There have been many fantastic, ground-breaking and memorable games released in the seventh generation of game consoles (PCs don't have generations, they upgrade like eternal cyborgs). Uncharted. Journey. Bioshock. Erm, Solitaire on Windows Vista. But there is one franchise of video games that I hold closest to my heart, even though it is arguably not as good as the first three. And that is Ratchet & Clank.
So what is it about the cat and his toaster that has kept me endeared over the past decade? Well, appropriately enough, it was decided at the beginning of the seventh generation of game consoles by one simple fact: Jak died and Ratchet didn't.
Ratchet's first next-gen foray (well, next-gen for 2007 at least!).
Back in the sixth generation of consoles, my favourite franchise was actually Jak and Daxter. It felt more solid, had a good story, and a more immersive world than what Ratchet offered. The immediate story arc was wrapped up in Jak 3, and despite not continuing the story in Jak X (which is essentially CTR meets Burnout), fans were tense for the continuation of the story to get all the answers. ...and yet they never came. This is not a knock on Naughty Dog in the slightest; I applaud them for not approaching Jak when their hearts weren't in it, rather than bowing to fan requests. However it's been nearly a decade since Jak 3 released in 2004, and with the exception of the lukewarm The Lost Frontier and appearances in PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale and PlayStation Move Heroes, Jak has been quiet since then.
Ratchet was not. A year after the PlayStation 3's debut in 2006, Ratchet returned in Tools of Destruction, which set out to give Ratchet's story more consistency and impact. With TJ Fixman at the helm of the story, it achieved just that, and helped depict the world like never before. Since that debut, Ratchet's been busy, and busy making quality stuff; the only game with a Metacritic average lower than 70 was last year's Full Frontal Assault.
Which isn't to say it didn't have its moments.
And it wasn't just in video games. In 2010, Ratchet & Clank got its very own comic book series that told its own unique canon adventure after A Crack in Time, and was lauded for not falling into the usual traps that video game-based comics do (no wonder, TJ Fixman wrote it!). And in 2015, Ratchet & Clank will have its own animated feature film featuring the original voice actors, produced by Rainmaker Entertainment, known for the ReBoot and Beast Wars shows and the Escape from Planet Earth movie (worried about the low marks on Planet Earth's story? Don't. TJ Fixman is on the script). It's more than what the Halo, Gears of War and Mass Effect movies have accomplished.
Each of the games themselves have introduced new concepts. Tools of Destruction has Combat Devices and Starfox sections, coupled with a Raritanium upgrade system so good that it's returning in this year's game. Quest for Booty, the first downloadable title, introduced the Kinetic Tether. All 4 One, the most divisive entry, went for family co-op, and Full Frontal Assault took the traditional gameplay and applied it towards Tower Defense objectives. And Into the Nexus (which comes out in under a month) goes for a spookier vibe and easily the most dangerous villain yet.
Doesn't mean you can't have a bit of fun, of course.
But perhaps the best Ratchet of the generation so far was 2009's masterpiece: A Crack in Time. Despite being shorter than most titles if you skipped all the side stuff, this entry introduced weapons with customizable components, an arena with its own arcade game, the mind-melting Time Puzzles, and the brilliant Space Sectors that even had their own GTA-style radio stations with hilarious Ads such as Decapitated Villains and Unicop. It also had the most emotional ending; there have been only three games that I've played that have managed to make me tear up, and alongside Journey and Crisis Core, A Crack in Time is one of them.
And yet none of these hallmarks seem to be recognized by anybody. Many people have either not played the games, not played them in years, or aren't a fan of them at all. I've always wondered why, considering what they has going for them; as mentioned, no Ratchet & Clank game has managed to average less than seventy on Metacritic, and many have averaged in the high 80s and 90s (that's better than Beyond: Two Souls!). Maybe it's the fact that its too cartoony for most people, despite Mario's raging popularity. Maybe it's all the same, despite the previous two titles being vastly different from the rest of the franchise.
Maybe Qwark is too good-looking for most audiences.
Despite these things, Ratchet is my hero of the past generation. By keeping the quality up over the years, offering unique weaponry such as black holes unleashing Eldrich abominations and beams that turn your enemies into fire-breathing dinosaurs, and a sci-fi world that is unique in a world of space marine shooters, it has earned its place for me as one of the great franchises. It shows no sign of stopping either, with Into the Nexus releasing as one of the last PlayStation 3 games before the PS4's release (not to mention that movie!).