Let's discuss Avengers: Infinity War -- a movie BOUND to make you feel so good!

December 8, 2012

Let's discuss Ratchet and Clank.

No one is more than aware of my aptitude of making crushingly long posts.  So in an effort to try and get over that bad habit, here’s everything you need to know about this post condensed into one sentence:

$8.99 is all you need to own one of the most enchanting and rewarding games ever created.

…And now to spew six thousand words explaining my claim.  Nobody said that breaking bad habits was easy.

(My love for you is like a truck SPOILERS!  And potentially, BERSERKER!)

Auspicious fortune.  That’s what led me to this post, I suppose.  You can thank a combination of PlayStation All-Stars:Battle Royale, a special deal at GameStop, and my brother’s impulsive habits for my shot at playing Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction.

I have to admit, first off, that I never put much stock into the Ratchet and Clank franchise.  I didn’t have a PS2 at the time when the series made waves, so I missed out on the duo’s adventures and had no drive to pick up any of the games.  The same goes for their PS3 outings.  Beyond that, I always thought the pair was more than a little redundant -- Sony already had a gun-slinging duo to its name.  Jak was a colorful, cartoony hero exploring wild worlds with fantastic guns, and had his own (albeit radically different) sidekick.  What was the point of having Ratchet around, if not to jump on the Me Too Express?

To this day I still think that having both pairs on one system is a little excessive.  But it wasn’t until semi-recently that I started to see the appeal in Ratchet and Clank.  I played All 4 One with my bro and a buddy, and we all agreed it was a fantastic game (not in spite of, but because of its childish veneer).  Incidentally, that was supposed to be one of the weaker games in the series; if that was the case, I told my brother mere minutes before popping Tools of Destruction into the console, then this game would be “utterly awesome.”

And to my surprise, it was.  It was more than just better than expected.  Folks, we’re talking about a game that may now be a part of my Top 25.  Maybe my Top 10.

I’m more than a little eager to figure out why, because frankly I haven’t sorted out my final opinion just yet (and probably won’t until days after this post).  A part of me is worried that I just like it because of a knee-jerk reaction to the games of today -- I’ve made my distaste pretty clear for Halo 4, Borderlands 2, Resident Evil 6, Darksiders 2, and Gears of War 3.  I’ve barely touched Assassin’s Creed 3, and I’ve seriously considered dropping it.  Even at a cursory glance, Final Fantasy 13-2

…Well, I’m sure you can imagine.  But regardless of those games or the industry standards, I feel pretty strongly about and for ToD.  Is it a perfect game?  No, not even close.  But it is a very, very good game -- it’s what I’d call a “game-ass game.”  What do I mean?  Well, I’ll get back to that.

Let’s go over the basics first.  As you can guess, this isn’t the first game in the franchise -- maybe fourth or fifth, but it’s the first to be featured on the PS3 (made all too clear by the old PS3 logo on the side of the box).  Here’s the story: one day, Ratchet’s minding his own business working on his new vehicle, ready to go for a ride on a machine his robot pal Clank has reservations about.  Before they can have too much fun -- or disaster -- with it, they get a message from the superhero pastiche Captain Qwark, who calls on them to help with a robot assault in the city. What starts off as a seemingly-simple rescue mission turns into a galactic struggle (doesn’t it always?); the tiny tyrant Percival Tachyon begins infecting the universe with his empire, eager to exact his revenge on the Lombaxes -- cat-like aliens, a species our hero Ratchet belongs to -- and spread his dominion over all species and all planets.  The lynchpin of his goal?  The “Lombax secret,” technology left behind before the Lombaxes mysteriously vanished, which could very well unravel the universe if used unwisely.  Ratchet and Clank -- along with a slew of friends old and new -- have to find the secret first, braving betrayals, ghosts of the past, and even each other as they travel through the cosmos.

Remarkably (and thankfully), you don’t have to know very much about the canon to play this game.  It’s a self-contained story that you can jump into; no need to search codexes or read wikis online to catch up.  Ratchet is the spirited hero, and apparently the last cat in the universe.  Clank is his best friend and a robot, and matches his hot-blooded partner’s enthusiasm with level-headed politeness point-for-point.   Qwark is an on-again, off-again comrade who’s more cowardly than his physique would suggest.  The universe is full of crazy planets, with technology that’s a blend of real-life concepts and fancy-sounding gibberish.  Robot pirates, alien dinosaurs, and casual travel into black holes are just common knowledge in this game.  What’s important isn’t what happened in Going Commando or Up Your Arsenal; what’s important is what’s happening in the context of the game.  So give a point to this game for not requiring you to watch a miniseries to know who some of these people are.

Okay, let’s get the bad out of the way first.  The biggest problem with this game is that it was made in 2007 -- not a fault in itself, but that means it’s likely to fall prey to certain trends.  The trend in this case is Sixaxis motion controls; at that point in gaming, I suspect that Sony pretty much required all its games to have some form of it.  And I suspect every time it appeared when unneeded, it came off as a gimmick.  There’s nothing Sixaxis adds to ToD that couldn’t be done with an analog stick and buttons, but they’ll try their damnedest to try and outshine the Wii with a last-minute addition prove that Sixaxis control is the way of the future.  You’ll do freefalls, hack technology, fly through the air, and do a little dancing with pirates.  While none of them are broken, none of them (bar the dancing, because you use motion controls sparingly) are engaging or even all that good.  The precise motions required for some of them don’t mesh well with what your body does; it’s not uncommon to want to tilt a little bit while flying, but end up swerving way off-course.  And in the freefall segments, making it to your destination is as easy as flailing about -- in fact, that’s probably the preferable strategy.  And why they’d try and include a gun that’s controlled solely by the Sixaxis -- in a game heavily dependent on movement and positioning and focus -- you’re better off never using it, and coming off no worse because of it.  It’s a relic of the past, and it shows.  Repeatedly.

I’m also not 100% sure how I feel about the difficulty.  It gets tricky at times (and you’ll certainly notice it), but ToD is not what I’d call a hard game by any stretch.  Part of the reason is because of your tool set; in addition to getting lots of fancy, useful, and powerful guns, you’ll also be able to upgrade them, get one-off items that shift the firefight in your favor, and you can buy armor…AND your health levels-up as you play.  AND your guns level-up even if you don’t upgrade them.  It’s still more than possible to die, and you will run out of ammo for several of your guns, but if you’re expecting a game to push you to your very limits, this isn’t it.  Once you’ve upgraded, say, your Predator Launcher to a certain degree, you can lock on to enemies with up to eight missiles at a time and do some serious damage to them; you don’t even have to aim.  Your shotgun will eventually be able to freeze enemies in place, you can throw out a disco ball that immediately stops enemy attacks so they start dancing, and even your basic gun eventually fires three shots per bullet while spraying magma all over the ground.  But the award for “Most Broken Weapon” HAS to go to the Nano Swarmers; you throw out a ball that extends into a mini-satellite, and focuses a laser on enemies.  Once it does, it sends a swarm of bees at them and keeps doing so until they’re dead, only to lock on to the next enemy.  And you can throw out multiple Swarmers at a time.  And you can upgrade the weapon.  And you can switch to other weapons while the bees are still going.  Basically, you can think of the Swarmers as indestructible sentry guns that rip the ass plates of enemy robots in two.

It’s worth noting that the story -- and the gameplay tied to it -- is more or less “safe.”  If you think I’m going to praise this game because there was some incredible plot twist that left me speechless, you’re in for a shock.  This is a very straightforward, very competent story, which is both a benefit and a weakness.  Other than the ending, there aren’t exactly any huge surprises; it’s a WYSIWYG type of adventure.   The back of the box has a blurb where The New York Times calls it a Pixar movie in game form, and it shows; you don’t go in expecting some massive upheaval in the narrative, and that’s all right (I’ll come back to this point in a minute).  What isn’t quite as all right is the way the game handles getting Ratchet from place to place.  Yeah, you can backtrack at your leisure and find hidden items, but going from planet to planet and plot point to plot point has a pretty predictable pattern.

Step One: Ratchet lands on a planet.
Step Two: Ratchet explores a planet.
Step Three: Ratchet finds a clue about the Lombax secret.
Step Four: Ratchet heads to the planet hinted at by the clue.

There are variations, but it kind of undermines the adventure when you start to realize that you’re on a wild goose chase.  There is a payoff well before the game ends (the Lombax secret is actually a reality-warping hat), but a big chunk of the game has a “The secret has to be here!  Nope, not here -- next planet!” cycle that lessens the impact of the planet you’re on.  It’s kind of like an amusement park, actually; you don’t get to enjoy a single ride for long, because your aunt is shuffling you off to the next ride.  Now this isn’t exactly a deal-breaker, because it gives the story a narrative and linear structure, and I guess there isn’t a much better way to have what IS a galactic goose chase in a game.  But you start to take notice when a cutscene or the voice of one of your friends tells you to head for the next planet before you’ve even felt satisfaction for conquering the boss beforehand.

There are a few minor nitpicks I could make (some enemies are way too strong, the last level kind of drags), but those points and the ones I listed above don’t do anything to lower my opinion of the game. 

Let’s start with a definition.  I mentioned this in a comment a while back, but I want to start putting the phrase “game-ass game” into rotation ASAP.  The gist of it is that a game-ass game this: it doesn’t try to put forth any delusions that it’s an epic that’ll leave you breathless.  Nor does it allow conventions to dictate its motions.  A game-ass game is simple and natural.  It doesn’t have to try to be anything grander than it is; it just is.  It’s inherently simple, but all the parts that comprise it are top-of-the-line -- even if there are only a handful of parts to speak of.  No delusions of grandeur.  No catering to tastes, be it the creators’ or the consumers’.  No fear of being misunderstood.  No excess, no confusion, no disarray, no broken promises, no forgotten elements. 

It’s focused on the intent.  The creative vision.  The expression, and communication of ideas, and invitation for the gamer to engage with those ideas -- the game, in every facet.  Context, challenge, gratification, impact, sensory responses, everything comes together.  And if you didn’t know any better, you’d say that the game didn’t even try.  It just does its thing…and because of it -- because it did so with skill and simplicity, almost by virtue of existing -- you adore it.  That is what I call a game-ass game.

You can call that definition a knee-jerk reaction, but it’s one that has merit, I think.  And I think it’s a lesson that carries over across every medium: if you have to try to be epic, you’ve already failed.  No matter what medium you’re working in, you have to be honest with yourself and your work.  You have to know what you’re going for, what your work calls for, and what your audience needs -- not wants, but needs.  Chase after something, or put up an insincere effort, and you’re more likely to betray yourself, your tale, and your fans.  But do what comes simply or naturally, and you’ve got a much better shot at making something better.  If nothing else, you’re making something that you (at least at the time) think is great.  If nothing else, you’re fulfilling your creative vision.  And who knows?  Maybe someone else will like that vision, too.

Or you could screw it all up.  You could try and shove everything at once into your game like Resident Evil 6.  You could make a gamer a slave to numbers and loot like Borderlands 2.  You could make your hero out to be a messiah fighting singlehandedly in a war against the entire universe like Halo 4.  Or you could take an example from Final Fantasy 13-2 and

Well, you can probably guess.  But it’s not all bad news; as long as there are games, there will inevitably be game-ass games.  And Nintendo has practically made a business out of putting out game-ass games.  Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword?  Game-ass game.  Kirby’s Epic Yarn?  Game-ass game.  Any given Mario game since 1996, and arguably well before that?  Game-ass game.  In fact I’d argue that their biggest misfire (besides the Virtual Boy) is Metroid: Other M -- and that one pretty much speaks for itself.  Too much.

There are other games and other companies that have gotten it right, of course, and I could sit here and rattle off names for quite a while.  But for expediency -- and because you’ve just hit the two-thousand four hundred thirty-fifth word -- I’m qualifying Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction as a game-ass game.  That’s made possible because of the two points that are a decisive factor in plenty of titles: the gameplay and the story.

Let’s focus on the gameplay first.  As I’ve said before, I’m pretty bad at shooters -- my aim is terrible, I have slow reflexes, and while trying to maneuver it’s not uncommon for me to walk right off the edge and into the abyss.  And while I happened to kill myself more times than I care to admit in ToD, I’d still argue that it’s not just a competent shooter, but one of my favorites ever.  Why, I can hazard a guess:

1) Maybe about ten chest-high walls in the entire game, and no dedicated cover system.
2) The ability to jump and double-jump freely.
3) Circle-strafing as a viable (and sometimes preferable) strategy.
4) No regenerating health.
5) The ability to carry multiple -- and varied -- weapons. 
6) Wide open environments of varying size and shape.
7) A largely-solo experience, NPC or otherwise.

See those points?  Pretty simple stuff, right?  Now here’s the thing: I don’t know if you’ve played a shooter in the past six years or so, but there’s something pretty interesting about ToD thanks to those points.  Basically it does the exact opposite of everything the modern shooter does nowadays…and I’m convinced that it’s better for it.

You get to move around.  You’re not hiding behind walls for dear life, hoping that an enemy will pop out from behind their wall.  You can maneuver as you see fit, moving side to side and jumping over enemy fire to get in a clean shot.  No regenerating health means that when you’re down to your last few points of health, you’re starting to feel the pressure -- and the rush that comes with it.  You always have the right weapon for the job, all of which function in a different but specialized category; there’s a certain element of strategy in picking the right weapon for the right time (and even though I think the Nano Swarmers are overpowered, you can’t just go BEEEEEEEEEEEES and win every firefight; its ammo is extremely limited).  That strategic element is emphasized because you can hold Triangle to select the right gun for the job, pausing the game in the process.  It gives you a breather, and time to plan your next move.  You don’t have anyone, a friend or an NPC, yammering or spouting off bad one-liners or making you unnecessary.  This is your fight; you have all the tools and skills you need, and conquering them comes down to using ingenuity, reason, and quick thinking.  You have to focus on what you’re doing, and focus on ensuring your survival, or else you’re doomed to suck down laser beams through your teeth.

It’s strange, because I can’t say that the pace of ToD is anything near breakneck.  An enemy may shoot at you, but you have plenty of time to move out of the way, be it sidestep, strafe, jump, or just run away.  The speed of your shots varies from gun to gun; some bullets travel nigh-instantly into enemy faces, while there are others you have a chance of outrunning.  And like I said, you pause the action every time you switch guns with Triangle.  But none of this makes the game bad; only different, at worst.  Actually it’s for the best -- if the shots moved at the speed of a regular bullet, Ratchet would bring about the extinction of cat-kind.  And between you and me, I would rather be able to brag about jumping over a hell-storm of bullets from every direction instead of saying “I hid behind a wall and pecked away at enemies whenever they popped up.”  Besides, you’re a cat.  You’re supposed to be agile.  And that agility makes all the difference.

Okay, that’s not 100% true.  The guns go a pretty long way as well -- and trust me, there are a lot of them.  Enough to fill three quick select wheels, literally; you get so many guns and devices that by game’s end you have to decide which ones are in the wheels and which ones have to be accessed from the Start menu.  Each one is varied, colorful, and customizable, just as you’d expect from/might have heard about the series -- but if you’re the traditional sort, many of the guns fit the expected roles.  The Shard Reaper works like a shotgun, but its crystalline bullets can be upgraded to explode on contact (and then evolve into the Nitro Reaper, which freezes opponents).  You’ve got a pistol, a machine gun, and a flamethrower, but the pistol can fire off three rounds per bullet, the machine gun shoots ricocheting saw blades, and the flamethrower…okay, the flamethrower just spews flames.  But if you use a gun enough and give it a little love -- i.e. money -- you can turn a simple weapon into one that’s not only bonkers, but super-effective in certain situations. 

I remember shortly after getting the machine gun (the “Buzz Blades”), I put in a few upgrades and entered a room with a nasty-looking boss.  “So the Buzz Blades bounce off walls, huh?” I asked myself, readying the weapon.  So I unloaded with everything I had -- and to my surprise, the saw blades tore the hell out of the boss.  I didn’t even need to switch weapons.  It felt like a victory, and a major one at that; I’d not only figured out a surefire way to clear a boss and which weapon to use indoors, but it opened my ideas to the possibilities.  I was willing to play through the entire game assuming that the starting gun was the best, but the fact that some weapons are phenomenally more effective than others against enemies (and I speak from experience) invites experimentation for every fight.    Add to that the infectious drive to level up your weapons and see what they’ll become or do next, and suddenly battlefields become a testing ground as well as a proving ground. 

Some praise has to go to the game for offering something beyond combat, of course.  The worlds are massive -- they look massive, and feel massive.  This may have been an early PS3 game, but the tech was well-tapped.  There’s plenty of room to walk around and explore, but the worlds never get so huge that you end up lost (and even if you did, there’s still a map to rely on).  You can explore, and of course there’s plenty of incentive if you want to unlock skins and such, but it’s very easy to move on with your mission if you prefer.  Either way, each world is a visual treat; colors everywhere you look.  A menagerie of flora and fauna.  A seamless fusion of technology and biological life.  All manners of climate and environments.  If Skyward Sword left you wanting for an ice level, you won’t be disappointed.  And if for some reason all that fails to impress you, there are space battles.

Peppy, you wanna take this one?

All right.  That’s enough about the gameplay for now (long story short, better than Halo 4).  Now let’s talk about that story.

If you read my post about “kids’ games,” you may remember me empathically asking why developers aren’t trying to ape Pixar movies instead of summer blockbusters.  It seems like the obvious choice -- multi-generational appeal, limitless creative potential, expression made possible by virtue of the worlds needing dreamy rendering, levity as well as drama and depth…all these things and more.  Of course one could argue that in order to make a Pixar-style game you have to have talent, buuuuuuuuuut you didn’t hear that from me.  In any case, if there was ever a company and if there was ever a game that managed to capture that quintessence, it’s Insomniac Games and ToD.  It’s a simple story at its core, but the ideas and execution elevate it into something fantastic.  Or rather, let me put it this way: in spite of its childish veneer, ToD manages to be more mature than half the games released this generation.

For starters, this may be a galactic goose chase, but it’s just as much a story about interracial struggles and the responsibility of one’s desperate actions.  It’s very easy to assume that the Cragmites are all planet-conquering assholes, and for the most part they are (especially when Tachyon starts summoning with the Dimensionator to start his conquest of the universe).  But here’s the thing: the Lombaxes aren’t exactly in the clear, either.  The Cragmites may seem like the bad guys, but as the story unfolds I got a very “shades of gray” sense of the big picture; for one thing, it was the Lombaxes who built such a dangerous device.  For another, rather than eliminate them outright, the Lombaxes banish the Cragmites to a corner of the universe.  So no, they didn’t build a hyper-dimensional killing machine…they just built a machine that exiles entire species to a different realm.  Or if you prefer, deportation.  And then rather than work to clean up the mess the Cragmites made with their no-doubt incredible technology, the space-cats apparently decided to leave the dimension behind and start anew somewhere else (leaving Ratchet behind for reasons unknown).  All of this of course is glancing over the fact that there was a WAR between the two species, and you can bet there were atrocities on either side of the fence.

Things like that help to explain Tachyon’s motivation besides “because I want to rule the universe!”  In spite of being raised by Lombaxes, once he finds out the truth he decides to exact his revenge -- not just by taking over the universe, but by making sure that every property he owns and every soldier makes sure to put in effort trying to turn the last cat in the universe into a taxidermist’s fantasy.  It’s a reasonable motivation, and I can buy it…to an extent.  Revenge is a major motivation, as is the madness that comes from learning the truth about your species.  But Ratchet’s species had it rough too (albeit on a different axis); you don’t see him deciding to wreck everything that doesn’t suit him.  No, Tachyon’s issues run deeper, and that’s made clear from his introduction onward: he wants people to take him seriously.  And that is a very, very hard thing to do.

He’s the villain, but he’s a walking joke.  Tiny, bigheaded, surrounded by bumblers, and thwarted every other day, respect is something that’s hard for him to come by.  But he wants it, and he needs it, and he’ll have it.  As you wander through levels you’ll find TVs that broadcast his image, and spread his word as law.  He’s quick to aggrandize himself at every turn.  His personal mech is obviously (if you’ll let me make a tired old joke) compensating for something…though one can’t help but wonder if Cragmites -- or Lombaxes, for that matter -- have the same sexual characteristics as any given Earth creature.  In any case, Tachyon wants people to see him as a big man, a threat, a true force of power and prestige to be feared and revered.  And despite having the toughest boss fight in the game, it’s too little too late -- Tachyon’s beaten by the heroes, and specifically his foil Ratchet.

The last cat in the universe is, as per his hero duties, doing what he can to stop the bad guys and recover ancient technology.  And while he’s the typical spirited, leap-before-you-look type of hero, there’s more to him than his voice actor would suggest.  For one thing, he’s clearly inherited the technological skill of his Lombax forebears (the guy’s using a giant wrench like a sword, and he tried to make “stunderwear”), so if nothing else he’s got enough knowledge to work a machine.  His hot-bloodedness isn’t a result of being an idiot, but because he’s earnest in his pursuits.  Like any good scientist, he’s always pushing the limits and believing that nothing’s impossible -- and given that the Dimensionator is not only an enthralling piece of technology but may help him discover the secrets of his MIA species, it’s no wonder that he becomes obsessed with finding and using it. 

The problem is obvious, isn’t it?  Getting obsessed is very rarely a good thing, least of all when it involves a verifiable doomsday device you can put on your head.  Ratchet gets his chance to destroy the Dimensionator and keep it out of Tachyon’s hands for good -- and even before he does that he likely could have destroyed any of the clues leading up to it, just to make sure the emperor didn’t have a trail of bread crumbs to follow.  But he doesn’t.  He just chases after it, and finds it, and plans to put it too good use, in spite of his vehicle from the start of the game nearly turning him into a well-cooked blood smear.  The single-minded resolve that makes him a hero very nearly makes him his own worst enemy -- and potentially, an enemy of the universe.

Thankfully, Clank is around to keep his buddy from going out of control -- or at least try to.  Clank has his own issues in this game: he’s apparently some sort of king to blockheaded creatures called the Zoni.  Problem is, only Clank can see them, so Ratchet thinks he’s just dreaming them up.  But they’re quite real; you’ll do a few simple puzzles with them throughout the game, many of which involve Clank’s apparent ability to slow time to a crawl (whether that’s an ability he’s always had or just one used in conjunction with the Zoni is beyond me, but given that he only uses it when they’re around I lean toward the latter).  If Ratchet is a leap-before-you-look type of guy, then Clank is the type that doesn’t leap, period -- and his cautiousness and constant questioning of Ratchet’s actions drives a wedge between the two of them.  It’s actually something foreshadowed from the first few minutes of the game, but has buildup and payoff later on; Ratchet calls Clank out, and not long after the two get split up when Tachyon activates the Dimensionator.

It’s when they get separated that you really start to realize how much of a bond the two share -- both from a story perspective and a gameplay perspective.  See, Clank is fastened to Ratchet’s back throughout the entire game, giving him the ability to double-jump, high jump, long jump, and glide.  And then you lose him and all the abilities therein.  And then immediately after you lose him, you enter an area that requires platforming.  The jumps you need to make aren’t exactly difficult, but after spending at least a dozen hours with a double-jump, you really start to feel vulnerable -- incomplete, even -- without it.  Story-wise, as soon as Ratchet discovers Clank’s not on his back (the guy who’s literally had his back throughout countless adventures), he feels the pressure.  Once he’s able, he lets his comrades and the player know how important Clank is through his words and body language.  The cat-boy’s screwed up.  He should have listened to Clank when he had the chance, because in the end he was right.  It’s a simple scene, but an effective one -- and it makes their reunion all the more poignant. 

Except there’s a certain imbalance to their relationship.  Don’t get me wrong; Clank is as glad to be reunited as Ratchet is, but there’s a difference between the two of them.  When Ratchet gets split up from Clank, his tool set is cut in half.  When Clank gets split up, his tool set expands.  Without Clank, Ratchet is utterly alone against the elements.  Without Ratchet, Clank has the Zoni to fall back on -- to the point where the little fairies will fight on his behalf.  Ratchet’s destiny is unknown by virtue of being abandoned by his people; whatever future he wants to have, he’ll likely have to make it on his own.  Clank’s destiny is known by creatures more than willing to stand by his side and bring him to some semblance of a promised land where he can rule and act as the chosen one; whatever future he wants to have is a predetermined yet grandiose one…but ultimately, one he’ll have to live without Ratchet.

That’s right.  At the end of the game, when all is said and done, Tachyon is defeated and the galaxy is moving back toward peaceful days, this happens. 

Of all the ways to kick a player in the balls…

I’m not sure why, but I actually don’t have a problem with ToD’s ending.  It’s sequel-baiting of the highest caliber, yes, and to some extent it immediately undermines the work and successes of the heroes.  But even so, it deals a surprisingly emotional blow to the player, and Ratchet even more so.  So for the most part it works; the credits hadn’t even started to roll, and already I was thinking to myself, “So do I need to get A Crack in Time or Quest for Booty?”  The series is called Ratchet and Clank -- and I’ll be damned if those brothers in arms aren’t reunited.  (Though given that they’re back on the front lines in All 4 One, I’d assume everything works out in the end.)

It’s a little difficult to point out exactly why ToD -- and by extension the entire franchise -- works.  Doubly so because my enthusiasm and praise is ultimately my opinion; what you get out of it and how it affects you depends on your preferences.  And on top of that, I still believe that this isn’t exactly a complex game or a complex story.  Like The Avengers, this game is a sandwich -- a well-made sandwich, but a sandwich nonetheless.  But with that in mind, I feel like I need to append my definition of a game-ass game a bit to accommodate; it doesn’t necessarily have to be a sandwich, but by design it offers something for a player to sink their teeth into.  Speaking from my perspective, there are three things that players can sink their teeth into.

1) Ratchet, and by extension Clank.  Like I said, I haven’t played any of the other games besides All 4 One -- but if the wiki’s anything to go by, Ratchet used to be kind of a jerk.  He started out as selfish, arrogant, and suspicious of everyone; thanks to the magic of character development, he ended up becoming the character that I know him as from ToD.  It’s a change that I approve of; the main character is the means for exploring and interacting with a world, and having him anything besides energetic and adventurous would harm our ability to enjoy said world, and the game at large.  Though on that note…

2) A world worth exploring.  I know I mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating -- this game’s world is fantastic.  Even if you don’t feel like putting in the work to track down every hidden item or Easter egg, you can get plenty out of the world just by knowing that the option is there, or forgoing it just to get to the ending faster.  Grind rails, catapults, and tubes that can only be navigated by monocycles…imagination flows through each world, and endears merely by existing.  But even if you’re immune to its charms, there’s always…

3) The humor.  I’ve said before that I don’t think I’m all that funny; I do all right, I guess, but I know I can do better.  But the reason why I don’t think I’m funny is because I know for a fact that there are significantly funnier products out there…and ToD is one of them.  It’s incredible how many jokes they managed to get in there, and how it’s not as much a “hit-or-miss” situation as it is “hit-and-hit”.  Part of the secret to good comedy, I’d argue, is unpredictability -- and it’s that unpredictability that makes a gamer long for every new cutscene.  You might see a boxing glove pop out of a ship’s console and knock Clank the hell out.  You might find a clue to the Lombax secret, and be greeted with a 50’s style PSA.  There’s a plumber that travels the universe via toilet, Qwark’s crayon doodles, Tachyon bumping his ship into walls as he tries to make a triumphant exit, an eye patch-wearing smuggler with two fully-functioning eyes, and in case you missed it, the doomsday device is a hat

All of these things -- the characters, the gameplay, the world, the humor, the story, the customization, the strategy, everything -- melds into one.  It asks the player a simple question: “You wanna have some fun?”  And given that the game handles every element with incredible skill and thoroughness, there is only one acceptable response.  Hell.  Yes.

This game is good.  It’s likely that part of my praise stems from my weariness with the gaming industry (though I think my problems are more than a little justified).  So you can read this post and believe as much or as little as you see fit.  If you’re like me -- if you think that this “buried treasure from a forgotten age” is more precious than most things crafted today -- then that’s all right.  If you think I’m lying or much too biased, that’s all right too.  But whatever the case, I think you know what you have to do.  If you have a PS3, all the working components, and ten bucks in your pocket, I think you know what needs to be done.  Track it down, bring it home, and try it out for yourself.  See if it does for you what it did for me.

It’s a game-ass game.  And chances are you won’t be disappointed.

And that’ll do it for now.  See you guys --

Ahem.  As I was saying, I’ll see you --


ALL RIGHT!  FINE!  I’LL PLAY YOU!  FUCK!  Stupid friggin’ game won’t leave me alone…damn!  And I was in such a good mood, too.  Now I gotta play through that piece of --

Such delightful misery -- pain and sorrow that remain inescapable, no matter which way you turn.

Oh no.

Will you look forward, and stare upon disasters anew?  Or will you turn your back, and gaze into the eyes of your dearest friend?  Your executioner made real?

Oh no.

I believe you have a certain obligation -- a duty that you declared you would fulfill.  Surely you have not forgotten?  If you have, then allow me to remind you…my foolish puppet.

H-hey, don’t get so antsy.  I haven’t forgotten.  In fact, I’m just about ready to get to you.  So there’s no need for you to do anything so unpleasant as…you know…dropping the moon on us.

You would think that I would enact the same catastrophe twice?  Such simplistic thinking…though I should expect no less from a human.  But no matter; it is the weakness of humans that makes them all the more entertaining.  I welcome despair…and of course, I do all I can to spread it.

I’ve noticed. 

Oh?  Have you found your resolve?  Do you have the strength required to topple me, and steal away my fun?  My very life?

As a matter of fact, I think I do.  I’m not a hundred percent sure I can pull it off…and yeah, I am a little bit afraid, but…

But you would try, even if you know instinctively that failure approaches?

Not quite.  I may not know what’ll happen, but if I can do something to protect the world, then I’ve gotta give it everything.  That’s what being a writing hero is all about.

And honestly?  I think I've got as good a shot as anyone else.

Always the showman, I see.  Very well.  Then soon enough, I shall return.  And we will end this game once and for all.  For you see…I have a new game in mind, and I am so very eager to test it.  Strangling the life out of you to do so is nothing more than a step towards my ultimate elation.

Farewell, “hero”.  I wish you the very best.

...Well, I guess I’m never wearing these pants again.  Or this underwear.  Or using this chair.


  1. That Random Game BloggerDecember 8, 2012 at 1:13 PM

    Actually, from what I hear FF 13-2 is a really good game, but I haven't played yet

    Heh, maybe I should boot it up, we could compare notes, lol.

    As for Ratchet and Clank, never played a single game in the series

  2. To say that my expectations for 13-2 are low would be an understatement so massive its sheer size and density would be enough to pull entire galaxies out of alignment. I saw my bro play through the first part of it, and I can pretty much pinpoint the exact moment when I'd have more than enough evidence to throw up my hands and quit. To say nothing of the fact that I consider the original 13 an absolute failure, and for this sequel to build upon it (with "gameplay" that I generally abhor) very nearly makes it a foregone conclusion.

    That all said, I feel like I have to give it a fair shake. 13 was terrible IMO, but maybe its sequel is better. If nothing else, I'll be able to justify my claims instead of just calling for a mob armed torches and pitchforks. And the occasional railgun mixed into the crowd.

  3. That Random Game BloggerDecember 9, 2012 at 4:46 AM

    I didn't think 13 was terrible, just terribly average.

    It felt like a dungeon-crawling spin-off of itself, though it still didn't excuse some its more glaring flaws like the straight-forward dungeons.

    Though to be fair, I liked the combat in that game, but I'm not sure if its something I want to see return /too/ often

  4. Fair enough. If you found something you like, that's cool...it's just that I can't think of 13 without thinking of all the issues and disappointments that plague it. I can't even look at Lightning without feeling a swell of rage sometimes -- especially in light of this "Lightning Returns" business.

    Well, whatever. I'll get around to playing 13-2 soon enough, and see if it can redeem the 13 series (God that feels so wrong to say). If it can, maybe I'll be better off. If not...well, now I can make better jokes at 13-2's expense.

  5. That Random Game BloggerDecember 9, 2012 at 1:14 PM

    Personally, I wasn't really disappointed, mostly because the series has already disappointed me quite often in the past (FFX and X-2 spring to mind).

  6. Huh. Haven't played 10-2 (I almost did, but I got a different game instead), but I made it through 10 without TOO much heartache. I won't say it's the best game ever, because it is far, far, far from that; the very existence of Seymour is enough to destroy the credibility of every man and woman in that company. But even with that in mind I hold 10 in higher esteem than 13 and (prematurely) 13-2.

    Probably the biggest reason is the whole "13 is linear, but so was 10!" argument. Yeah, you couldn't backtrack at all until the last ten or so hours of the game, but 10 semi-successfully created the illusion that the world was much bigger. The characters, the mythos, the struggle, the ability to relate to almost all of it (I know that's kind of a strange concept, given that it's a universe dominated by Luddism and fear of a flying demon whale)...taken as a whole, I found it a lot easier to swallow and comprehend than 13's l'Cie/fal'Cie system. It's just a shame that 10 was filled with people content with shoving their heads into the sand -- and beyond that my favorite thing in the world: whiny, overwrought monologues -- but like I said, in my eyes 10 > 13.

    I did a post comparing the two a bit more a while back, so you can have a look at those thoughts if you want. I think the points I made still hold up today...though if you do read it, you can probably ignore that whole "I'll defend 13" claim. Didn't pan out...the hate consumes and blinds me, you see.


  7. Final Fantasy bacem shit after 6. That said, this is a pretty cool article, man! Congrats

  8. I love FF6. But when I take off my retro goggles, FF 10 is probably the best game in the series. Yeah I went there. You can't deny that while 6 was amazing, had a solid battle system lovable characters, and had some of the best moments of the series. It's plot keeled over and died when the world ended.

    No really. Try going back and playing it again. Character specific dialogue is completely non-existant and while it's ending is iconic... nothing happens during it.

    10 borrowed heavily from 6's success right down to the ability to turn your characters into jack of all trade gods just replace espers with the sphere grid. The characters were comparably likable and your party members had specific uses again. The hot swapping of characters wasn't exactly the 5 person party that they refuse to bring back for god knows why... but it was damn close.

    Also the list of actions took the frustration of the random two turns in a row by bosses or the '&%*@!' I just ressed that dude factor. It had minigames, it had extra bosses, it had lulu. Err... I mean...

    Also. I don't know how anyone could call 7-9 'shit'. I had my beef with 7 for being generally overrated (Oh Em Gee Polygons!), and 8 for having a terrible battle system and dropping the ball at the end story wise (cough cough 6.) 9's biggest issue was borrowing to heavily from the past 1-6 games without really defining itself. 10's biggest issue was the MC being annoying. It innovated, entertained and completed it's story swimmingly. Too bad they cast an ugly shadow on that with X-2.

    That said, 6 is still my favorite game of the series, and most deserved for a remake. Looking at my saved games though. 6 and 10 were extremely close when it came to my played timer around 120 hour each. X doesn't need a remake, an HD coat of paint will be enough where 6 fell just short of being the perfect final fantasy game with glaring and unforgivably poor execution in its final hours. This is a matter of consistency, and FFX was pure gold in that book.

    P.S. Yes the space flea last boss was lame, but what FF game didn't have a boss swap of some sort?

  9. I'm just going to have to put my foot down on 10, since I recently played it with a friend who is a huge nerd of the installment and since the EPIC OMG GRAPHIX of the time had worn off, I saw it for the mediocre piece of work that it was.

    Now why does everyone have a beef with 7? Hmmm, could it be that the main character was a moping bastard and the story was a convoluted mess, brought about for the sake of 'build-up and mystery'? Why yes, yes it was!

    8 was a pile of shit that I barely cared about. I remember missing most of the story and reading it through wikis, because that's exactly how much I DID NOT CARE ABOUT IT. The grinding was cool, though. I remember it was the only part of the game I gave a damn about.

    9 was...oh my god, I don't remember 9. Mostly because I gave even less of a shit about it and the BOOM, Necron! final boss came out of fucking NOWHERE.

    FF6 does not need a remake. In fact, I hope everybody gives up on the idea of remaking games. Don't fix what isn't broken. Just take the old game, maybe redo the music and that's it. Yes, the part after the end of the world wasn't that well written but you know what? I loved that game. I loved it with all my heart.

  10. I really don't see the mediocre part. It was visually beautiful. The Battles were crispy. The story was coherent and it retained what was great about 6.

    I'm simply saying if any Final Fantasy deserves a remake it is 6. I think it could get Mr, Sakaguichi's attention to consult and oversee this. I'm willing to bet he would admit to factors outside of creativity limiting what he wanted to do with 6. Cart size, money, etc.

    Six would be well served to be completed and maybe people could see why it has the potential to be the best Final Fantasy game out there. I don't think any of the points you bring up are that damning of an entire game. It's pretty narrow to say 7 8 and 9 were shitty.

    I could say six was 'shitty' for developing EXTREMELY interesting characters then throwing them in a trash bin at some point. Use that logic to admit that 7-10 were damn good games with inherent flaws. Hell. I enjoyed 12 and 13 enough to play through and beat them.

    One thing I'll give nod to Voltech, is that he gives credit where credit is due. It keeps me coming back to his site. Even if he put a flamethrower to games (like ones that deserve it like 13-2) He explains why so well. His comparison between X and XIII scratches the surface of 10's worth. 6 was ahead of it's time. No one can argue that, but so was 10.

    Take that same eye and apply it to 6. You might just not like the game series as much as you think you do. "Huge nerd of the series" can be read as "One who wears thick retro goggles" I've been playing FF since 1 came out on NES and that game was flawed as HELL. Did I love it as an 11 year old? YOU BET. Will I ever look back on it and say it was a perfect game? Not even close.

  11. X-2 was bad by comparison, but not terrible. Like most mediocre games it is best enjoyed with a grain of salt. Ok. Maybe a truck of salt. It really is a modern day Final Fantasy Mystic Quest.

    X is to X-2 as IV is to Mystic Quest. That's about the best comparison I can make. Paine was a good character trapped in a mediocre game. Leblanc was an amusing quirky mini boss trapped in a mediocre game... Like if Kefka was put in a Go-Karting game.

  12. I like how a post discussing Ratchet and Clank turned into a discussion on Final Fantasy. Well, whatever; there's not much more to say about R&C other than "it's good and you should play it", while FF is...uh...let's call it "divisive".

    Honestly? Besides 13 (and inevitably, 13-2) I try to keep my hands off discussing FF. Like I've said before, I'm not an authority on the franchise; I came into the series on the coattails of the supposedly-inferior PC version of 7, so I can't say I have any fond memories of the earlier games. And at one point, I was more than willing to call 8 -- 8, OF ALL THINGS! -- my favorite in the series, if only because of how easy it was to play the system and become a sullen demigod. But with that in mind, I feel like I can't say anything substantive about any of the games without playing them again...and that's an endeavor I don't think I could handle. Why, I'm sure you can guess; looking back, 8's story was a bit of a mess. I'm not sure I'm ready to admit that I gleefully frittered away so many hours trying to craft the Lionheart and collect all the GFs, only to use them once to see what they would look like.

    Oh wait, I just did. Crap.

    I guess that's the beauty of FF as a whole, though -- each game has an "either you get it or you don't" quality to it because so many of them are so different from one another. I "got" 7 and 8, even if they both had their issues. I got 10, but it had some pretty serious faults (Tidus well among them). I "got" 12 in the sense that I respected what they were trying to do, but very little of it clicked for me. I didn't get 13; I started off all right, but the further in I got, the more I started to realize I wasn't exploring a fantastic world, I wasn't experiencing a harrowing tale, I wasn't building my squad of super-troopers, and I wasn't having fun. That's the game that ruined both the franchise and the company in my eyes, and it's gonna take some work to rebuild that trust.

    In any case, I might have to make a little claim here: I'm willing to assume that the ratio of "did gets" to "didn't gets" was a lot higher and more stable in the days of the earlier installments. Whether that was just because the games were offering something new and -- pardon my pun -- fantastic, or because they were genuine, top-notch quality isn't something I can say with any certainty here. But I guess in the long run, something went wrong somewhere, and where that point is varies for every gamer. It just happened later rather than sooner.

    That essay aside, thanks to both of you for having a little debate here on the site. A good discussion always brings out the best in people.

  13. Well said. The relevance to Ratchet and Clank (again sorry for the deviance) is that it is a Good game fundamentally. People tend to over look things like it because of nostalgia laden thoughts.

    People often like to say the games are junk with mindsets like "it's mario with shitty guns". But the thing is, to keep things interesting, you need to innovate. Jax and Daxter did this well and challenged the genre previously dominated by Nintendo and Rare.

    Like 7-13 of FF. Ratchet and Clank gets stamped a pretender and people end up missing out on a really fun game. If you haven't already I would check out the other PS2 platformer greats like Sly cooper and Jax and Daxter.

  14. Wait a second -- Ratchet and Clank, a pretender? What sorcery is this? Who would say such a thing? I want their addresses immediately!

    Seriously, though...I don't get that mindset. The only thing I see R&C trying to pretend to be is Jak and Daxter, and even then (even though I joked about it in the post) there are some pretty marked differences. And given that the first game in the franchise came out in 2002...really, what was it trying to imitate? Just because it had a colorful world and platforming, it's a knockoff? If that's the case, they might as well have said Banjo-Kazooie was "Mario with a shitty bird", or Rayman was "Mario with shitty no-arms." That...that's just confusing.

    Well, whatever. Like I said about PlayStation All-Stars, it's better to copy a good formula than a bad one. And if R&C taps into that Nintendo/Rare essence, then shouldn't that be enough to lay the naysayers to rest?

    Oh well. In any case, I like the game, and I'll have to be on the lookout for the others. I had the Sly Collection, but outside of Jak 3 I don't know much about Jak and Daxter. I'll have to give it a look one of these days.

    Also, don't worry about getting a little off-topic. This is Cross-Up, where everything is made up and the points don't matter. Go nuts.