Time tends to be remarkably kind to even the most mediocre of platforming games, but that doesn’t mean that genuinely great ones don’t continue to stand apart. Playing the loveable-but-problematic likes of the PSOne’s Pandaemonium today (for example) definitely isn’t without its charms, but revisiting the premier Ratchet & Clank trio is a different matter altogether; Insomniac’s Sony-exclusive series may owe a huge amount of debt to several of its genre predecessors, but consistently immaculate design, an unusual surfer-dude worldview and its superior bounty of wonderfully cheap gags continue to endear.
Regardless of whether or not you care about the loose and amiable plotting, these three are at their most interesting when played in chronological order. The first game was clearly inspired by Rare’s N64 classic Banjo Kazooie, with a few added bells and whistles – weapon upgrades, progressive Metroid-style gadget unlocks, a mission checklist – all of which gift it with some much-needed charisma. It remains a very well-polished and engaging romp that’s slightly lighter on combat than its sequels are, but that simplicity is probably its most appealing aspect today.
The debut adventure may place less emphasis on combat, but the battle structure across all three games remains the same, and if you don’t start utilising all of your tools as soon as you receive them, you’ll be mincemeat. The satisfying default melee move that you have at your disposal from the get-go is an extremely powerful attack, and it’s always tempting to see how long you can keep using it on its own. However, in all three games (and the third instalment in particular) your enemies start using projectiles and combos almost immediately, so you have to adapt quickly. Prolonged sections of each adventure make the series feel more like a triad of shooters rather than a bunch of straightforward platformers.
The second instalment brings a standard RPG trope to the table, in the form of XP-based weapon and health upgrades. It also gives you the ability to strafe, which brings out the very best in the weapon-based side of the combat; making it easy to see why Insomniac decided to take the series in a much more action-heavy direction as it progressed. But the differences between these three titles are minor ones really, and the package feels as coherent as each individual episode does refined. Even the madcap side diversions – be they in the form of a side-scrolling beat ’em up or a near-libellous riff on Starfox – all continue to work beautifully.
This collection runs in full 1080p and at a silky 60 frames per second, and there’s a refreshing amount of restraint shown in the general conversion. For example, the plain, primary-coloured textures haven’t been toyed with; these new games look just like the old games, only sharper and deeper. With HD re-releases there’s a tendency to add texture and tone to spaces that were previously bereft of both, but not here. Adding visual detail that wasn’t there before is a way of fundamentally changing the game into something else anyway, and this lot simply don’t need the makeover. This attitude extends to the gameplay too; the sparse, occasionally brutal checkpointing system hasn’t been tinkered with either.
If you only ever owned a PS2 during the previous console cycle you’re probably well aware of how terrific these games are, but if you’re a curious newcomer who never played them back in the day, rest assured that they’re as brilliantly engaging as ever. The Ratchet & Clank Trilogy may never quite reach the same giddy heights as that tubby, workshy Italian plumber’s finest work, but they’re almost certainly the best platformers ever to grace the Playstation 2. And those ain’t small potatoes.
Ratchet & Clank HD Trilogy is currently due for release on the Playstation 3 on Friday, June 29th 2012.
Watch the launch trailer for Ratchet & Clank HD Trilogy below: