With the release of the latest Ratchet & Clank game, the franchise has received fifteen games over its fourteen years of existence. At just over one game per year, this has resulted in a colourful history for the Lombax and his robotic friend, and I am here to rank all the games, according to me (not you, me).
Many of these titles would be released later on multiple platforms, such as the HD ports of the four Insomniac PS2 titles. For the sake of simplicity, this list focuses on their original releases, particularly since all the games arguably had their best versions on their original platform of release.
Before the Nexus is Ratchet & Clank’s sole smartphone outing, an endless-runner type of game where you could also shoot enemies by tapping them, and face down a boss. The game features a surprising amount of Ratchet weapons, including pistols, shotguns, the Groovitron and even its own RYNO! It also included a system where any earned Raritanium could be synced to Into the Nexus to be used on mods, making it a pretty decent endless runner as far as those games go.
However despite all this, the game is rather barebones, featuring only one level and some truly awful graphics compared to what smartphones and tablets were capable of, even back then. As well, the game was rather unforgiving and you can have your round ended for some really arbitrary reasons. A truly thin connection to Into the Nexus tops the cake on why this game ranks right at the bottom, but it says a lot about this franchise that even here there’s something worth checking out.
This title was the game every fan wanted at the time: a game based on Secret Agent Clank, the prominent show-within-a-game from Up Your Arsenal. It features the most unique weapon selection in the series as all of them are spy-themed, like Cufflink Bombs, Razor Throwties and the Blowtorch Briefcase.
It wholly embraces the theme of the show whilst also including Captain Qwark, writing his biography and taking credit for Clank’s adventures. This results in the most hilarious scene in the franchise’s history as Qwark tells a particular tale in song, presented as a school play where things get ever more ridiculous. Like, plugging a dam with his left butt-cheek and defeating sewer lemurs ridiculous, complete with cardboard costumes.
However much like Before the Nexus, the game feels meh overall, despite having a lot in it. Key minigames, Qwark stories, Giant Clank, gadgebot sections, and even prison arena sections with Ratchet, but it’s arguably too much and all of it comes off as a bore. Clank’s arsenal is oddball to the point where there’s few weapons for common encounters, and all of them upgrade incredibly slowly. The spy concept is also played completely straight, and while that works for a running gag, it doesn’t for the basis of an entire game.
Size Matters is the title that returned to Ratchet’s roots after the grim and dark setting of Deadlocked, to the point where Ratchet returns to his original shirtless garb from the first game. Where Secret Agent Clank was so long that you’d borequit, the brevity of Size Matters (only seven levels) meant that you’d finish the game before you got too disinterested.
As with the two games listed above, Size Matters suffers from being generic, with a tale of Ratchet chasing after Technomites and Qwark discovering his parentage. None of them are really significant in the long run and the story fails to draw the player in. And as with Secret Agent Clank, weapons take far too long to upgrade and cost too much to purchase, let alone upgrade with buyable mods.
It is elevated above Secret Agent Clank and Before the Nexus however by having solid gameplay, choosing to focus on Ratchet with a few Clank excursions like the previous games. It also featured Skyboard races, similar to Hoverboard races from Ratchet & Clank, only with a boost system that allowed the player to fly in the air, allowing for multi-level course design and some truly awesome views. And lastly, it has modular armour pieces you can find in the levels, a feature fans have requested for ever since.
Full Frontal Assault is a game with a clever mix of Tower Defense gameplay with turrets and lanes, combined with traditional Ratchet action as you control a hero (or two in co-op), exploring the battlefield and heading out to either complete objectives in single player or capture Nodes in multiplayer. It can be seen as an extension of Up Your Arsenal’s Siege multiplayer mode, and streamlines the Hoverboots introduced in A Crack in Time.
Unfortunately this is probably the most forgettable Ratchet game from Insomniac (and the first on this list). The tower defense mechanic was a neat idea, but with only five levels there wasn’t enough room to truly explore the concept, and most levels were a maze when you started. Multiplayer matches meanwhile were often decided in the first minute or so, as if you didn’t get enough Nodes in the first round you would be screwed for the rest of the match.
The game wasn’t the best-looking title either, seeming to take a step backwards and looking worse than A Crack in Time despite running on the same engine (and while I’m not considering it part of the list, the Vita port is truly hideous and still runs incredibly poorly). The game’s length and brevity of content ultimately proved to be its bane, and it continued the downward spiral of Ratchet’s reputation amongst gamers as has-been and irrelevant.
Originally titled 4Play (snicker), All 4 One is the couch co-op game starring the “core four”: Ratchet, Clank, Qwark and Nefarious. The gameplay focused on co-op whilst still retaining the usual Ratchet & Clank gameplay tropes like bolts, a Quick Select, the Swingshot, and mods. Even the RYNO returned, this time as an entire mech suit with differing designs depending on the character using it. The Vac-U also allowed for interesting (if brief) co-op moments and some excellent trolling opportunities.
The game made a huge change however in that the camera was now a locked “director’s cam” that flew high above the characters and followed them on a set path, similar to the Lego games to eliminate split screen. This was a controversial decision as it limited exploration, and to help make the characters more readable the design of the characters were altered: Qwark lost his butt chin, Clank looked like a baby and Ratchet’s head took after Nickelodeon’s Arnold.
Despite having some of the most incredible vistas in the franchise at the time, the game failed to resonate with anybody in particular; the action was too far away to be immersive and the levels dragged on for an age. More than that, it started Ratchet on a downturn that would take it from one of PlayStation’s biggest exclusive properties to a franchise that it seemed Sony was reluctant to have to deal with.
This one is going to surprise many, particularly because you might not have heard of it! Ratchet’s first mobile title came out two years before the iPhone, and thus was played on keypad phones rather than smartphones. As such it was a 2D sidescroller that released in two versions: 400 and 600, depending on the power of your phone. 600 was basically 400 with three times as many levels, and is the reason for this ranking.
What puts this game so high is how much stuff is in it. You would expect that an old-style phone game for Ratchet by some unknown studio would be generic, forgettable, cash-in trash. But this game had all the Ratchet tropes. Platforming, Swingshots, Grind Rails, arena challenges, wall jumps, Gold Bolts, and a Quick Select filled with all the weapons you’d expect Ratchet to have, including the Boarzooka (fires pigs) and its very own RYNO.
The story is pretty inconsequential and not of any note, but the game itself was such a wonderful surprise with how much content it had and how faithful it was to Ratchet gameplay that I’ll always have a really soft spot for it. This despite having only one music track in the entire game and a confusing control setup. Because, you know, it was on flip phones.
Deadlocked is Ratchet’s dark Jak II phase, where the plot and design took a much grimmer tone, possibly as a result of Resistance: Fall of Man being developed in the background. It featured a limited arsenal of only ten weapons (small for a full-size Ratchet game), but had a robust mod system, allowing you to equip Alpha Mods that improved stats like rate of fire and blast radius, while Omega Mods had big effects like acid or arcing electricity. So you could have a fast-firing rocket launcher that explosively turned dropships into sheep!
Deadlocked took the mission structure of Up Your Arsenal’s Ranger missions and sprinkled them with a bit of arena combat, and based the whole game around it. Every campaign level has an area that doubles as a multiplayer arena, and while that meant that there were many maps for multiplayer, it hampered the gameplay and level design of the single player. Literally every level is an open, vaguely detailed battlefield, with repetitive amounts of shooting and turning bolt cranks to solve problems, punctuated with grind rails and vehicle sections that never evolve.
Because of these things, Deadlocked was quite the black sheep of the franchise at the time, the first mis-step in the series’ history. Over time however more sobering examples have come along, allowing for the core playability of Deadlocked to shine through over its faults. The multiplayer was also pretty good, since it was very similar to Up Your Arsenal’s.
Quest for Booty is the pirate-themed game set between Tools of Destruction and A Crack in Time, ending in the reveal of Dr. Nefarious’ return. It ranks down here because of what it doesn’t have: there’s no mod system, no Gold Bolts, few explorable paths, no Challenge Mode, no new weapons (they’re all reused from Tools of Destruction), and levels you can only visit once even after finishing the story.
However, it does introduce the Omniwrench Millennium 12, featuring a Kinetic Tether that allowed Ratchet to move objects from afar. This was a huge refresh for the wrench because since Going Commando the Wrench was unviable for combat and relegated to smashing boxes for most players; the Kinetic Tether breathed new life into it. Being able to pick up and throw stuff added to its versatility.
The game only featured three environment types, and while the stormy ocean and gloomy caves were uninteresting, Hoolefar Island was a complete gem. It was the first Ratchet level to feature multiple paths that sprawled around each other, an island to explore with new sights around every corner, despite its size. This is structured around fixing five wind turbines, each one offering a different challenge to get to the top. It is easily the highlight of the game.
The original game that started it all, Ratchet & Clank came about after Monster Knight and the game known only as Girl With A Stick were cancelled. This first game already started with all the tropes Ratchet & Clank is known for: wacky weapons, interesting gadgets, varied worlds, the Swingshot, Grind Boots, vendors, Skill Points, and the Quick Select, a feature found in many games today. It was a solid start, and every Ratchet title has a basis with this one on some level.
Were this list titled Most Influential Ratchet Games, this would be ranked quite high, but sadly the game has not aged well. The controls are sluggish as Ratchet takes a while to get up to speed, and he has a massive turning circle. More than that however the game lacks responsive strafing, and the late inclusion of Thruster Pack strafing does little to mitigate the problem. It is half the reason why the 2016 version exists!
The game also lacks an XP system for weapons and health, but this gives it a unique quality: every weapon is viable. Because enemies don’t get more health as you progress, weapons do not suffer from Lancer Syndrome, the effect where a V5 weapon gets too weak to use effectively because the enemies have outstripped it to keep up with your health. This offers tons of room to experiment, and enemies become difficult not because they become bullet sponges, but because they attack you in difficult ways and are hard to hit in the way they move.
Up Your Arsenal took what Going Commando had and expanded everything. Weapons upgrade four times rather than once. The handling got even faster. The weapons got more explosive. Missions with the Galactic Rangers were introduced. And the writing became the series’ best, giving us a story that rivals the Future saga and tops it off with Dr. Nefarious, the series’ most famous villain. This is Ratchet at the highest intensity and it has all the confidence in the world, thorougly earning every joke it makes, crude as they may be.
It also had a unique multiplayer mode, taking the normal Ratchet & Clank gameplay and pitting folks against each other in various modes, including Siege mode, where you capture nodes to help destroy the enemy base. While I’m not a big fan of it, the multiplayer community is a passionate bunch (despite being incredibly toxic to newcomers), playing right until the servers were shut down in June 2012.
But it isn’t all good. The story is much shorter than it was before, and this breaks the weapon economy. They were now much more difficult to afford and came in large groups, meaning you could never afford more than one or two. And if you buy the wrong one, you might miss out on a weapon crucial to survival. More than that, the weapons took far too long to upgrade, meaning you could be at the end and only have four of them fully leveled up. For me, UYA added too much, distracting itself and being rather hyperactive in what it offers.
If the list was Most Influential Ratchet Games, Going Commando would be right at the top. It introduced the XP system that has been present ever since, the idea that using weapons gave them XP that allowed them to upgrade into more powerful, more explosive, more badass versions of themselves. It was a revolutionary feature and was one of the first instances of an action game taking cues from RPGs to fuel the sense of progression.
The game is packed with a ton of content: in addition to XP, it introduced armour, a mod system, battle arenas, Charge Boots, spherical moons (years before Super Mario Galaxy did it in 2007), Hoverbike races, starship dogfights, and the Insomniac Museum, a secret level containing cut content unlocked after doing absolutely everything in the game (or using an otherwise inactive teleporter at 3 in the morning).
Strafing also hugely influenced the way combat worked as Ratchet could now constantly have his gun pointed to the target, and with more responsive handling and the introduction of cover, combat was was a joy rather than an awkward shuffle. Nearly every addition to the game was a revelation, and as a result Going Commando is the gold standard for Ratchet games.
The most recent release, and also the most confusing to explain. The easiest way I can put it is that it’s an adaptation of the movie that, when not telling the movie, remakes the original game. Many iconic levels return and look jaw-droppingly gorgeous, truly appearing like a big-budget animated film (moreso than the film itself!). The gameplay is as reliable and polished as ever, as explained above, and the addition of Holocard sets provide perks that add to the gameplay loop.
But as wonderful as all that is, for me the game falls short. The story is barebones and completely irrelevant, has very few scenes from the movie, and most of the in-engine cutscenes are more Mass Effect 1 than Toy Story 3, despite the occasional gorgeous hand-animated scene. The result is a game that does almost nothing to justify the actions of any of its characters outside the beginning and end, feeling like huge portions were left for the movie to tell when the game should be able to stand on its own.
More than that, though, is the fact that much of the content is derivative of past titles. Every single weapon is taken from previous entries (and even Sunset Overdrive), only two levels are 100% new, and their aesthetics and design are largely unchanged, meaning that for a long-time veteran like me who still remembers the 2002 Ratchet & Clank very clearly, there’s a shocking lack of new surprises. And as with Up Your Arsenal, the brevity cuts into the progression systems. It’s an incredibly pretty face to be sure, but really not much more than that.
After the high intensity of Up Your Arsenal and the darkness of Deadlocked, Ratchet had been all over the place. Tools of Destruction came around to set the bar straight and define for everyone what a Ratchet & Clank game is. In addition, special grenades called Combat Devices were introduced, as well as star fights with Aphelion. Raritanium mods too added a new currency that could be spent improving your weapons, including better fire rates, more damage and wider spread.
The biggest factor about Tools of Destruction though was the new depth of story. TJ Fixman, writer for all the PS3 games (and the PS4 title), added in a huge amount of lore to the world of Ratchet & Clank, introducing backstories and plot that, for the first time, mattered to the main characters on an emotional level. This tied in with a shinier, more saturated art direction that takes its influences from classic pulp sci-fi.
What brings Tools of Destruction down is the sheer amount of story; there are so many new threads that are important to know that it’s hard to keep up, and the game buckles under the weight of it all. Combat Devices are mostly useless too; they were expensive to buy, get no XP and most of them aren’t that helpful outside of the Groovitron, so you had no reason to use them. The cliffhanger ending was also incredibly bad: it comes out of nowhere and ends on victory music when the event itself is a tragic one. Even without the two-year wait it’s a slap in the face.
Into the Nexus was the last Ratchet game on PS3, and as a result of All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault‘s less-than-modest successes, it’s a much smaller game despite having the same development time as Tools of Destruction. But that, like with Going Mobile, is why it succeeds.
What places this game so high on this list is what it has. Challenge Mode, Gold Bolts, Grav-Leaping, Gold Weapons, Cheats, and a museum celebrating the in-universe history of the games. Most significantly, the game has Thram, Into the Nexus’ mining sandbox level. It has an awe-inspiring environment, Hoverboots, collectibles to find, and Jetpack aerial shootouts with Gargathons. I literally gasped when I realized how much there was to do in this level.
That isn’t to say it’s perfect. Meridian City has basic graphics outside of the museum, the Grav-Leaping is underutilized, Vendra is an interesting villain that is written out of half the game, and Silox is probably the most dreary level to ever overstay its welcome. But there really is nothing quite like realizing that you can fly almost anywhere in a vast swampland with hidden secrets, and that is far more than I expect a $30 downloadable game to have.
Building upon the extremely solid foundation of Tools of Destruction, A Crack in Time expands on the gameplay like Going Commando before it and truly revolutionized not just the way Ratchet played, but how you felt when playing it, setting a new standard for what a Ratchet game could achieve.
In terms of gameplay, there are Hoverboots, a wonderful refresh of the aging Charge Boots that revolutionized the way you moved through levels; moving at high speed was available at the push of a button. Constructo Mods allowed you to customize your pistol, bomb glove and shotgun to function exactly how you wanted to, with a wide variety of effects to experiment with. The Kinetic Tether returned to aid in platforming and boss fights.
The Battleplex expanded the concept of arenas with a lobby featuring a playable arcade game based on in-universe movie My Blaster Runs Hot, and statues detailing past champions. Clank’s gameplay got a much-needed facelift with Time Pad puzzles, mind-benders that required serious fourth-dimensional thinking, completely suiting Clank’s character.
But the jewel in A Crack in Time’s crown are the Space Sectors. Here, you fly about vast spaces in Aphelion, battling ships in admittedly simplistic dogfights, and taking on quests from characters requesting your aid. And you can land on spherical moons, returning from Going Commando, and take on challenges to your platforming and combat skills for Gold Bolts, Contructo Mods or Zoni to upgrade your ship with.
All the while you can listen to space radio, GTA-style, and listen to synth, jazz or rock music, complete with memorable ads for things like Unicop and Q-Pore, and get news bulletins detailing your latest exploits (or the cliffhanger season finale of Lance and Janice). All of these combined to the moment where I walked around a moon and caused an artificial sunrise whilst listening to some truly moving electric guitar. I had to pause and gather myself in awe at what this game was giving me.
Story-wise, A Crack in Time simplifies, opting to drop the Talwyn and Max Apogee arc and focus on the relationship Ratchet has with Azimuth, by far and away the series’ most complex character, both a positive and negative force in Ratchet’s life, and reinforcing why Clank is so important to his character. Clank too meets Orvus (voiced by Mario’s Charles Martinet), a wonderful character who at every appearance makes you wish he was your dad.
A Crack in Time is far from perfect, of course. Cut out the optional space sectors and you have one of the shortest Ratchet games ever made. The Constructo Weapons are worthless once you level them up and have no reason to try new mods. Nefarious, the star villain, ultimately doesn’t do anything of significance. The use of time travel has cause-and-effect plotholes. But the game’s achievements soar high above its shortcomings for me.
When the final cutscene rolled, when Clank returned to Ratchet to the blessings of Orvus, with one of the most incredible orchestral scores in the series, I shed tears, something only Journey has ever managed to do. The culmination of everything this game does, based on everything past games helped it to achieve and beyond, is why A Crack in Time is my #1 Ratchet & Clank game.