What we have here is the all-time greatest game based on a movie based on a game. Granted, the only competition is the abysmal Street Fighter: The Movie, but still - Ratchet & Clank is a thoroughly enjoyable reboot for the widely adored duo, improving on the PS2 original in every way while staying totally accessible for newcomers. Even if the story suffers from its attempts to tie in with the upcoming movie of the same name, Ratchet & Clank is a strong PS4 debut for the series that recaptures the pure, plain ol' fun of the best 2000s-era platforming. And one thing's for sure: the loveable Lombax and his trusty robot pal have never looked better.
In case you've never played a R&C game before and/or haven't seen any of the recent film trailers, this is a loose retelling of how Ratchet and Clank met and saved the galaxy (for the first time of many). For those who've played the original, the return of certain planets, side characters, and level layouts will tap into your fond memories, while the reworked aiming and strafing controls will make you forget all about the comparatively awkward setup from the first game. The redone, buttery-smooth controls are crucial, because as you probably know, half the fun of R&C games is derived from blasting enemies to bits with destructive (and hilariously inventive) weaponry.
Ratchet's selection of Gadgetron-manufactured firepower is a pleasant mix of old and new; each weapon serves a unique purpose, and can be leveled up and upgraded at your leisure for a satisfying power curve over the course of the game. They also lend themselves nicely to some particularly devastating combos, like creating a small army of deadly droids with a Mr. Zurkon plus a Glove of Doom, or pairing up the weaponized Groovitron disco ball with the area-of-effect energy bursts of the new Proton Drum, creating the world's most chaotic dance party as enemies are repeatedly zapped with pink shockwaves. And you really need to see the Pixelizer in action, simply for this fresh weapon's glorious graphical effects: anyone hit by its shotgun-style blast will suddenly morph from three dimensions into 2D pixel art. Use it for a killing blow, and you can even smash up the chunky voxels that make up their retro-looking remains.
On top of all the collectibles in Ratchet & Clank, like the well-hidden Gold Bolts or some precious Raritanium used to upgrade your weapons, the reboot offers an ingenious collectible: cards bearing the likenesses of iconic R&C characters from throughout the franchise. You can find packs of these cards stashed in out-of-the-way areas on each planet, or score individual picks just by killing enemies - and there's a gameplay purpose to expanding your collection. Manage to find the three cards in an individual set (or trade in duplicates for the ones you need), and you'll activate permanent buffs, like doubled Omniwrench damage or additional bolts per drop. It's a relatively minor yet magnificent addition to the game, especially for completionists... and if you want the best weapon in the game, get ready to go on the hunt for some particularly rare cards.
On top of the Pixelizer, Ratchet & Clank is a graphical marvel throughout, where the in-game visuals could be mistaken for the slick CG of the animated film. Richly detailed backdrops bursting with color, adorably expressive animations, the impressive fireworks during combat, even the texture of Ratchet's fur - it all looks phenomenal, and marks a milestone for 3D platformers being just as pretty as Pixar films. While it's a shame that the PS4 debut doesn't strive for 60fps, the framerate stays constant even in the most visually intensive, particle-effect-filled battles, and the sight of bolts (classic R&C currency) floating towards you by the hundreds without a hint of slowdown is simply magical. Each planet has a distinct look and feel, from the metropolis on Novalis to the tropics of Pokitaru, and new levels (like a valley of volcanoes you explore via jetpack) show off some seriously impressive draw distances and environmental flourishes. Their layouts make for first-rate platforming, with multiple objectives, clear indications of where to go, a healthy amount of challenge, and plenty of intriguing 'I'll be sure to come back for that' moments when you spot a secret area but don't yet have the right gadget to access it. Clank also stars in some new puzzles, with short, satisfying solutions that offer a pleasant change of pace from Ratchet's running and gunning.
While the visuals achieve graphical parity with the film, the story struggles to find the right balance between adhering to the events of the first game and the scenes from the movie, creating a mild but unfortunate lose-lose situation. If you've seen the film, you might be thrown off by events that don't make sense to the movie's timeline, or be irked by how often it incorporates abridged clips from key scenes. Those who haven't yet seen it (which applies to almost everyone at launch, as the film won't be in theaters until the end of April) will have a hard time following some of the plot threads, which force certain characters from the film into the spotlight even if their personality or motivations were never properly established. But it's hard to get too upset over the story inconsistencies when the writing is so humorously self-aware and thoroughly charming. It's especially nice to hear Ratchet's rightful voice actor James Arnold Taylor doing his take on the character's origins, and the new script excises all of the unneeded smarm that plagued Ratchet's personality in the original PS2 game. There's also a delightful new framing device: Captain Qwark's eventual betrayal is given away right from the start, as he narrates the entire game while telling his side of the story from the confines of space prison.
All told, the budget $40 / £28 price tag on Ratchet & Clank feels just right. It took me just over 8 hours to finish the main story, and I look forward to more hours spent chasing down weapon upgrades, collectible cards, and cheat-code-enabling Gold Bolts (with even more mileage awaiting those brave enough for the amped-up difficulty of the post-credits Challenge Mode). There are some minor things to gripe about: the last fifth of the game feels a little padded out, you're only afforded one save file, and the final boss is predictably frustrating (I imagine he'll give younger players fits). But the good far outweighs the bad, and after some experimental entries on the PS3, Ratchet & Clank is a entertaining return to form for the series. This is a reboot done right, recapturing everything that made the original great and making substantial improvements for a new generation.