How Ratchet & Clank’s PlayStation 4 Remake Nails The PlayStation 2 Throwback
I don’t have much love for the NES. It’s not that I think it was a bad console, or that its games don’t hold significant value. I just wasn’t around for it. The same even goes for the Super Nintendo, which I still managed to miss by a few years. See, I’m one of those garbage youths who wasn’t born until the mid-'90s. By that point, the first console I ever got my grubby little hands on was a Nintendo 64, and that’s only thanks to an older sister.
So when it comes to this industry’s fascination with retro gaming, the nostalgia for 8- and 16-bit titles with simplistic-but-pitch-perfect gameplay, it’s all a bit lost on me. I’ve played Super Mario Bros. and Ice Climbers and Metroid, and I have nothing but respect for the games that paved the way for the present. But when the hot ticket item this holiday is an NES Classic Edition that lets you relive the glory days of retro gaming on a streamlined system, I’m not exactly the first in line.
No, my nostalgia’s a bit more recent. Sony’s PlayStation 2 was my first concrete foray into console gaming. And as the highest selling console of all time, I’d think it’s safe to say it was for a lot of other boys and girls my age. With such a wide berth of titles available, from the mascot platformer to the military shooter to the… Katamari, there was something for everyone.
That’s where my favorite gaming memories lie. Not from besting Dracula in Castlevania or blasting through Mega Man, but from spending all New Year’s Eve with my friends beating up criminals in Spider-Man 2 or staying up late crashing Cloud Cars on the Bespin level of Star Wars Battlefront. The PS2 had its own share of quirks and distinguishing factors that still stick with me.
And that’s where Insomniac’s 2016 remaster/re-imagining/movie tie-in Ratchet & Clank comes in. There are plenty of reasons to love this game, as it’s a spectacular entry into one of my all-time favorite series. But the more I dive deep into this game’s world, the more it feels like a Ratchet game from 2002. And I mean that in the best way possible.
Completists Welcome Here
Back in my small-town, weaboo-filled middle school, Kingdom Hearts 2 wasn’t so much a game as it was an obsession. Many had played through it, but fewer had completed it enough to achieve that highly sought secret ending. And at a time when YouTube wasn’t as ubiquitous (or accessible, what’s up rural America), getting to see that cryptic trailer that wouldn’t make sense for another four years meant you worked for it. I know because I was too intimidated and didn’t try for it at the time.
But in a time before trophies and achievements, there was some thought put into deciding whether you’d go after that 100 percent completion. Those unlockables had to be worth something, like a new weapon, level or cutscene.
Ratchet on the PlayStation 4 has trophies for the platinum-obsessive, sure. But past that, it’s loaded with unlocks. Tracking down those elusive golden bolts can nab you cheats, galleries and cosmetic quirks. And finding each RYNO card will go a long way in the unlockable Challenge mode.
The Movie Tie-In
Ratchet & Clank might be my first movie tie-in game in years; if not, it’s definitely the first good tie-in I’ve played in quite some time. I’m not here to say the PS2 should be praised for its impeccable line-up of cinema-to-console titles. God knows I wasted (my parents’) money on my share of stinkers, like 2004’s A Series of Unfortunate Events or 2007’s TMNT (although I should have known better by that point). However, through years of scouring PS2 titles, the movie tie-in felt ubiquitous.
The numbers speak to that ubiquity. Throwing my proper education to the wind and using Wikipedia as a source, a scan of the list of PS4 games shows 11 titles tied to or based on film properties. Compare that to the PS2’s just shy of 150 titles. And while the PS2 had a 13-year lifespan to the PS4’s still growing 3 years, consider the library: the PS2 amassed 2,501 games in over a decade; the PS4 is still getting its sea legs at a crisp 1,282 titles released or announced. Granted, the totals can shift depending on what you consider a movie tie-in or a game based on a film, but the market share of tie-in games has dropped regardless.
With graphical advancement the way it is, not many modern tie-ins cut corners by inserting pre-rendered movie clips. Ratchet, on the other hand, has visuals so crisp that it hopes you don’t notice when it switches to scenes from the films. But you will notice, thanks to an obtrusive “gameplay recording paused” notification --- and if you’re like me and suffered through the feature film.
The game’s inclusion of pre-rendered clips isn’t revolutionary or creative --- just more bizarre than anything. For better worse, it’s one of those “they don’t make them like this anymore” feelings.
The Complete Package
In speaking about a great PS2 throwback, I’ll also bring up one that left a foul taste in my mouth: 2015’s Star Wars Battlefront. I could speak volumes about how this generation’s Battlefront let me down --- as a Star Wars fan, as a fan of the PS2 classic --- but there was one element that brought the game crashing down faster than a nameless TIE Fighter: the $60 package felt like half a game. It was a beautiful half a game, but one in which the base game offered a smattering of modes across four locales in exchange for a wealth of cosmetic unlocks barricaded behind a slow-moving progression system. The bulk of the content was left waiting behind the veil of a season pass.
That’s a far cry from the PS2 games I love and remember. On a console where internet connectivity was sparse, players expected the content on disc to be both satisfying and complete. No DLC, no patches and definitely no season passes.
Ratchet & Clank doesn’t completely escape the times; one weapon is prohibited by pre-order, and there are a handful of patches (my version at time of writing is 1.07, and most updates have been minor tweaks and fixes). But for the most part, what you get is what you get. The game’s campaign is a complete package. And rather distract from the main game with a tacked-on multiplayer mode for a shot at player retention, the game is confident in its design. It’s like the PS2 days of old: the devs have one shot at putting a game out there, so it better be fun, it better be cohesive, and it better not be broken.
I adore the throwback titles that pop up from time to time with new takes on old mechanics. Yacht Club Games’ Shovel Knight was my favorite game of 2013. But as the gaming audience grows up, there comes a time when the lens of nostalgia has to widen. Honestly, as younger developers enter the industry, I believe we’ll see more games like Ratchet & Clank that harken back to their formative gaming years.