• Andrew Jonhardt

A longer than expected breakdown of Ratchet & Clank (2016) + 18 card game challenge

This last week, I distracted myself from myself by playing the 2016 Ratchet & Clank remake. I've enjoyed my time with the game, yet I have an issue with how it handles death.

Before I explain what I mean, let me (attempt to) briefly explain the gameplay of Ratchet & Clank (2016). Ratchet & Clank is a 3rd-person shooter platformer set in a galaxy so far away as to be human-free. As befitting the setting, the majority of your tools in Ratchet & Clank are weird-looking guns. Unfortunately, most of the guns are staple shooter weapons, like pistols, grenades, shotguns, while only a select few provide interesting powers, like the ability to make all your foes dance.

The platforming side of Ratchet & Clank is competent. Ratchet has a normal jump, the option for 1 additional jump while airborne, and Clank can be used to glide/extend jumps slightly. Stages where you control Ratchet and Clank together thus provide a strong feeling of control in your aerial movement. The feeling of aerial control is one of the things that attracted me to the Ratchet & Clank series in the first place, as I'm not very good at platformers.

Ratchet & Clank's jumping abilities are tested by jumping between platforms and up and around obstacles (timed or otherwise). There are jetpack sections that essentially extend your jump at a heavy fuel cost. Other random maneuvering and spacing sections, like rail grinding and swinging, are tossed in as side activities.

Not content with the design space allowed by the existing systems, Ratchet & Clank includes puzzles and upgrade systems. The puzzles mainly come in the form of a guiding lasers to switches when controlling Ratchet, or in the arranging of various robots to bypass an obstacle when controlling Clank. Both are adequately challenging.

The upgrade system, by contrast, has far more (unnecessary) diversity. 1st, there's the leveling system for Ratchet to obtain more HP. 2nd, there's the leveling system for guns to gain power. 3rd, you can gather shiny rocks that can be spent to level up aspects of your weapons and unlock abilities. 4th, there's a card system that can be used to provide passive bonuses or unlock a weapon if you complete enough sets of 3. 5th, there's a currency, which is essentially just a path for unlocking weapons as you'll rarely have to buy ammo.

Ratchet & Clank is a box full of random pieces that never takes full advantage of the available design space. You're in a scifi galaxy of random BS, but your guns and explosives don't really do anything new or interesting. You unlock a bunch of tools (like the jetpack) that could add alot to level design and that are severely limited instead. Most of the platforming impediments are just variations on spikes and timed spikes. The upgrade system is only superficially complex. Swimming is nice without adding meat. And, I'm trying to cover gameplay here, so I'm not even going to mention how boring or annoying most of the characters and story are.

However, despite all of the negatives, I'm actually enjoying my time with Ratchet & Clank. Skipping the cutscenes, and ignoring the weapon that endlessly says the same stupid lines over and over again, leaves you with a platformer that isn't afraid to throw 10 to 20 enemies at you at a time.

There's something exhilarating about dodging attacks, managing resources, swapping guns, and generally doing your best to clear areas heavily swarmed with minions. I can't recall the last time I played a game with so many foes without also being encumbered by the worst FPS staples: your gun shaking when you get shot, your screen becoming increasingly bloodier, or being trapped in an arena for 15 minutes or more as waves of foes attack from all angles, usually all of the above at the same time! The Ratchet & Clank remake tries to keep things simple for the player by (mostly) eschewing all of the above.

Simplifying things for the player was obviously a priority for the Ratchet & Clank remake, by which I mean it's time to talk about death. You lose almost nothing on death. In fact, it's not uncommon for you to respawn with more ammo than you had before. Basic foes you kill often stay dead after you respawn, and getting back to where you died never takes more than a few seconds.

I hate this. Even when I play Ratchet & Clank while braindead (the best way to play), it feels unbelievably cheap to respawn from a difficult encounter with a few extra bullets in my bag. For me, the fun comes in throwing my extensive arsenal against new situations. The death mechanic directly counters the need to experiment with your weapons; just go die over and over until you get enough ammo for your favorite guns back.

It's worth mentioning that the Ratchet & Clank remake has bosses and mini-bosses, but I'm more than half way through the game and haven't found one I like. Most are bullet sponges, and the psychic octopus (octopi? octopuses? octopussies?) that shoots Ratchet-seeking projectiles is just annoying.

For a heavy breakdown by someone who has actually played the original Ratchet & Clank, I encourage you to check out the video below.

I gotta say, after watching the above video, I'm eager to give the original a shot. After I complete the remake, of course.

On the game design front, I've decided to enter a contest:


Essentially, the contest is to make a game using 18 cards that are all the same. You can't have any additional components or pieces, but you can provide a sheet of rules. I read the contest rules while on lunch, and I came up with and wrote out a ruleset in about 30 minutes.

I keep telling myself I can't do any more design until I've completed my next IT certification (few weeks left, woot!), and I'm clearly not interested in listening to myself. When will I learn? Thankfully, this contest is regarding boardgame design only, so I can legitimately work on it during lunch breaks if I so choose.

I'll be back next week, and I might actually get to talk about something I designed! Maybe. I'll have to see how the game feels once I've finished piecing it together.

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