Being a teenager in the late 90’s, I loved to play video games of all types, even those that many of my peers deemed were just “for kids”. Early games on the Nintendo 64 like Super Mario 64 and Diddy Kong Racing were titles I always kept coming back to, and when Nintendo was set to launch a game in 1998 for the Game Boy called Pokemon, I bugged my parents to stop into our local Wal-Mart everyday to see if they had a copy that I could buy. As I moved deeper into my teens though, I grew bored with the family friendly content that made up most of what I could rent on the Nintendo 64. That realization came around the time that Capcom finally brought their classic PlayStation game series, Resident Evil, to the N64 in late 1999. Around that same time my brother brought the first ever PlayStation into our house and suddenly I was seeing the likes of Metal Gear Solid. The opening played out like a Hollywood film and one of the first things you as the character Solid Snake can do is get behind a guy and snap his neck. I wanted my own PlayStation for games like that and Capcom’s seminal horror franchise. I craved mature titles now, who cares about that cartoon purple dragon burning sheep?
Insomniac Games got their start with a PlayStation exclusive first-person shooter titled Disruptor that, mechanically speaking, is not too dissimilar from a game like Bioshock where you have a small set of powers to supplement your arsenal of firearms. It wouldn’t be Disruptor that would put Insomniac on the map however, it would be their trilogy of games that was the PlayStation’s answer to Super Mario 64 starring a character named Spyro the Dragon. Even though I had enjoyed games on the N64 that shared much of the same DNA with Spryo’s design, it was a series that I was now myself saying was “for kids”, because I had games like Silent Hill and Parasite Eve to occupy my time with. I remember reading issues of Electronic Gaming Monthly that would score the Spyro games very well, but would always bring up the family-friendly nature of the series in the accompanying text associated with those scores. Of course I didn’t know any of the people writing those reviews, but, ask anyone who loved reading magazines like that back when they were how video game news was delivered and those writers felt like they were your friends. You want your friends to think your cool, right?
With the release of the PlayStation 2 in 2000, video games would continue to mature with developers like Insomniac and Naughty Dog abandoning the franchises that made them superstars for new franchises. Naughty Dog would ditch Crash Bandicoot for a duo named Jak and Daxter that, in the first entry at least, still looked like a game that was “beneath me” because look at Devil May Cry and Metal Gear Solid 2! But then something happened with the second title in Naughty Dog’s new franchise: it grew up. I had skipped the first Jak and Daxter but when I saw the sequel being previewed in 2003, I took notice. The setting was changed from a colorful, animated movie like world to that of a grungy city and main protagonist Jak had a goatee and a gun?! Between Jak and Daxter and its sequel, Insomniac would release an action plat-former starring their new duo, a cat-like creature named Ratchet and a tiny robot named Clank, who also had a hefty amount of firepower, but still looked like it was not too far moved from the days of Spyro from how it was presented. I didn’t need to play Ratchet and Clank, but I absolutely needed to play the original Jak and Daxter to get caught up for its sequel that looked to marry my new-found tastes for “mature” games with those I loved on the Nintendo 64. I loved Jak and Daxter, but I was afraid to admit it to anyone.
I rented out Jak and Daxter and couldn’t put my controller down. I had the same feeling playing that game as I did jumping through those paintings and exploring worlds for the first time back in 1996. By the time i got around to playing that game, it was a “Greatest Hits” title so I decided to get my own copy, but purchasing it felt to me like one would when they were buying pornography. I don’t want people to see me buying this! My brother came to visit that year from Ottawa and he walked on me playing Jak and Daxter and I felt downright embarrassed and I don’t know why. This newly kindled love of plat-formers made me highly anticipate Sony’s new trio on the PlayStation 2: Next up for me was Sly Cooper as I loved heist films like Oceans Eleven and that game, and its far superior sequel, scratched that itch in just the right way. After those two were under my belt it was time for Ratchet and Clank and…I didn’t like it. At first.
In 2016 the first Ratchet and Clank was remade for the Sony PlayStation 4, and a consensus I got from reviews was that while the game was great and certainly filled an empty void of games for younger players, it was far too similar to the first game. My counter argument for that is that if there’s any one game in the now approaching twenty year old Ratchet and Clank franchise that needed a do over, it’s the first game. Ratchet’s lovable robotic sidekick was immediately likable, but Ratchet himself was, to put it politely, kind of an asshole. Because of Ratchet’s aloof and often nasty attitude, you felt like, well, if he doesn’t want to be here than why should I? The foundation was built for what the series would eventually evolve into: big, crazy guns with names like the R.Y.N.O (Rip You a New One FYI), strange, diverse planets ripe with robots and aliens to shoot and plenty of humor from the cast of characters. Things like the title character’s attitude, and also the non-existing strafing option for a game all about shooting made the first Ratchet and Clank a game that finished third in my books next to Jak and Sly.
I had read in EGM that the Ratchet and Clank games only kept getting better, but the first title made such a poor first impression for me that I skipped the entire series for years in favor of Sony’s other two series. It wasn’t until early 2007 that I decided that maybe it was time to revisit this series that everyone has nothing but good things to say, especially creative director on Marvel’s Spider-Man, Bryan Intihar. The April 2007 issue of EGM had a cover story about the at-the-time next generation debut of Insomniac’s duo on the PlayStation 3: Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, written by Bryan Intihar..The term “looks like a Pixar movie” was thrown around a lot for video games for a long time, but it was Tools of Destruction that finally earned that coveted distinction. The screens in the magazine looked absolutely stunning and a showcase title for the PlayStation 3 when it desperately needed one. That cover story, along with the accompanying podcasts that were on the 1UP network where they had Bryan on to talk about the game, made me want to give the series a second look. As someone who was in their 20’s at the time, I was far more comfortable with my interests and wore my love of plat-formers as a badge of honor too. It certainly didn’t hurt to have someone like Bryan, jokingly referred to as “sporto” and “Fragile Eagle” because of his passion for sports and coverage of their respective games, championing the game. Bryan just effortlessly made it cool to like Ratchet and Clank.
I didn’t jump into the second game, instead moving onto the third game, Up Your Arsenal. For what reason I can’t say for sure, it could have been something as simple as it was at an EB Games and they didn’t have part 2. That game made my attitude change from indifference to absolute adoration for the series. The control was smooth, Ratchet was a far more relatable protagonist, the guns were just as crazy as ever and could be leveled up into even more powerful weapons of mass destruction with use and above all else, the game was laugh-out-loud hilarious. The main villain of Up Your Arsenal, the robotic Dr. Nefarious who has the goal of destroying all “squishies”, became one of my favorite video game antagonists of all time. You couldn’t help but laugh at the character, not just because of his on-the-nose super villain name, but from the characters over-the-top mannerisms as his straight man butler sidekick, Lawrence.
Falling in love with Ratchet and Clank came at a perfect time for me as I was just finishing up my university degree and was headed back to my parents home until I figured out my next step. Before I went home, I picked up the first game once again, Going Commando and the spin-off, Ratchet: Deadlocked. The series helped me get through some very tough months where I was unemployed and didn’t really know what direction I should head next. I may not have knew where I was going to end up, but I knew there was plenty of enemies that needed shooting and planets to save and the humor of the series certainly helped to keep a smile on my face. 2007 would see the first price drop for the PlayStation 3 that made it affordable and the first games I got for the console were Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction and a new IP from Insomniac Games: Resistance Fall of Man. Throughout that generation, I didn’t ignore games from Insomniac anymore, but instead counted down the days until their games were released onto stove shelves.
Resistance may not have hit in the same way a game like Halo did for Microsoft, but it’s alternate World War II fiction where the great war didn’t happen is one of the most under appreciated in the genre. The game that closed out the trilogy, Resistance 3, is a somber road trip through a desolated, over run earth and it’s a game I feel many may have missed but should experience at their earliest convenience. An updated collection for the PlayStation 4 certainly wouldn’t hurt either. The Future trilogy also provided a through line for the series that it didn’t have on the PlayStation 2. Jak and Daxter and Sly Cooper’s series fed into one another with each entry, but Ratchet and Clank felt more like stand alone episodes with a few reoccuring characters which wasn’t the case for Tools of Destruction, it’s downloadable sequel Quest for Booty and the final entry, A Crack in Time. After the trilogies conclusion, Insomniac allowed themselves to experiment with the Ratchet and Clank series in some interesting ways in the final days of the PS3 like a four player co-op game and another that had a strong emphasis on tower defense.
September is a month I’m looking forward to with much anticipation. I get to not only experience Insomniac’s future with my favorite superhero of all time in Marvel’s Spider-Man, but also their past in the Activision published Spyro Reignited Trilogy. It may have taken me awhile to get around to experiencing the games that Insomniac had to offer, but I’m glad I finally arrived at the destination.