Two Crude Dudes: A Ratchet & Clank Compendium

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,

Ratchet and Clank’s 20th anniversary is coming up — to celebrate Insomniac’s iconic PlayStation series, we’re looking back on 20 years of Ratchet and Clank games, from the PS2 original all the way to the PS5’s Rift Apart.

The Ratchet and Clank series has been a mainstay of the PlayStation brand for nearly twenty years now, with games stretching across four generations of Sony consoles (six if you count handhelds). During that time, the Lombax-Zoni duo have tried on different genres, crossed over with Jak and Daxter, Bomberman, Fall Guys — they even had a movie back in 2016. With the series' popularity as strong as ever, we think Insomniac Games’ series has easily earned its own Ratchet and Clank retrospective.

ratchet carousel upscaledThe three degrees of Lombax rage.

Ratchet and Clank Origins — making good on Spyro the Dragon's success

Ratchet and Clank was born out of indecision. After finishing three Spyro the Dragon games, developer Insomniac Games needed to find a new project. The team knew that the PS2 would be its console of choice, but the studio just couldn't get the creative cogs turning. Insomniac knew that it would have to push the limits of the PS2 hardware and produce a showpiece game that players would want to show off to their mates — no small feat, even back then.

To start the process of moulding a game that could achieve this, Brian Hasting — chief creative officer at the studio — reportedly had a very simple idea: "an alien that travels from planet to planet, collecting weapons and gadgets." Ted Price, CEO of Insomniac, named the alien a Lombax, and so began the life of Ratchet. Clank was his little robotic 'buddy-cop,' designed to be his equal and drive gameplay forward in line with that initial seed of an idea.

The Original Saga

The concept of a buddy cop team took root with Insomniac and eventually sprouted into the first Ratchet & Clank game. Released in 2002 on PS2, it was the beginning of what is now dubbed 'The Original Trilogy.' Ratchet and Clank burst onto the series with an array of memorable characters, bombastic guns, and exotic games that would go hand-in-hand with the title's inventive, ambitious space-trekking level design across the Solana Galaxy.

The major strands of the series' DNA — explosive gunplay, explorative 3D platforming, and a sarky, comedic tone — were delivered alongside the unrefined Big Bad in Chairman Drek. However, it was the secondary antagonist who would become a fan-favourite and, eventually, a hero of the franchise: Captain Qwark. The space battles and hoverbike racing provided diversions from that core gameplay loop of shooting cool artillery and collecting bolts. The game was widely regarded as one of the best PS2 platformers, with our community poll declaring it the second best in the series with 15.7% of the vote.

The Hardest Platinum — Ratchet & Clank
The platinum trophies across the Ratchet and Clank series are relatively easy, leaving you to grind out bolts by the end of your time with a list. So, what makes it tough despite 41% of you having earned the Ratchet & Clank remaster platinum on PS3? Well, it was the fiddly controls that seemed to cause the most trouble. On Vita, there is a lower 21% plat rate, as apparently having to strafe or perform tricks on your hoverboard with the rear touch pad in order to earn a skill point (while going for the Super Skilled trophy) drove many a trophy hunter insane. Also, the limited health increased the general difficulty level of the game. However, even as the hardest platinum in the series, it shouldn’t provide too much trouble!
The developers still wanted to improve on their work and address feedback regarding the game's characterisation. In the words of the Future series game writer, T.J. Fixman, at an amazing "15 Years of Ratchet & Clank: A Lombax Story" GDC presentation: "I remember how in the during the first game ratchet was kind of a sarcastic jerk." The result was our fourth-ranked game: Going Commando, released in 2003 (known as Locked and Loaded elsewhere).

First, there were quality-of-life updates to the platforming components of the game. Secondly, by introducing gun levelling with new abilities and statistics, some of the core R&C USPs became heavily integrated into the player progression of Going Commando. Small additions, like strafing, helped keep gameplay fluid. Going Commando also began a long-standing tradition of hilariously dirty game titles (at least in the US). R&C was now really finding its feet and Insomniac was smartly pushing the series in a direction that made the experience deeper, rather than pushing for a straight repetitive sequel.

Dirtiest Title — Going Commando
Listen; I know we all wanted it to be Up Your Arsenal. However, I posit you one question — what other title made you think about what might be lurking underneath Ratchet’s onesie? Maybe I’m going too deep, but I just can't undo this one. I'm now endlessly haunted with thoughts about the potential forms of the nether region of a digital fictional creature. Maybe a quick Google search with the SafeSearch turned off will help clear the air...
The game that followed in 2004 was Up Your Arsenal (simply titled Ratchet and Clank 3 elsewhere), which was the third most popular within the TT community. The baddest bad guy that ever did be bad in the universe was introduced: Dr Nefarious. With his aubergine-shaped head, the robot monologues about wiping out all biological life in the universe. This game introduced the now much-missed multiplayer. Up Your Arsenal held its ground as a staple game in the series and refined the R&C formula to a refined tip of the OmniWrench.

The Best Gadget — Tyhrra-Guise
What could be more useful than a gadget that turns you into a Tyhrranoid that might mistakenly insult the dignity of an alien's sister? Nothing. That is why it is the best gadget.
A smaller mainline offering was released in 2005, called Deadlocked, that placed sixth in our poll (called Gladiator outside the US). Surprising, considering that Insomniac had a really bad reception to the game internally and used that feedback to fuel a new direction for the series. Inspired by Halo and with a keen eye for the combat, Insomniac downsized the fourth game entry in the series to try and find a new avenue of success. Fewer weapons were offered but each used an Alpha and Omega mode with differing abilities to offset the smaller arsenal. The DreadZone might still invoke a little fear in some fans, as it is where our buddy-cop duo split and Ratchet was forced to scrap for his life. Clank was left unplayable in single-player, but there was a co-op mode for the first time in the series that allowed him to be used.

The Easiest Platinum — Deadlocked
Short and sweet platinum for a short and sweet game. 51% of TT players have the trophy for collecting stuff, upgrading stuff, and fighting stuff. Welcome to R&C 101, trophy hunters.

The Future Saga

Moving over to PS3, Insomniac was juggling a few different projects. Resistance was their first PS3 game and helped the studio learn the PS3 architecture. The information was then passed over to the Ratchet team who were working on the first of the Future Saga: Tools of Destruction. Seventh-ranked in our poll, Tools of Destruction was a big and refined entry for the series. On the back-end, it was a full reboot with a new engine. On the front-end, it felt like a return to classic Ratchet & Clank in the new era. Weird weapons — the Groovitron makes everyone boogie, baby — and that perfect mix of platforming, upgrade systems, and fun buddy-cop story were nailed down. However, they did cut content to make their perfect game. Multiplayer? Gone. Co-op? Cut for time. Races and space battles? No-shows. Instead, high-quality cutscenes and better in-game animation were paired with the more comprehensive story — thunk up by lead writer, TJ Fixman — that explored the backstory of our two leads. It left on a cliffhanger which irritated some players, but the step-up in quality was noticeable.

Some of the content cut from Tools of Destruction coalesced into 2008's Quest for Booty, which is tied 8th in our poll. Now, I don't mean to brag, but it received one vote: from me. I did that. Pirates rule. A smaller entry into The Future Saga, the game was an experimental mix of off-shoot components of the series. It returned to the story left precipitously dangling from the cliff, primarily using one of the antagonists defeated in Tools of Destruction, Captain Romulus Slag. The game is three to four hours long but is a neat little parcel with extra puzzles and branching dialogue. Quest for Booty is that little golden doubloon (or golden bolt, I suppose) of the series, a nice pick-up that gives you R&C wealth in a tiny form. Although in fairness, the story still leaves you hanging from a cliff: you just have a better handhold this time.

The Most Piratey Game (The Kes Special Award, brought to you by Alexandre Exquemelin’s The Buccaneers of America) — Quest for Booty
It has some space pirates and is set in a space-Caribbean. There is Captain Angstrom Darkwater who was mutinied by Rusty Pete/Captain Romulus Stag. There are pirate fleets in the Azorean Sea and Ratchet and Clank are marooned on Hoolefar Island. There are ghost crews and pirate tombs. Congratulations, Quest for Booty: you receive a very specific award designed specifically for you by a guy who has strong internal thematic biases.
In 2009, A Crack in Time released. Even as the fifth most popular of the series on TT, the game was something on a new level. The designers have described it as their peak. Naturally, all the core materials that made R&C tick were there, but so was everything else. The space flight, more planets, and battles all over the gaff. The guns were tight to control but still wild and adventurous. Captain Qwark was there, too. Spoiler: Nefarious was killed. I don't think it is unfair to liken this game to the Super Mario 64 style of transition, with the new freer-flowing open-world elements and the optional moons and... well, you know, it was all just wonderful. Let's not forget the Hoverboots, either! They were cooler than the Back to the Future 2 hoverboard, that's for sure. The story was designed to be a bit of an endcap to prevent the series from fatiguing, but the game did so well financially that a sequel became an inevitability of market gains.

The Best Gun — Mr Zurkon
The freaky synthezoid first made an appearance as a weapon in A Crack in Time, but was in Tools of Destruction as a device. Mad props to the funky Groovitron, the aesthetically pleasing Pixelizer, and the Welsh weapon-of-choice: the Sheepinator… ooh, and the Tie-a-Rang and the ever-present RYNO. But, ultimately, we all know it’s Mr Zurkon. The dastardly devil will spill out the worst jokes to destroy the enemies confidence before mopping up their melted souls with his laser. Sometimes, when upgraded, Zurkon Jr. would be around for the fight!
Next, we got Into the Nexus, a game tied with Quest for Booty in 8th. I didn't do that this time, so one of you did. This game came after a few other side-entries, which we will get onto in due course, and had seen series fatigue creep in, set itself, and fester. Six games were made in the PS3 era, and though Into the Nexus was a shorter, more traditional Ratchet game, it struggled to make an impact with the amount of mileage the series had seen. However, the strange planets and locations were back, along with some gravity-orientated gameplay mechanics. The story was an epilogue to A Crack in Time and was much darker than one might have anticipated. The music, which has thus far been left unmentioned, carried a sense of downbeat scope to Into the Nexus. The classic dramatic strings flared and the horns added gravitas to pretty much every moment. Kudos to composer Michael Bross who picked up the reins from long-time R&C composer David Bergeaud.

The Music Award — David Bergeaud
For six years, Bergeaud created the sound of R&C. The soundtrack picks of Zeldrin Starport, Zygan System, the Quest for Booty title screen, and Gemlik Base are all superb. The Future trilogy stuff is great, too. But, Bergeaud’s music was so instilled in the spacefaring and gunfights that his musical voice still lives and breathes with every moment of R&C played. That is no mean feat.
The Future Saga is magnificent for all of its weirdness. The series was operating at its most idiosyncratic: wild ideas combined with the old roots of the series in a new era that has the capacity for HD graphics, better animations, and more detailed worlds. The weapons and gadgets remained terrific, as did the locations. The stories were fun, with enough seriousness to not begin floating into pop-up book territory. Our community member, Prem-aka-Price, had a lot to say having platinumed most of the games. Their words offer a perfect endcap to this part of the franchise.

The Spin-offs

Ratchet & Clank has a habit of popping out spin-offs every few years. Faux-cute graphics made the IP easily marketable to a wide audience, while the fun potential of switching up the gameplay mechanics and having an entire universe to explore allowed for branching R&C material. While Deadlocked and Quest for Booty are smaller games that could be categorised like this, they have a story attached to the main canon and are built on the same gun-toting platforming mechanics of the trilogies. However, Size Matters was released for the PSP in 2002 and the PS2 in 2008 and is tied in 8th position in our TT poll with Quest for Booty and Into The Nexus. High Impact Games made Size Matters (a studio made up of former Insomniac employees) and this game really is a traditional Ratchet game wrenched and bolted into a portable form. The gameplay remains much the same, but collectable armour pieces made an entry onto the scene. Very cool.

Most Underrated — Size Matters
It was R&C on PSP. It received great reviews on the portable but its reputation got a little tarnished because of its PS2 release. Nonetheless, it was a proper Ratchet game on a PSP. It was underrated and under-sized, and that really does matter.
Size Matters also had some cross-save functionality with a game released in 2008 on PSP and in 2009 on PS2: Secret Agent Clank. The James Bond spoof has our little robot strike out on his own wearing nought but a bow tie (that turns into a boomerang). All the reviews say that this was a middling title, offering Clank an expanded play style from his usual role as the king of puzzle-platforming sections. Ratchet and Captain Qwark did feature for small portions. Qwark's dubious self-narrated adventures were certainly a highlight. No votes were cast for the game, so it seems like there wasn't much love for it at the top end of the series.

The really crazy stuff began with the four-player co-op experience All 4 One that was released in 2011. While generally regarded as a slump for the series, the unique platforming sections have each player take control of any of Ratchet, Clank, Captain Qwark, and Dr Nefarious. A great laugh with friends and the new isometric design was novel. The game was easier and much more inclusive for all ages — which isn't inherently bad, but it was certainly a deviation for the series and a step backwards for long-time fans.

The Nearly-Dirtiest Title — Ratchet & Clank: 4 Play
It’s actually just too good. Seriously, for arguably one of the most kid-friendly games: just a filth title. It is a real shame that someone in marketing had to be sensible the day this was suggested.
The 2012 release of Full Frontal Assault (QForce outside the NA region) mixed the R&C formula with tower defence mechanics. It was an easy title and a pretty fascinating concept. However, the dilution of the mainline series was an unavoidable part of the legacy of Full Frontal Assault and it never managed to tread water with fans or critics... nay, wait! A fan returns to the fray in defence of this helpless rascal!

(There were also some mobile games but nobody cares.)

The Remake

The remake of the first game really caught the attention of our audience. Ratchet & Clank (2016) sailed in at number one in the poll. Ratchet & Clank made the right changes while keeping the beating robotic-Lombax heart intact. Gone was dickish Ratchet and in came an altogether sweeter union between the buddy-cop duo. A film released around the same time, so the game is a remake of a game that is also a movie adaptation, but feel free to skip it. The original cast of weapons received upgrades and additions. The Pixelizer, for example, turns your foes into 8-bit renditions of themselves that then crumble into blocky ash. Horrifying for them, but very cool for us. Things that had become an integral part of how the series moves and feels over the years — like sharp strafing, interesting platforming, and weapon/gadget upgrade systems — were at their very best. The game retained a linear structure at times, which did dampen the fun for some who were used to the vast worlds that were made possible on PS4. In any case, it is a quality reimagining of an age-old game.

The Best Planet — Kerwan in R&C
Palm trees and skyscrapers and vibes. Kerwan is the most recognisable R&C planet for a reason. It feels purpose-built for all the identifying factors that make the series great: zany art style, wild level design, satisfying platforming, and great shooting sections. Shout out to HotCrossGamer for their passionate video essay about all the planets.

The Trophy Cabinet for Eligible Games

Least Earned = A Moment of Reflection (17%)
Best Trophy Name = 4 Play
Minimum Bolts Collected to get all Platinums = 20,000,000
Total Series Trophies = 356
Total Series Time to Platinum = 1 week, 7 hours - 1 week, 2 days, and 4 hours
The Series Platinum: Average Percentage = 37.67%

Conclusion

What a journey you and I have been on, dear reader. We have travelled through time: four generations of hardware, a few handheld devices, originals, futures, and reimaginings. For some, Ratchet and Clank have been steadfast friends since 2002. Through thick and thin, through ups and downs, through space and time. For others, it began with a tower defence game. Unless it was on mobile, it doesn't really matter where you began: these two buddies have been a staple of our PlayStation gaming journey so far. They are ready to adventure right now, and will be again in the future!

I hope you enjoyed all of this. This took a lot of work, so get involved in the comments to talk about if this article worked, if you would like to see it adjusted in any way, and what future series we can do it for!
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Associate Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation news. He writes about upcoming exclusives like The Last of Us and God of War, PS Plus and PS Studios news, and his favourite games — The Witcher 3, Assassin’s Creed, and The Outer Wilds — before an evening swim.