us enough time to miss the lombax and his robotic partner and when they are shown now, they star in some half-assed husk of a game that has the familiar crew slapped on it for the sake of having recognizable faces.
At its core, the shooting, platforming, and RPG blend that Ratchet holds is something almost no other series has emulated and scratches an itch that almost no other scratches. For that, I’d like the see the series come back. But for now, forcing these mascots into bad games only makes me feel sad wish they were treated with more respect. Maybe Insomniac’s next title Fuse will catch on, allowing them to exercise different creative muscles and give them enough time away from our furred, RYNO-wielding hero. Insomniac has said they aren’t done with these two protagonists, but let’s just be optimistic and hope that it’s a traditional Ratchet experience coming to the Playstation Omni in late 2015.