The question I set before you today is whether innovation is always a necessity. Can a game be great if it does nothing but re-hash old ideas and tread familiar ground?
This is what I found myself pondering during a recent marathon session of Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, the ninth game in Insomniac's popular PlayStation-only platformer series.
I've played them all. I've liked them all (with perhaps the exception of Clank's solo excursion, Secret Agent Clank-I've always been more of a Ratchet man). And while it's been quite a while since I've thought these accessible, action-packed, and just plain playable games were truly innovative, I still find them completely compelling.
The latest is no different. The third game in the series' "Future" arc-there are enough references to past events and characters here that this is one of those times when it really does help to have played earlier games- A Crack in Time picks up with the plucky little robot Clank held captive in a giant clock-shaped spaceship by the fittingly named Dr. Nefarious. Meanwhile, his friend Ratchet-an orange furred creature who's a member of an endangered species known as lombax-begins exploring the galaxy looking for clues that will help him find his tin friend.
The rapid-fire jokes-a staple of the franchise-are funny but familiar. As usual, many come at the expense of cowardly pseudo-hero Captain Qwark, who aids Ratchet in his search, while others revolve around the bad guys, a procession of evil, bumbling robots and aliens who wouldn't be out of place appearing as villains on a Cartoon Network show.
Players will get a few laughs out of Ratchet's arsenal, too, which includes a rifle that fires powerful sonic belches, a giant energy ball that players can control by tilting and turning their PlayStation 3 controller, and the battle hungry but loveable Mr. Zurkon, a little floating robot that hovers at Ratchet's side and blows stuff up while delivering lines like "Mr. Zurkon does not need nanotech; Mr. Zurkon lives on fear" in his surprisingly deep electronic baritone. The weapons are accompanied by amusing '50s-style demonstration cartoons.
Aside from some new guns, the action feels very similar to what we've seen before in these games. In addition to blowing up bad guys by the dozen, we grind rails, use gravity boots to walk up walls, and employ the swingshot to swing from one platform to another. Of course, there are a few new gadgets, like Ratchet's dad's hover boots, which allow him to skim across the ground, move a bit quicker, and zoom off ramps painted with glowing arrows, but nothing too bold.
And that's what had me wondering: Does Ratchet & Clank need to be shaken up a bit? Or is maintaining the status quo good enough?
The game's greatest innovation comes in the form of new temporal puzzles. Clank occasionally encounters time pads, which he can use to record his actions as he moves around and steps on pressure plates and presses buttons. Then we can play them back all at once, letting us navigate rooms that require several actions to be carried out at the same time.
Thing is, I wasn't much of a fan of these puzzles. They were clever, but also difficult enough that I occasionally became bogged down trying to figure them out.
That's not what I want from a Ratchet & Clank game. I don't mind the odd contextual conundrum, but the main reason I invest my time is to get satisfaction from collecting bolts, upgrading my arsenal, and pulling off fun platforming stunts.
And that leads me to think that a series like Ratchet & Clank doesn't require much innovation from one game to the next. Indeed, too much new might actually hurt it.
I wholeheartedly welcome the minor changes-such as A Crack in Time's new Constructo parts, which are scattered around the universe and can be used to upgrade certain weapons, and the collectible Zoni creatures which Ratchet uses to slowly restore his beat up spaceship to mint condition-but that's about all the originality I really need or want.
It feels strange, given that I have a passion for games that push the boundaries of the medium, but sometimes all I want is something familiar. If games were edible, Ratchet & Clank would be my comfort food, and I don't want anyone messing with my perogies and sour cream.
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