Before it made Peter Parker and Miles Morales swing, Insomniac Games was best known for blowing things up in the most spectacular way possible.
Since the debut of their eponymous series on PlayStation 2 back in 2002, Ratchet and Clank become the unofficial mascots of Sony’s gaming console, with an arsenal of cataclysmic weaponry that makes Iron Man’s arsenal look like a Build-a-Bear workshop. Do you want to bombard your enemies into oblivion with hilariously oversized rocket launchers? Do you want zany and creative concoctions that will do anything from turning your enemies into pixels or literal ducks? Of course you do — that’s why Ratchet & Clank rules.
The latest entry in the series, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, is set to launch for PlayStation 5 on June 11, and is widely expected to be one of the console’s best exclusives yet. That means there’s no better time to look back on the highs and lows of the entire series — let’s dive in.
Yes, it’s a mobile game. Not a modern mobile game either (which unfairly get a bad rap due to their “casual” nature), but a relic of a bygone era. Ratchet & Clank: Going Mobile is an unremarkable reminder of the time before smartphones, with very little to make it truly stand out.
It’s best described as a low-end Game Boy Advance game, one that even the most diehard of Ratchet & Clank fans likely skipped out on.
Another mobile game! But instead of suffering from primitive hardware, this one fell short by being derivative. Serving as a promotional tie-in for the soon-to-be-released Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus, Before the Nexus was an endless runner with the franchise’s personality sprinkled on top of it. This simple game isn’t anything remarkable, but it was certainly playable and did its job. We’ve all fallen for an endless runner before (I’m looking at you, Temple Run) and this worked as a decent-enough diversion to get you through that Monday morning commute.
Compared to where the series is headed now, most fans would shudder to remember the days of Full Frontal Assault on PS3 and Vita. This was a time of identity crisis for the franchise; there was a movie being made that felt 15 years too late, a co-op multiplayer game, and this bizarre tower defense escapade.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with tower defense, but it felt like a gameplay change that was made just for change sake. It’s not a game that will insult you, but it will depress; you’ll lovingly caress the old photos of previous Ratchet & Clank games — longing for the good times that have now passed.
Aside from its giggle-worthy title, this entry is perhaps the greatest example of filler that the franchise has to offer. It takes place after the story of Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, which ended with Clank vanishing with no trace. Naturally, Ratchet was very sad and set out to find him. The game was essentially a small, free PS3 DLC to tide fans over until the proper sequel came out, and it shows. The pirate theme was definitely cool (I, for one, think fictional pirates are lovely), but there were hardly any new weapons and it was far too short.
Ratchet: Deadlocked was basically the Michael Bay of the series: explosive, otherworldly action that lacks the personality and heart of truly great storytelling. Deadlocked essentially took Clank out of the equation, focusing on Ratchet’s attempt to win a reality competition show after being taken captive in the dark sector of the galaxy. The action and controls work fairly well, but the game removes the exploration and adventure of previous games. Plus, unforgivably, there are only 10 weapons to unlock and each of them (with the exception of the absurd “Scorpion Flail” melee-based weapon and the “Harbinger” ultimate weapon) felt painfully generic by the series standards.
Key art from Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One.Insomniac Games
I feel bad for this one. Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One works just fine as a co-op game to enjoy with your buddies, but compared to the absolute dynamite release of the previous series entry, A Crack in Time, fans were understandably disappointed. The concept feels like an obvious attempt to cash in on the multiplayer mania that swept the industry in the early 2010s.
One might imagine this was how Banjo-Kazooie fans felt when the series shifted to being a vehicle-construction game, Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, instead of the hall-of-fame caliber platforming of the previous two games.
Into the Nexus feels like an apology letter. Did it get the job done? Sure! But a lot of that satisfaction stems from simply being better than the past missteps of All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault. This return to the series’ single-player platforming roots also features some clever weapons and new gadgets to spice things up. Unfortunately, the game ends abruptly right when things are getting really interesting and the art style just felt…off; it seemed like it was stuck somewhere between Pixar movie quality and Rolie Polie Olie quality. There’s some polish missing, and considering how short it is — and that it was released towards the end of the Playstation 3’s life cycle — it comes off as a game that didn’t have its A-team in charge of.
Back at it with the cheesy titles! Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters a solid PSP game, and it’s place on Sony’s neglected handheld excuses some of its more glaring faults. The controls were lacking and the weapons weren’t particularly memorable — except for the “Laser Tracer”, which feels like the Kamehameha, if it were a gun.
Memorable levels involving dream sequences and Ratchet clones and a unique armor customization system help Size Matters stand out among the rest. There’s also an unshakeable truth that simply playing a Ratchet & Clank adventure on the go was pretty rad.
Ratchet gazes upward in the 2016 remake of Ratchet & Clank.Insomniac Games
The Ratchet & Clank PS4 reboot is the trickiest in the series to discuss. On one hand, its gameplay and visuals are genuinely breathtaking. There’s something magical about revisiting levels of the original game so many years later. Plus, getting to use a bunch of fan-favorite weapons spanning the franchise’s history is a blast.
On the other hand, a lot of the spunk of the original gets left by the wayside. The story isn’t nearly as unique or funny as a result of a shift to more family-friendly fare. Perhaps this sentiment is shared more by longtime fans with their nostalgia goggles strapped on too tight, but something feels lost in translation here. The game is certainly good, but it’s hard to ignore the jarring change in tone from the early entries and the watered-down feel of it all.
Another PSP game, Secret Agent Clank oozes a unique style compared to the rest of the series. You play as Clank to clear Ratchet’s name of a crime he didn’t commit, with all the gizmos and attitude the spy genre is known for. Aside from its style, the greatest strength of Secret Agent Clank is the staggering gameplay variety.
The majority of time is spent navigating Clank through an action-platformer with stealth components, but Secret Agent Clank also features arena battles with Ratchet defending himself from criminals in prison, sing-a-long brawls with Captain Qwark (you read that right), and even some puzzle levels with Clank’s trusty Gadgebots. The novelty wears thin part of the way through, but boy is it fun while it lasts.
Back from the early days of the PlayStation 3, Tools of Destruction marked the beginning of a new era for Ratchet & Clank. While the departure from the grittier, more irreverent personality of the PlayStation 2 trilogy was unfortunate, it was still fun to play.
Fittingly, Tools of Destruction features a massive variety of weapons, like the “Razor Claws” that made you feel like Wolverine. This game also marks the introduction of fan-favorite “Mr. Zurkon,” a deadly robot ally that spouts cheesy one-liners as he aids you in combat. However, the weapon balance in Tools of Destruction can be frustrating — many of the weapons acquired early on start to feel genuinely useless the farther you get.
I dare anyone to find a better title for a sequel than Going Commando. Thankfully, the actual game itself lives up to it. Better weapons, better levels, and about 10,000 times better explosions, Going Commando is everything you’re supposed to do with a sequel. Introducing a weapon upgrade system and the ability to strafe while running sounds simple, but it did wonders. Add a memorable story that skewers corporate greed with the series’ trademark humor to the mix, and you’ve got yourself a winner.
The original Ratchet & Clank for PlayStation 2 shows its age nearly two decades later, to be sure. Yet its bare-bones structure still holds up. It’s a decent challenge, and the two protagonists disliking each other for much of the story makes their eventual lifelong friendship feel a lot more meaningful. Plus, it’s the uneasy relationship between the two that speaks to the more irreverent, gritty personality the series used to be more known for and it’s delightful.
The game that started it all is more of a platformer than third-person shooter in a lot ways (i.e. the weapons help, but if you stink there’s not necessarily an item you can fully rely on), which makes it perhaps the most unique entry in the series.
Time travel is an evergreen basis for a rollicking adventure, and A Crack in Time makes the most of the premise with brilliant results. The story feels like a grand event, acting as an unofficial end to an era for our duo. Sure, there are further adventures ahead for the duo, but the story for A Crack in Time felt the most important and consequential; if it had all ended here, there’d be nothing to complain about.
The core action-platforming gameplay shines here, with the most creative weapons in the series — there’s even one, the “Spiral of Death” that was the winner of a weapon design contest for fans. The Clank sections of the game also serve up some brilliant time puzzles that will stick in your memory long after you’ve figured them out.
The best of the best.Insomniac Games
Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal is a remarkable specimen. In certain aspects, it’s a lot less polished and adventurous than Going Commando, but it still plays like a dream. Up Your Arsenal delivers all the action of the series on steroids, bolstered by precision controls and levels that feel absolutely massive in scope — as though entire wars are being fought rather than just firefights. While the weapons aren’t necessarily as zany and creative as A Crack in Time, the combination of sheer variety and impeccable balance is divine perfection.
Other games in the series might be more technically impressive, but once you play Up Your Arsenal, you’ll be unable to go back. It’s pound-for-pound the most fun of the whole series — sometimes it’s just as simple as that.