Ratchet and Clank: A Retrospective Ramble

(This blog post is not a review of Ratchet and Clank for PS4. Unfortunately, I do not own a PS4… yet!)

On what was probably my seventh birthday, I was joyfully tearing into the presents in front of me, likely anticipating some PS2 game or another that had been on my radar for the past year. It was within one of these presents that the first Ratchet and Clank game resided, and to this day I still remember how I felt when I opened it.

“Oh… uh… thanks. This looks… cool.”

I’d never seen the game before in my life, and therefore didn’t hold much hope for it in secret. And of course, I was very wrong. The day I popped that disc into the PS2 marked the beginning of a long and satisfying relationship with the franchise from Insomniac, who ever so recently released a re-imagining of that very first game onto PS4.

The reviews have been excellent, earning mostly 9/10 ratings across the board and even succeeding that on certain occasions. It’s a very heartwarming feeling to see a franchise you’ve loved for so many years return to the spotlight, as even though there were some fantastic PS3 titles, none of them ever received quite the same attention as their PS2 predecessors, for whatever reason.

Ratchet and Clank 2 was my favourite game in the series, as it introduced the ability to upgrade all of your weapons once (and a subsequent two times in your second runthrough of the game). However, Ratchet and Clank 3 was objectively better, with more incremental upgrades and better level design. Ratchet: Gladiator (or Ratchet: Deadlocked as it’s known in the US) was a stray away from the norm, with more emphasis on the shooter side of the game and less on the platforming. When I was younger, I remember not liking this type of gameplay as much, but as I got older this quickly fell into line alongside my favourite Ratchet and Clank games in the series. This was also the last Ratchet and Clank title for the PS2, and the last one I’d play for years.

One of my vivid memories outside of the actual game regarding Ratchet and Clank was reading a pre-release review of the third game in a gaming magazine during a long car trip. The review showed some screenshots of the second level of the game, and I remember getting very, very excited. However, when I actually got my hands on the game myself, I couldn’t get past the last level. As somebody who had played the previous games many times over, this was a point of embarrassment for me, and it wasn’t until sometime after Gladiator released that I went back and finished it.

I didn’t own a PS3 until 2013. Having arrived late to the game (so to speak), many of the next-gen Ratchet and Clank titles had already been released, and indeed I bought the first 3 as soon as possible. To this day, I’ve still not beaten Tools of Destruction or even played Quest for Booty, though! This is partially due to the fact that those two games didn’t have achievements, and I’d already been sucked into collecting them at this point. It was also, however, due to the fact that A Crack in Time was almost on par with Ratchet and Clank 2 for my favourite in the entire series. I plan on replaying this sometime very soon, and look forward to having a great time doing so.

So what of the next 3 titles? Insomniac tried something different with All-4-One and Q-Force, trying out party-platforming and MOBA gameplay with the two games. I did try out Q-Force, but it didn’t quite stick with me the way previous titles had. Nexus, however, was a return to form, and remains to this day one of the only games I’ve ever pre-ordered. I cannot comment on it here, however, as I’ve only played the first level and a half or so before being distracted by PC gaming, for I’d sort of accidentally switched over to PC as my main gaming platform by that point. Worry not, Nexus, you’ve not been abandoned. I’ll return to you someday. I promise…

They also released HD remasters of the PS2 titles for PS3. I’ve played a fair amount of each (having 100% completed Ratchet and Clank 2), and unfortunately have to report that they are riddled with bugs. It doesn’t exactly detract from the overall enjoyment of the games, but it’s definitely an annoyance that one could live without. It’s also amusing to note that I’d 100% completed Ratchet and Clank 3 on PS2 sometime before the HD remasters were released, having decided to fully dominate this title which had caused me such trouble over a decade before.

So… there we have it. I’m aware that there wasn’t really any coherent line of thought in this blog post, and for that I apologise, but I’m currently knee-deep in dissertation… and I just had to say something about my love for the born-again franchise of my childhood. It’s great to see people experience this game again for the first time, and I’m curious to see how the movie will be.

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The Diversity We’ve Lost (Darksiders and the Gaming Industry)

Yesterday, my friend brought Darksiders 2 over for me to try out, thinking I’d like it. And he has good taste! It’s now on my to-buy list, after I play the first game. For me, the game hearkens back to the PS2 era, where games held more of a unique flare to them.

I only played the first few hours of Darksiders 2, but it was brilliant. That game is an intertextual haven for other genres, and it pulls it off flawlessly, without falling into the trap of trying to be too many things at once. It has the combat of Devil May Cry, the dungeons and lock-on combat of Legend of Zelda, the loot system of games like Dark Souls and Diablo; galloping through open fields and finding gigantic bosses is reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus. It even has a portal gun, if my friend is to be believed. And it does this all without feeling like it’s stealing from other games, or being unoriginal; it’s taking the best of other genres and blending them into the most delicious smoothie you’ve ever tasted. Unless you don’t like smoothies, in which case you’re like me, and we should head for the milkshakes immediately. And if you don’t like milkshake? Well, you’re beyond saving.

This game is more than just a love letter to the gaming universe, however. It has its own unique plot involving the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, multiple realms of existence connected through one world tree, that kind of thing. Similarly to its gameplay, its story takes influences from all kinds of places, whilst still making it unique. They have dwarves who are huge and built like tanks! Like I said, I only played around in the game for a few hours so I can’t exactly do a review on it as such, but even within the first few hours I was able to identify the game’s shining features.

And the art design! That is how you do art design. Not just the weapons you wield, but the very world around you is just delicious. From the vibrant green fields to the luminescent lava pools, this game will make your eyes pop out with happiness. And I was playing this on a PS3!

When I mentioned the PS2 era of gaming earlier, I was talking about how diverse the game library was for that system. Sure, you had your Need for Speeds and FIFAs, and Call of Duty was still making its baby steps towards competitive multiplayer… on console, anyway. But then you had Motor Mayhem. And Ratchet and Clank. You had Jak and Daxter transition into Jak 2 of all things, you had RC Revenge and Fur Fighters and Shadow of the Colossus, you had Wipeout and Smash Cars and you had god damn Road Trip Adventure, a game which I will surely cover in the future; it didn’t know whether to be Penny Racer or an RPG. And, hell, does anyone remember Herdy Gerdy?!

I’m not discounting the games we have today. Borderlands was a brilliant mesh of gaming genres. But it was an FPS. And in my eyes at least, Destiny is a different flavour of Borderlands, with a little bit of Halo mixed in there, asking me to buy ridiculous emotes as opposed to unnecessary character skins. And these games are all first person shooters. When I was a child, I used to read gaming magazines – my favourite was Games Master – and I used to enjoy reading through the many varieties of upcoming games that looked interesting and fun, and new. And I remember buying one of those gaming magazines for the first time since the 360 and PS3 came out, a few years after, and being disappointed that everything had descended into gritty shooters. Although the grittiness, to be fair, is something we seem to finally be leaving behind, as can be seen from the transition between Fallout 3 to Fallout 4, between CoD: World at War to CoD: Advanced Warfare.

Indie titles have been a step back towards this era of gameplay, and it’s something that’s really taken off in the last four or five years. We’ve had Bastion, for example. We’ve had Super Meat Boy, we’ve had The Binding of Isaac, we’ve had Trine. But these games are noticeably smaller in size, which is understandable given the limitations of independent resources and the lack of funding. When are we going to see an influx of unique games on the scale of Okamiden?

Probably not any time soon. Much as I’m sure we all hate to admit it, the gaming industry is an absolute mess right now. We’ve got DLC and microtransactions being enforced by corporate greed, ruining the integrity of the gameplay; we’ve got an oversaturation of half-baked indie titles burying truly talented games, and early access allowing developers to lose motivation after recieving a released game’s worth of money for an unfinished product; we have publishers rushing out titles before they’re finished, leading to broken and buggy gameplay.  The free-to-play model has leaked off of phones and into our consoles and computers, providing the most expensive, paywall-ridden games to date. We’re in a new age of online discussion and vocal minorities, harassing developers to make changes to their upcoming games which show of overly ambitious, unique changes that we don’t like because we’re already invested in the series. Seriously, never has game development been so public to its consumers, and people now more than ever are falling prey to the trap of judging a game many many months before it has been polished and balanced into its final release. And the developers understand this, but the pure visceral nature of community backlash is what forces them to change things.

But as long as games like Darksiders 2 can exist, there’s hope. And it’s not all bad; there are new indie titles which are brilliant, and early access games which have been a huge success. Hell, once in a blue moon we may even see a triple-A title like Darksiders emerge. It’s just a vastly different gaming world to the one we’ve known before, and whilst modern games shouldn’t be discounted for their progress in furthering entertaining gameplay, I, personally, would certainly welcome some miraculous transformation back into the diversity of the PS2 and previous consoles.

Wait… This Isn’t Mario Kart (RC Revenge Pro)

Halloween is just round the corner, so without further ado, let’s fail to capitalise on this holiday in any way whatsoever and discuss a game from my childhood.

RC Revenge Pro has been something of a wonder for me. It is an arcade racing game made by Acclaim, originally without the “Pro” and as a Playstation One game. Its next generation sequel was essentially the same game, but with better graphics and a few new cars and courses. A HD remake before HD. A remake before remakes. Having spent many hours playing its predecessor, I soon abandoned it in favour of this new edition and spent countless hours driving around the thematically charged tracks.

Jungle Ranger was your main enemy all throughout the Bronze and Silver cups until you unlocked him at the end of the Silver cup.

Many years later, after having a bizarre dream in which I discovered that the series had been blessed with a sequel, I decided to scour the internet for any hints of this being the case. Instead, I found that RC Revenge was in itself a sort of spiritual successor to Re-Volt. More than that, I found precious little news of RC Revenge’s existence in the first place. A quick Youtube search yielded no playthroughs, and hardly any videos in the first place. I’d find out later that there were a few more games from my childhood that fell into this dramatically underrated category, a category born from curse of copious quantity.

I can’t quite explain my thirst for this game. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, and if it was made nowadays I’m sure it’d be a fairly successful indie title which you could sink a few hours into. But as a child, I was obsessed with fully completing the game and unlocking the last two cars; the Concept 3000, and, more importantly, the UFO. Being a child, however, I determined that I could do this by completing the Reverse Platinum Cup by finishing first in every single race. When this failed, I turned my attention to completing all the mirrored tracks, and the mirrored reverse tracks (Acclaim knew how to milk their content). Of course, they were unlocked by completing the Time Trials, a fact which should have been obvious to me had I not be so vehemently against racing through the track by myself.

Cars Attacks was one of my favourite levels of the game, providing interesting scenery and adopting a fun track layout.

I suppose this was my Mario Kart. I didn’t discover Mario Kart (or any Nintendo, really) until I got a Nintendo DS in 2005, at the ripe old age of 10. I loved Mario Kart DS, and my old original DS (none of this Lite or DSi business) is still going steady. I bring this up because it might be amusing to hear that my first impression of Mario Kart was that it was too cartoony; too bright; too dull in its weaponry. There was something boring about throwing koopa shells at people when I’d previously been sending rockets; something bland about throwing banana peels down when I’d been dropping mines. I felt that this was too obviously a pre-existing brand slapped onto a kart racer, whereas RC Revenge was its own beast. And yet, today I’m playing Mario Kart 7 and RC Revenge is but a nostalgic blog post.

I’d love for there to be a sequel, but we’re two console generations ahead and Acclaim is a distant memory. Judging by the lack of footage and the reviews, this wasn’t a game that found its way into mainstream popularity, and for that I am sad. It is worth mentioning, however, that if it were to be remade today, it would likely be condemned as another wannabe kart racer that brings nothing new to the table. If you ever get the chance, though, give it a try, and tell me what you thought of it. If you’re interested in seeing the game in action, here is some gameplay I managed to find of my favourite track in the game.

Thank you FUTUREGAMEZ.net and jeuxvideo.com for providing the images; I do not have the technology to capture my own when it comes to console games.

Sony’s Red Screen of Death

Kids nowadays (insert crotchety old grumbling voice here) don’t know how easy they have it. When they insert their discs into their machines (if they still bother with discs), the worst that can happen to them is a friendly little error message telling them that it’s not compatible or whatever. In fact, I’m not sure what the PS4 does, but I don’t think the PS3 does anything at all, it just doesn’t read the disc and present you with an option.

Kids nowadays (crotchety voice etc etc) don’t have to deal with the horror… of the Red Screen Of Death.

Alright, alright, without context it doesn’t seem so bad. But picture me, seven years old, having never touched PC gaming in my life, sitting in front of my PS2 and ready to be greeted with my little Playstation 2 intro vwomp. Having never touched upon PC gaming, I’m not accustomed to errors and workarounds, I’m just used to shit working. And for Sony to not only throw up an error screen, but to accompany creepy music and a bloody red mist was actually one of the most terrifying experiences of my childhood.

The Playstation 1 had a Red Screen Of Death, too, but I guess I was lucky enough not to encounter it when growing up. I did encounter it a few years ago for the first time when booting it up for nostalgia, and although it did creep me out, the combination of a lack of creepy music and, you know, being an adult is what stopped me from throwing it out the window in a fit of fearful tears exclaiming “you were supposed to be the chosen one”.

Overly played out Star Wars references aside, I actually found out something interesting about the Playstation 2 startup screen today. The blocks shown in the booting up sequences apparently represent the amount of games you’ve played, with their respective heights being indicative of the time spent within these games. It’d explain why, after some years, my Playstation 2 appeared to be more of a crowded cityscape than New York. Its population, however, is somewhat smaller than New York’s, given the abundance of the toxic blue fumes which run through the city streets, absorbing the blood of all who come into contact with it.

Well, where did you think the aforementioned red mist came from?

In all seriousness, though, the abundance of people claiming that the Red Screen Of Death is totally the scariest thing ever should be of some indication that there’s actually psychological reasoning behind it. My guess would be that shaking a child’s certainty of getting past the already abstract bootup screen and into the game is bound to leave some lasting effects, and replacing it with a red mist and an eerily ominous music cue only adds to this effect. Adults watching it for the first time will think “well what’s so scary about some tosser putting his disc in upside down”, but let’s be honest, that error screen was a demon possessed hell pit and we all know it.