Thursday, January 22, 2015

General Mumblings: Ratchet and Clank

Ratchet and Clank: Space heroes with space for nonsense! Get it?
I have mentioned this video game franchise a few times before on the Gaming Journalist Gazette blog, but I believe I should go into more depth about my thoughts on this franchise. I would like to discuss some of my thoughts on the Ratchet & Clank series, and it would be appropriate to do so anyway since a new movie is going to come out some time in 2015 that features Ratchet and Clank.

I honestly didn't know what to expect when I first popped in a Ratchet and Clank game to the good old Sony Playstation 2. People still play the PS2? If you love and respect vintage games, you most likely do still play PS2 games. I honestly didn't know how my general gaming experience was going to go with a Ratchet and Clank game since at the time (and we're talking about late 2014) I had never played a single Ratchet and Clank game before in my life. I know, when you experience some things in life similar to the way I have you would know why there would be such a huge time gap in between playing video games. To my pleasant surprise, it wouldn't take long for me to realize what exactly I was missing when it comes to a game like this.

In the overall scope of things, I absolutely love the gameplay mechanics and the gameplay flow of Ratchet and Clank games. The transitions that you can make while in the heat of gameplay are seamless and the gadgets and weapons that you apply over the span of the game work together in harmony. Whatever you collect along the way on a planet or in a space station has some sort of purpose, and when you have a game that has items with purpose, then you will have me buying into your game.

Most of the gadgets and weapons that Ratchet, a Lombax (an intergalactic cat species of some sort), can use involve having to blow up stuff, and when you have a ton of things blowing up sky high, you will most likely have an explosive gameplay experience for all the right reasons. You have obstacles to overcome and you have bad guys to get past, so what's the best strategy to use in a Ratchet & Clank game? Blow everything up and ask questions later! Yeah, that is basically the gist of the situations that you will face in these games, but that is what makes these games fun.

Captain Qwark: The big silly fool who was once a space hero!

The Ratchet and Clank franchise was early on mainly known for its ridiculous sense of humor as the comedy spots in scenes were very prevalent. This was definitely the case in the original PS2 trilogy of the series, but as the series has continued on, it appears that the franchise has matured in many areas, taking itself a bit more seriously in comparison. Even so, we can't forget about the antics that involve a formerly unquestioned space hero in Captain Qwark, the kind of character that you think you have dealt with for the last time, and then you realize he somehow comes back to deliver more nonsense.

In the first Ratchet & Clank game, Ratchet and Clank themselves are enamored by the success of Captain Qwark as they were initially big fans of the guy. They wanted to meet him and interact with him, but of course, some things got in the way of that. After some adventuring and discovering some revealing plot twists, it becomes apparent that Captain Qwark grew jealous of Ratchet's and Clank's success as a duo. To make matters worse, Captain Qwark ended up helping Drek in attempting to blow up Ratchet's home planet of Veldin. After his initial defeat, Captain Qwark was sent to prison, but he ended up breaking free for no good reason at all. He reappeared as the main villain in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando but in the stealthiest way imaginable. He disguised himself as Mr. Fizwidget to gain access to the Megacorp headquarters so that he could take control of the protopet situation. This plan of his obviously backfired.

Of course, Qwark reappeared again in Ratchet & Clank 3 where the heroes realized that Qwark had somehow lost his memory and had the belief that he was a jungle warrior of some sort. Ratchet and Clank rescued Qwark from himself and took him back to the Starship Phoenix where he would have his memory restored. Finally putting his grudges against Ratchet aside, Qwark would work alongside Ratchet in taking down the mischievous Dr. Nefarious and destroying the Biobliterator. Captain Qwark redeemed himself as a hero with this act of teamwork.

One of the burning questions about this franchise over the years has been "Is this a Platformer game series?" Technically, the answer would be no but with an asterisk. Let me explain. The Ratchet & Clank franchise has always been about pushing the limits of the normal Platforming genre of gaming, and Insomniac Games have admitted it themselves that they like to experiment with Shooter genre elements. It's very obvious how the game mechanics of Ratchet & Clank get their inspirations from. There are definitely Platforming elements that are noteworthy, but the bread and butter of gameplay here would be the weapons that Ratchet takes with him to battle. Aside from having a long wrench to whack enemies with, Ratchet has a wide variety of guns he can bust out at any given time and destroy enemies with.

Ratchet & Clank games have from time to time strayed away significantly from just solely being of the Platforming genre and it shows. Without buying any weapons from the vendors, you will most likely not advance past the 1st planet of the game. This is a game series that marches to the beat of its own drum, and this is the kind of concept that I love for any game game series to adopt.

Angela Cross: It would be wise to bring her back
There are plenty of characters to talk about in the Ratchet & Clank franchise, some of which are deeply beloved by gamers, but there is one character I would like to talk about here. I mentioned this in my entry titled "Gaming Industry: 2014 Year In Review" but I honestly believe that it would be a wise move for Insomniac Games to bring back Angela Cross, the female Lombax who started out as the Mysterious Thief in Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando but ended up helping Ratchet and Clank. When you talk about a character that has so much potential that it can become a mainstay playable character in games, then you should be able to mention Angela Cross as being at the top of that list.

The exchange in dialogue between Ratchet and Angela flowed so well and if only Insomniac Games were to keep Angela in the mix I believe that Ratchet and Angela would have been able to develop a stronger friendly bond between them. Let's not even factor in romance here, but just the idea of working together as a dynamic duo plus Clank is very appealing to a game writer like me. You expand the possibilities of gameplay if you allow gamers to control Angela Cross similar to the way they already control Ratchet, but with a few tweaks, of course. Insomniac could give Angela her own distinct physical moves and abilities that make her different than Ratchet and she could be allowed to carry Clank on her back instead of Ratchet for some missions.

Angela was briefly mentioned in Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus but it was part of a humorous news report that had no direct impact on the game. It remains to be seen if Insomniac will give characters like Angela another chance in rising to the occasion in gameplay.

R&C Reboot: This could go either way
Now let's talk about something that's on the horizon for the Ratchet & Clank franchise. A new movie is scheduled to debut in theaters sometime in 2015 (at least from the latest reports I have received) and this new movie is supposed to be a re-imagining of the original Ratchet & Clank game. On top of this the Ratchet & Clank franchise has been said to be going through some sort of rebooting process, to the extent where the original games are going to be viewed differently. This new game is said to be a different interpretation of the first Ratchet & Clank game, just like the new movie.

In the case of this franchise, I honestly believe this reboot idea could go either way. It will really depend on how well Insomniac Games handles this rebooting process because if they don't handle this well enough and there are enough banana peel slips, then I don't think we are going to have many happy gamers on hand, especially not many happy Ratchet & Clank fans. I am generally weary and cautious of any gaming franchise attempting a reboot because I am of the belief that only more harm can come from a reboot than good. When a game development company is stuck on what they should do to move a franchise forward and when they feel like they are running out of ideas for a certain game franchise, it's very easy for them to quickly snap their fingers and resort to rebooting that franchise. However, is this always a good idea exactly?

I am not of that mindset. I do understand why game developers reboot some franchises because in their view they are trying to extend the lives of those franchises and their content. I understand that view but I am overall not a fan of that view. Especially when you are conducting a complete overhaul of a franchise, as in a hard reboot where everything about the original series gets wiped out and you paint on a blank canvas again, you definitely run the risk of making long time fans of the original series angry. You are basically telling the fans that got you to where you are today that everything they experienced back then no longer matters and will never matter again. I can't support that kind of message.

No matter what kind of reboot the Ratchet & Clank franchise will have, it's essential for Insomniac Games to know what they are doing with this rebooting process and to not break what didn't need to be fixed in the first place. The last couple Ratchet & Clank games may not have been as solid as the previous titles but depending on who you ask, it doesn't feel like the original series didn't get so stale that there was this huge need for a reboot. Of course, Sony is the one pulling the trigger and ordering the code red at the end of the day as to what happens to a franchise like Ratchet & Clank, and clearly the new movie will play a role in this.

You might want to get out of Ratchet's way...

In the overall history of gaming, the Ratchet & Clank franchise has certainly left its mark on the Video Game Industry and it was hard to miss any of these games when they were competing straight up against the likes of Naughty Dog and their breakout franchise in Jak & Daxter. A funny truth about this Ratchet & Clank/Jak & Daxter rivalry would be the fact that both Insomniac Games and Naughty Dog actually shared an office building together where Insomniac would be in one half of the building and Naughty Dog would be in the other half.

Ratchet and Clank as characters are certainly recognizable and influential. They are both hilarious with their dialogue (although I am not a fan of every kind of comedy they use) and they come across as genuinely friendly. These are just two dudes who want to hang out with folks and don't want to stir the pot, so to speak. It's only when stuff happens to them, like to Clank's robotic body or to Ratchet's home planet, that they have to take things seriously. Let's hope that there will be more creativity from this franchise soon.

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