Mike Diver and Emma Quinlan have both been playing the new Ratchet & Clank, on PlayStation 4. It's a reimagining of the first title in the Insomniac Games-created series, released in 2002 for the PlayStation 2, and also ties into the imminent arrival of the debut movie to star the space-traveling Lombax and his robot friend, in cinemas at the end of April. It's also really, really good. The game, that is. The film? Who can say? Anyway, here's Mike and Emma chatting about one of the year's best video games, so far.
Mike Diver: Hey, Emma. How much of the game have you seen, so far? I'm quite near the end, and I'm completely surprised by just how much I've loved the experience. I appreciate that video games have changed in many ways since the first Ratchet & Clank came out in 2002, that the ways in which we use the interactive medium to tell stories and stir emotions has come on leaps and bounds. But, you know, some days all I want to do is smash crates with a wrench and splat gooey enemies in the sewers of a fantastical sci-fi city. And this new R&C totally delivers those more, I suppose, base thrills, albeit in a way that feels very now in terms of how it's presented, its packaging. Basically, it looks and sounds amazing. What are your first impressions of the game?
Emma Quinlan: I've played four or five hours so far, and I love it. I certainly know what you mean about wanting to just hit things with a wrench. That we have such expensive worlds and rich, thought-provoking stories in video games now is awesome; but sometimes you do just want to have some fun, as well as a few laughs. And this game has certainly given a lot of that, me so far.
It does look and sound great, but what I most like about it is how they've stuck to the roots of the original game, while also revamping it. For example, the way the story is told in this one is great, as are the new weapons. It's a fine reboot and I sincerely hope that in the future, a few more classic platformers will get the same sterling treatment that this has.
MD: You mention how they've stuck to the original game's roots, and I see that. But what I like about this R&C is how it stirs nostalgia without being a slave to it. Someone in game development tweeted me the other day, Moo Yu, one of the people making Knights & Bikes, and said how it "matches my memory rather than the reality I experienced," and that it was "nostalgia in the best way," and I totally agree. It's like Insomniac themselves have thought about what player's takeaway impressions of those earlier games was like, unlimited by the technology of the time. Which I think is probably why this game is so eye-popping, because it completely has to live up to those images you keep in your long-term mind's eye.
"Retro gaming" is such a stupid sector of the industry for the most part, with recycled tech given new skins—see that Spectrum handheld—and people charging extortionate prices for old games because grown adults with a little paper in their purses suddenly want to regress to being 11 again. But this R&C achieves nostalgia without pandering to restriction, without going down the throwback art route, or relying too heavily on fourth-wall breaking winks and nudges—although I accept it does have its share. Already, this is a game that both myself and my five-year-old son can enjoy together, albeit him on easy mode, because it's a bit tough sometimes, eh?
How do you feel about its realizing of these quite intangible memories, and what precedent it really might strike for other studios to follow, in bringing back old franchises and IPs?
EQ: I see what you mean. It's not so nostalgic that it's a complete redo of the original, but rather it feels like a game that celebrates what makes the franchise as a whole so enjoyable. I've played three Ratchet & Clank games in my life and it does feel like the experience I had with all of them, especially Tools of Destruction; but it also feels new and fresh, which is why I'm so drawn to it. They've not charged money for an old game with a paint job, which is what many do now, and I agree that that aspect of retro gaming does suck sometimes.
While playing I certainly thought about how my little cousin, who's eight, would love to play this just as much as I am. But yes, on easy, as it's not a game you can just jump blindly into. As soon as I started playing though, I knew the controls immediately. It was like I'd never left the game, which is an amazing considering I haven't played an R&C title in about seven or eight years.
As for its precedent in bringing back old franchises, I think this R&C should be held up as an example of how you should bring old games and characters back into the current gaming fold. I think this game also shows that the 3D platformer genre, a genre which I grew up with and one that I think is sorely missed right now, still has relevance—but you need to do it right. Imagine if Crash Bandicoot got the same treatment as this, or Jak and Daxter. It'd be amazing, and they would sell.
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MD: I think it definitely opens the possibilities of more publishers looking at their 3D platformed IPs of old—Crash Bandicoot is a good example, as we've not had one since 2008—and reviving them. Perhaps there's been the thinking in recent years, certainly in this console generation, that platformers are the preserve of Nintendo, that they're "kids games." R&C disproves this, completely.
You mention there's freshness to this experience versus previous ones—what elements, exactly, stand out for you that, in the contemporary market, might qualify as USPs for this new R&C? I love the zesty dialogue, the self-referential humor—it almost has that Pixar thing going on, of being for parents and their children, simultaneously. Albeit mercifully without the awful puns of previous games, for the most part.
EQ: Absolutely. Just look at some of the jokes in Ratchet & Clank for example, such as the references to "herbal remedies." A kid wouldn't, or shouldn't, know what that means, and so it gives older players their own things to laugh at. Like it reminds you of Pixar, it reminds me of The Simpsons: a bit tongue in cheek, although not to the cartoon's extent. I think there's an adult and kid crossover market for these games definitely, but through new reimaginations like this, not just a $10 PSN game that lets you go back to being 12 for a while.
MD: Also, R&C seems to have flown mostly under the radar in Sony's Big New Shiny Things For 2016 plans, going into the year. I didn't really know much about it until I played some preview code in March, and loved it. Do you reckon Sony have another semi-sleeper hit on their hands? It's a little reminiscent of Until Dawn—I don't think the powers that be at PlayStation really appreciated what they had until after the game was out, and that window for publicity, for pre-release hype, had all but closed.
EQ: I think this will be a word of mouth game, with news spreading fast about it when it comes out. The reviews have been hugely positive and with the price tag not being on the steep side, I think PlayStation have a big hit on their hands.
The humor is certainly a big pull for it, because that's something I think many modern games lack. I really like the weapon leveling system and I can't wait to get my hands on this Pixelizer I've heard about, which changes enemies into pixels. That sounds awesome. In general, I like that it doesn't take itself too seriously, which I think platformers when I was growing up were really good it. It is just straight-up fun, with an easy plot line, easy controls, silly weapons, and it's not trying to convey a message or make a statement about anything. It's just fun.
MD: The Pixelizer has become my close-quarters weapon of choice, hitting the game's final stages. The humor and inventiveness in the game's arsenal is second to none, and while a small aspect of the overall "package," it serves as a compact illustration, a crystallizing of the attention to detail that Insomniac's put into this. And that they're charging a "cheaper" RRP than usual for it is such a bonus—it's under £30 [$43] on Amazon, which seems ridiculous when you compare the richness of this against so many other, premium-priced alternatives.
EQ: It sounds awesome, I can't wait to use it. It seems like they've also listened to what the fans want as well, with weapons such as the (enemies-hypnotizing disco ball) Groovitron making their way back into the fold, a weapon I adored in Tools of Destruction. I think the price tag is a really reasonable: it's not a completely new game, but it's expansive enough to warrant a decent enough price tag, which I think 30 quid is.
MD: And on that "richness," the variety of the worlds you visit is genuinely astounding. Okay, so they confirm to long-established game clichés—here's a volcanic world, here's a watery one; here's the Star Wars-style megalopolis that's stretched across an entire planet. What scenes have struck you so far, in your play through? Going outside in space, with Clank, was one time I stopped and just drank in what was on the screen. One of many, to be honest. It's a screenshot sharer's delight. I'm not sure there are many better-looking games on the PS4 right now.
EQ: The ones that have stuck in my head are being on the train and when shooting down the ship near the Hall of Heroes. The gameplay for both scenes were great, and the metropolis scenery around me was gorgeous. The sound is also great. I like how the music adapts to the situations you're in, the upbeat and harsher tones of battle really adding to the whole experience. And I agree, I don't think the PS4 has a better looking game, or the Xbox One for that matter. But it also has substance—the game's prettiness lures you in, but the awesome gameplay keeps you playing.
MD: Any final, summarizing thoughts on the game? I mean, this is going to be right up there with 2016's best, isn't it? That's not just Old People Getting Misty Eyed, is it? Because I am one of those. But I think it's great game for the here and now, too. And I really want to get back on it, ASAP, so if we could just go ahead and wrap up this conversation, that'd be great.
EQ: So far, my PS4 has provided me with my two favorite games of the year: this and Firewatch. It's a genuinely wonderful game in its own right and while, yes, it has some great nostalgic merit, you certainly don't need to be an old fan to enjoy this. I can't wait to get back onto it. It's one of those games that you can finish in a few days because it's just too good to put down. Take note other developers: this is how you make old franchises not just relevant, but great again.
Ratchet & Clank is released for PlayStation 4 on April 22. Find more information at the game's official website.