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November 14, 2005

REVIEW: Ratchet & Clank series

As a ‘grownup’ gamer, I could have written about Insomniac's Ratchet & Clank series in my sleep. Something about 2002’s Ratchet & Clank and 2003’s Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando being among the best games I’ve played in this generation of consoles.

In case you’re wondering why I left out 2004’s Up Your Arsenal the recently-released multiplayer-focused Ratchet: Deadlocked, the latter is next up on my GameFly wish list (I played the demo at E3), while the former is already wrapped up for the holiday season (it’s mine...all mine!).

Of course, I’m not writing about my own affinity for the loveable Lombax and his runty robot sidekick, but rather, about how much my kids like ‘em.

First things first; the ESRB. While overall, I believe that the ESRB does more good than harm, I’ve already documented some of their rating errors in the past (e.g. Dog’s Life). Ratchet & Clank is another case of a rating faux pas.

All four games in the Ratchet & Clank series are rated T for Teen, which I believe to be a mistake. There is no way that these games are inappropriate for every kid under the age of 13. E10+ sounds about right to me, after which, parents are free to decide whether to use the ESRB as a hard and fast rule, or merely a guide. In the case of Ratchet & Clank, despite my E10+ rating, I let my kids play them, and they’re younger than 10.

EDIT: Yes, I realize that R&C, Going Commando & Up Your Arsenal were released before there even was an E10+ rating, which the ESRB created earlier this year. Given the choice, though, I still believe that E is more appropriate than T.

I recommend that parents use ESRB as a jumping-off point to help them make up their own minds. I often agree with the ESRB ratings, but since errors can and do occur, if parents simply follow them blindly, they are equally likely to miss out on a good game their kids will love (hey, like these!), as buy them a game that may contain some things they don’t agree with.

I believe that the problem is that the people who rate the games spend too much time on the superficial and not enough time understanding a game at its essence. Granted that this would take more time and effort, but it is most definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

Now let’s get to the meat of what the ESRB (and some parents) probably found objectionable. There are weapons in the Ratchet & Clank games...lots and lots of weapons. Choosing the right weapon at the right time is the key to success in the Ratchet & Clank series.

So, armed (sorry, couldn’t resist) with this knowledge, why didn’t I automatically file these games safely away in the “grownup games” drawer?

Well, before I answer that, let’s take a closer look at two things; 1) what kinds of weapons we have at our disposal, and 2) just who is on the receiving end of all this firepower.

First, the weapons. Come with me now, as we zoom off to the land of make-believe. You’ve just landed on a strange new planet, and you soon find yourself surrounded by a swarm of weird little alien frogs, birds, or other pests of that ilk. So instead of letting them gang up and chomp away your health, you take aim, fire, and turn them all into......sheep...or chickens (depending on which game you’re playing). Ooh, scary.

Although the chicken-changing weapon is officially called the Morph-O-Ray, my kids immediately took to calling it...say it with me...the Chickenator (later to be upgraded to the “Big Chickenator” – you turn your little enemies into ...well, big chickens). Why? Because the sheep-changing weapon, which debuts in Going Commando, is called the Sheepinator!

While not every weapon is as whimsically innocent as the Chickenator or Sheepinator, that same sense of humor runs through the entire Ratchet & Clank series. And although they have a virtual armory bristling with weapons, the ones that resonate most with my kids are the ones that turn the bad guys into barnyard animals.

So now that we’ve talked about the cartoonish arsenal, the natural follow-up question is to ask just who is it that we’re shooting at?

The answer? Robots and funny little monsters - never people...or anything cute. And when you “get the bad guys,” there is nothing remotely graphic about it – just a shower of bolts (the game’s currency) to collect.

If you’re still unconvinced, then I recommend that you take a trip to your local library.

Killing Monsters, by Gerard Jones, is a book that should be read by all parents who have concerns about the games their kids play. Without turning this article into a book review, I will say that it does an excellent, well-researched job of explaining why make-believe, fantasy violence is not the evil it’s been portrayed to be.

One of Jones’ main points is that many of these video games are simply modern versions of “cops & robbers,” and that kids are better at distinguishing fantasy from reality than we give them credit for. And when we foist our concerns about real violence onto kids who are shooting with digital versions of their thumb and forefinger, it leads to confusion and self-doubt.

This doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t teach their children the important life lesson about not using violence to solve their problems: of course not. But that lesson should be taught at any time, and not specifically when their kids have a controller in their hands.

It doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t check in to make sure that their kids can in fact distinguish real from imaginary. Just don’t buy into the laughable assertion that kids who play with pixilated guns necessarily graduate to a life of violence and crime.

It also doesn’t mean that parents can just sit back and abdicate responsibility for what their children play: far from it. I’d no sooner allow my kids to play Grand Theft Auto or God of War than allow them to watch Silence of the Lambs or, say, run with scissors. But Killing Monsters does shed important new light on an emotionally-charged hot-button issue.

Title-wise, I can certainly understand how names like “Going Commando” or “Up Your Arsenal” can give parents pause. But these jokes for the adult gamers will be way over the heads of many child gamers.

In our case, my son calls Ratchet & Clank “the first new Ratchet & Clank game,” and Going Commando “the second new Ratchet & Clank game.” I should probably explain that the reason they are both “new” games is because we’d been playing several Ratchet & Clank demos (on PlayStation 2 “Jampack” discs) for over a year before we ever played a full game.

In addition to not causing harm, the Ratchet & Clank games can also be beneficial.

As with many good video games, there is a lot of problem-solving that needs to occur for the player to succeed in the various Ratchet & Clank games. For example...

After vanquishing a few faux foes, we come to a large moat that lies between us and the next platform we have to reach. Since it’s definitely too far away to jump, how can we make it across? What to do? What to do?

We were stymied for a while, but suddenly, my daughter remembered that a while back, we came into the possession of a gadget that can melt ice, and more importantly, freeze water. So we changed liquid to solid, skated across the previously impassable moat, and continued on our merry way.

EDIT: I'm borrowing the next 2 paragraphs from what I wrote in the comment section, 'cuz I thought it made sense to include it in the review itself....

"I've been a platformer fan since the days of Pitfall, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers, and R&C (and a precious few others - e.g. Sly Cooper) does the genre proud by carrying the modern platformer torch."

"R&C absolutely shines in its gameplay and controls. It just "feels" great to play, and I can't say that about many games - not even Miyamoto-san's most recent Mario platformer - Super Mario Sunshine."

For mom and dad, the Ratchet & Clank series consists of several funny, satisfying, intelligently-written, expertly-crafted video games. For the kids, they are fun games that shouldn’t cause you too much worry. Now go turn some robots into chickens...or sheep.


  • Ratchet and Klank has been high on the 'gotta pick that up sometime' list. Would you recommend starting with the first game, or picking up one of the sequels first?

    By Blogger WizarDru, at 8:18 AM  

  • While there is a minor continuity issue, you and your kids should have no problem picking up Going Commando and playing. Having not played Up Your Arsenal yet (any day now!), I can't speak to that one specifically, but I doubt it would be such a departure from the rest of the series. Deadlocked is much more focused on multiplayer deathmatch-style gameplay. I got annihilated at E3...but I got a very cool t-shirt for my trouble. :)

    By Blogger Dan, at 3:50 PM  

  • You don't have to play the first game to be able to understand the second and third game, but you'll get to know the characters more and experience more Ratchet & Clank! The first three games are all $20 each, so buying all of them for Christmas would be a great idea. Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal isn't a departure for the series, by the way. In my opinion, it's the best game in all four - and it keeps that "Ratchet & Clank feel," you know.
    Ratchet: Deadlocked seems like an "experiment" to me - it is a departure from the series, it's still great, but I like Up Your Arsenal more. Deadlocked focuses a little bit too much on fast-paced gameplay, and the game is a lot shorter. Up Your Arsenal and Deadlocked have online multiplayer, so you should check that out (if you have a network adapter). The people on there are really naughty though with their language and conversations at time, so I wouldn't recommend giving a little kid the voice headset.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:19 PM  

  • Greetings, anonymous commenter! :)

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing the knowledge. I appreciate it when people fill in whatever info I may have skipped, glossed over, or even *gasp* gotten wrong. GameFam was always meant to be more of a discussion than a lecture.

    RE: UYA, I hope I didn't give the impression that I thought it was the departure from the series that Deadlocked is. As far as I knew (I've read many glowing reviews), it was more classic R&C gaming joy from Insomniac. Anyhoo, my kids and I are very excited to rip the shrink wrap off the copy I bought recently. Actually, I'm excited. They don't even know I bought it yet. Surprise!

    As for Deadlocked, while I enjoyed the demo, I'm not such a hardcore multiplayer deathmatch junkie, though I understand there are some classic R&C story/platforming elements as well, just not as much as R&C, GC & UYA.

    By Blogger Dan, at 3:45 PM  

  • Hey Dan,

    YOU ARE AWSOME!!! I have finaly found someone who is as passionate and loving toward Ratchet&Clank as me!(all of my friends think I'm crazy and losing my mind!) I just absolutlty LOVE these games, and I'm glad you put that article up on how R&C is such a Qwarktastic expierience! I myself have beaten all of the R&C games on EVERY new game slot!(challenge mode included!) As for deadlocked, I do agree with you for the most part.(Ratchet's wrench swing is a bit too fast for me in that game, and its harder to do the "commet strike" which I love! Anyway, thanks for all you do for Ratchet!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:44 PM  

  • Thanks for the kind words.

    As for the review, if I were writing a regular review, I could have written a lot more about why I think R&C kicks arsenal. But since GameFam is all ablut the kiddies, I didn't want to get too far afield.

    I've been a platformer fan since the days of Pitfall, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers, and R&C (and a precious few others - e.g. Sly Cooper) does the genre proud by carrying the modern platformer torch.

    R&C absolutely shines in its gameplay and controls. It just "feels" great to play, and I can't say that about many games - not even Miyamoto-san's most recent Mario platformer - Super Mario Sunshine.

    By Blogger Dan, at 10:06 PM  

  • hey do you wanna check out my site? its still in the process of making but can you give me some help? http://dualvipers.blogspot.com/

    By Blogger JimBob, at 11:43 AM  

  • oh man the tha games great but i personally like the fant that ratchet had clank on his back to help him and tha tale is cool to but im wondering deadlocked was aena based is the next R&c gonna be story based again?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:38 PM  

  • I'm not sure about the next R&C, because as of now, Insomniac is busily working on "I8" (which stands for Insomniac game #8), which is an FPS for the PS3. So I don't know if the series is on temporary or permanent hiatus, but I'm not sure when or if we'll see R&C again. May depend on how Ratchet Deadlocked does. Or whether Insomniac feels the series has run its course. As a fan, I'd rather they didn't release any more Ratchet & Clanks then put out a game that didn't live up to the high standard set by the rest of the series.

    For some people, the fact that Insomniac is working on an FPS is a shock. But it shouldn't be. I read the Ratchet & Clank postmortem on Gamasutra (highly recommended - both the postmortem and the site in general), and Ted Price said that before they even came up with the idea for Ratchet & Clank, they were working on a "dark adventure," as a departure from their lighter, pre-R&C Spyro series. In addition, their first game - Disruptor, was also an FPS.

    By Blogger Dan, at 9:15 AM  

  • Hi Dan, nice write up.

    My personal opinion is that R1-3 are some of the best games for the PS2 out there. I highly recommend playing them sequentially. When I played 1, I found some things I liked and some I didn't. In 2, those issues were all resolved, and the things I liked had been expanded. Great! The same happened when I went from 2 to 3.

    However Ratchet: Deadlocked (Or Ratchet: Gladiator as it is marketed here) is IMO no where near as fun, polished and enjoyable as its ancestors.

    I played R&C because I loved the puzzles, challenges, humor, stories and characters just as much as the combat. However R4 doesn't seem to deliver much else apart from more and more combat on similar themes and scale with a few twists thrown in to spice things up.

    Don't get me wrong, this element of the game is fun - very fun... for a while. However in R3 (Where this type of arena combat is already found) you can choose to do as much or as little of it as you like before returning to the familiar platform/combat genre that Ratchet has rejuvenated in its first 3 generations. In R4 that is all there is.

    Genre hopping probably wasn't the best move on Insomniacs part; if they wanted to try a 3rd person squad combat game they should have done it independant of our Lombax hero and his robotic compadre. Of course, that is just my opinion.

    By Anonymous Lister, at 1:53 PM  

  • Hey Lister. Thanks for stopping by.

    I completely agree about minor annoyances (in an otherwise outstanding game) being fixed when going from R&C 1 to R&C 2. For example, the box breaker, which is such a help in a room full of boxes, especially if you're in a hurry. The interface is improved as well. So it's no surprise that I'm champing at the bit to play R&C 3 (any day now).

    In general, I'm a huuuuuge fan of story-based action-platformers, of which R&C is the gold standard. So while I don't mind a little deathmatching here and there, I was also a little disappointed that R&C 4 would be departing from the tried & true formula of the first 3. Of course, maybe they changed the formula because they felt that the story angle was played out, and they wanted to continue the series without putting out a contrived storyline.

    By Blogger Dan, at 5:17 PM  

  • Hi Dan.

    Yah the box breaker and bolt collector range extension are fantastic.

    While it is true that you can only have so many "Ratchet and Clank must save the galaxy" storylines before things get a little ho-hum, there are other ways to provide engaging plots; especially with the imaginations that Insomniac have already shown.

    I loved in 2 & 3 how you had your training room and gladiator ring that you could choose to use - you're right - they are fun for a while.

    And the vehicular combat in 4 took the goodparts from 3 and extended them again (Insomiac have a habit of doing that!)

    I think the shady side of the Universe could be there for Ratchet to engage in if he chose to, and there would be a way to make these things more dynamic so that they didn't have to be had created for each challenge.

    Sub-quests and mission are another way to extend things in the universe, as is a more Character focused storyline as opposed to the save-the-universe storylines that have been evident in 1-3.

    If 1-3 have taught me anything it is that Insomniac can deliver outstanding games and I totally agree that 1-3 are the benchmark for the action-platform genre.

    I hope they can step up to the plate again. :)

    By Anonymous Lister, at 1:37 PM  

  • Well put, Lister.

    Bottom line, life's too short to waste on crappy games, and great games like the R&C franchise make my kids and me kids happy. :)

    By Blogger Dan, at 6:57 PM  

  • #%*^@!&$ typos!

    By Blogger Dan, at 6:58 PM  

  • Just giving some comments!

    They are great games! Love 'em to death. I am a teenager, almost fifteen, and have been playing Insomniac's wonders ever since the age of seven. I loved Spyro the Dragon and I love Ratchet and Clank games. I love Insomniac for making my life so much more fun.
    The first and second games are by far the most passive.
    The third however, parents might find upsetting.
    One of the characters dresses up as a woman sometimes and there is a device called a crotchetizer (I don't know how to spell it) that is most likely a sex toy. There is a light mention of sex once where Quark is talking to his monkey friend when our heros come in. It goes something like this
    "Well, I'm sorry, it was mating season! How was I supposed to know she was your sister?"
    I think it is funny whilst parents may not, I dunno.
    Also Courtney Gears in the thrid game was a singer who was on the bad side. In her music video she and her dancers are popping their bodies around, something parents might not feel comfortable with.
    I know i might sound weird mentioning this but people are different with what they like their kids to play.
    However the third game is the most funniest and probably the best game, so much fun. So it's all how you look at it.
    Throughout the games, there is a profound feeling of good and evil. Ratchet is a complete good guy, he cares about justice and though he was pretty mean in the first game towards Clank, as it goes one he really shows signs of maturing. I do think he is a great rolemodel for kids to be playing with.
    All of the games are great to play for pretty much all ages, depending on what your status is.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:13 PM  

  • Thanks for the reminder about the crotchetizer. I read about it a while back, but forgot about it.

    While it would be easy to simply never play a game that has one potentially objectionable piece of content, I'd rather not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

    I'll try to find out where it occurs, so I can make sure to play that part when they're sleeping. They'll never know what they missed, and we can continue playing a fuun game together.

    By Blogger Dan, at 11:39 AM  

  • Hey Dan! I'm just here to make some comments. I love the R&C series to death. Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em. I've beat all 4 at least 3 times each and beat each (except #1) on FPS mode at least once. I've also done the same with the Spyro series on PS1. To me, the fact that Insomniac is making an FPS doesn't come as that big of a shock. You always had the option to play Ratchet 2-4 on FPS mode, and I know a lot of guys who play it on that. Not to mention a lot of great (not kids games) FPS's which are basically dominating today's gaming market (i.e. Call of Duty, Halo, Half-Life, etc.). Insomniac is probably going to try and get some "mainstream" gaming attention for awhile, then MAYBE come back to Ratchet and Clank (I hope so). Also at the end of #2, there was a scene where Captain Qwark was a test dummy for the Crotchetizer, making a comment like this.

    (Intercom voice) "Captain Qwark, please report to testing room 1A for Crotchetizer testing."

    Captain Qwark "Hey guys, come on. I don't think we need to go through this."

    Machine rolling towards his...erm..."private area".


    Again, somewhat suggestive.

    Anyway, INSOMNIAC ROX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:18 PM  

  • Now I'm confused, because I thought that the gadget they used on Captain Quark at the end of #2 was the Crotchetizer. So assuming that it is, is it a "funny" torture device in #2, and more sexually suggestive in #3? I had no problem letting my kids see it at the end of #2, so unless the nature (or specifics) of the Crotchetizer have headed down a more sexually-oriented path, I don't see any problem.

    By Blogger Dan, at 5:49 PM  

  • Hi Dan,

    No, the crotchetizer gets no worse in 3. IMO 3 is by far the best one in the series. Hands down. I prefer to think of 4 as not part of the series (much like the sequels to the Highlander movie)


    By Anonymous Lister, at 5:51 PM  

  • Cool.

    I'm caressing the R&C #3 box as I write this. Actually, it's on my shelf, but I'm still really excited to play it. :)

    P.S. Love the Highlander reference

    By Blogger Dan, at 9:01 PM  

  • Just bought R&C:Up Your Arsenal last week, and Im having a blast. It reminds me of classic PSOne games like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, but R&C is way better. Havent played the previous games, I have no problems with the storyline. Challenging and with great humor, its a great game.

    By Blogger Diego, at 3:24 PM  

  • Hey, good review. I think you made a lot of good points in it. The Ratchet series is a truly great achievment on Insomniac's part.

    I don't agree that Deadlocked doesn't do as well as the rest of the series. I think it was a great move on IG's part, and wasn't too unexpected considering how close to shooters the previous two games were anyway. Personally, I enjoyed the shooter gameplay more than the platforming elements, though that may be because I'm more of the "shooter" breed of gamer, I guess.

    But you'll have a great time with both UYA and DL. UYA has quite a bit of sexual innuendos in it, so you might want to watch out for that if you have any young ones around. DL does better on that note (though there are still some), however it does have several swear words in it (two definitely in the cutscenes--both bleeped out--and I think I may have heard another one in-game that wasn't censored, though it was a random comment so I'm not completely sure.

    Also, on the I-8 note. I don't know if the explanation for the current title is official from IG or speculation by others, but I would like to point out that I-8 would in fact be IG's ninth game. (Disruptor, plus 3 Spyro games, plus 4 Ratchet games equal 8 games already.) Just wanted to point that out also.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:40 PM  

  • I agree that it's all about what kind of game you prefer. If you like shooters much better than platformers, then there's a lot more stuff for you to love in Deadlocked (though there's certainly no shortage of shooting in the first three R&C games). Since I prefer platformers (though I play and enjoy my share of FPS games like RE 4, Halo, Far Cry Instincts, etc.), I enjoyed the first 3 a lot more than #4. To be fair, since I only played the Deadlocked demo, I'm comparing it to how much I enjoyed the demos for the first 3.

    By Blogger Dan, at 3:47 PM  

  • Oh, and re: I8, is it possible that Insomniac started working on that one before Deadlocked?

    By Blogger Dan, at 3:52 PM  

  • I love ratchet and clank. and wizardru, I played up your arsenal first, then moved back, then played deadlocked. It worked quite well, except a spoiler in the third one about the first was revealed.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:40 AM  

  • I am a 20 year old female and I absolutely LOVE the R&C series, i only have the first 3 but I can't wait till I can get the others. Oh, earlier some one mentioned about the crotchotizer scene in R&C 3, its on the Crash site planet ( can't remember right off) and so is the part where he dresses up like a woman. The one where Quark talks about "mating season" is at the beginning of the space port in UYA, again I can't remember the planet's name right off the top of my head. I'm going to get Deadlocked as soon as I can but I'm glad that I found this site because I was expecting the same kind of scenario as in the 3 previous ones. I hope to read more reviews on here, thanks!

    By Anonymous Brandy, at 12:54 AM  

  • this is a awsome vidio game

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:33 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

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