No game from 2021 is more full of joy than ‘Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart’

The best game to put a smile on your face

Every night, before I go to bed, I like to say a little prayer to myself. It goes something like, “dear whoever is listening, please make a PlayStation 2-2, I would like that very much, cheers.” Naturally, of course, this hasn’t happened. It’s not that I necessarily want a sequel to the PS2 that is basically the same thing but more. Moreso, it’s that I want there to be more games similar to what you’d find on the three generations old console.

I want more of the weird stuff like Drakengard or Katamari Damacy, off-beat classics like Shadow of the Colossus, and heavily stylised games like Okami. Most importantly, I’d love to have a resurgence of games that want me to have fun. And I think Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is maybe the game to have done that most successfully in 2021.

Thinking back to my playthrough of Insomniac’s most recent outing of the feline and robotic duo, I imagine I had a smile on my face for about 90 per cent of my time with the game. Booting up the game I found myself blown away simply because of how colourful it was. Colour was something that felt very absent during the PlayStation 3 era, and that continued into the time of the PlayStation 4 with the industry-wide push towards realism. It’s too early to say what the overall look will be for PlayStation 5 games, but I really hope that Rift Apart is representative of what it could, and maybe even should be.

Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart
Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart. Credit: Insomniac Games

It’s one thing to watch trailers for a game, and it’s another entirely to play it at home on your own TV. Sure, I was impressed by how the game was shaping up pre-release. But having it in my hands, seeing it motion (and oh how it moves) was something else entirely. Once upon a time, there was an article that claimed the PS2 would be able to produce images on par with Disney or Pixar. I’m not entirely sure they got that quite right at the time, but it would be hard to deny it now.

Gameplay and cutscene are indistinguishable at times, and it warmed my heart to see a game boldly go against industry trends. This is only doable because Insomniac is one of Sony’s first-party studios, and Ratchet & Clank is one of the consoles most popular franchises. Still, it paints a picture that’s quite different from console defining games like The Last of Us Part II.

It isn’t just how the game looked that charmed me, but the characters of course too. The rapport that Ratchet and Clank have with one another is the best it’s ever been, but with Rift Apart comes two newcomers as well: Rivet and Kit. The alternate universe takes on the fan-favourite heroes aren’t just copies of their male counterparts. They are wholly fleshed out characters in their own right, with their own trauma, anxieties, wants and needs. Seeing Rivet learn to connect with others, and for Kit to come out of her almost literal shell was easily one of the best parts of the game.

Yes, as the mention of trauma and anxiety might imply, the series does once again go on to deal with some slightly heavier themes. To contrast that though, there are regular moments of levity. Nefarious and his continued inadequacy as a villain provided a number of belly laughs to me over my playthrough, and to be honest with you, I’m a sucker for an overt French accent, so Pierre tickled me a number of times too. Humour is a staple of the Ratchet & Clank series, but it only really started to take storytelling ‘seriously’ during the PS3 years.

Rift Apart isn’t as dramatic or emotionally devastating as A Crack In Time, but it also doesn’t need to be. It’s serious when it needs to be, but the main emphasis is to have fun with it, which it does so through the fluid platforming and third-person shooting. And I think that makes it approachable to a demographic that many who are deeply embedded in video game culture forget about: children.

That’s right, children play video games! But over the years, it seems like it’s getting more and more difficult to find games appropriate for young ones. Call of Duty found great prevalence in the days of the PS3 and Xbox 360 due to the increasing interest in online play. The first The Last of Us bookended the PS3, and likely set the tone for the following generation of consoles. Games had to be serious, cinematic masterpieces. Look at 2018’s God of War, a game where part of the selling point was it being all in one take. Or last year’s Ghost of Tsushima, which literally wouldn’t exist without the film work of Akira Kurosawa or Masaki Kobayashi.

Ratchet & Clank.
Rivet in Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Credit: Insomniac Games

Alright, Nintendo generally has kids covered, but even there you’ll only find so many options. But with Rift Apart, you have a game that anyone, and in particular children can enjoy. Insomniac is big on accessibility features these days, with Rift Apart including things like automatic camera movement and invincibility. Both of these are sure to make playing through the game an easier time for a child, and mean they can still have fun even if they aren’t perfect at the game.

Rift Apart is one of the best games of the year for more reasons than I can fit in this piece. It didn’t change how I view the world, or enlighten me on an unfamiliar topic, sure. But there’s no other game I had so much fun in. Nothing else really quite matched the feeling of being a kid and having this incredible, massive universe to explore. And I so desperately want children to have that experience too. I want them to know that the wider world is beautiful, and exciting, and colourful. They should know that there are times when things will be tough, and that they can’t get along with everyone. But mostly, they should know life can be fun.

Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is available on the PS5. 

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