I understand why fans didn’t love Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus when it came out in 2013. This was the first mainline Ratchet & Clank game in 4 long years after 2 disappointing spinoffs. It’s short, disconnected from most of the series, and lacking in some key Ratchet & Clank signatures; chiefly exploration and variety. The length is somewhat ameliorated by the $30 price tag (and it also came with Quest for Booty, a previous downloadable title) but waiting 4 years for a favorite series to return only to get a half-length game with 5 planets and only one substantial minigame (in a series that’s known for them) is a tough pill to swallow.
Into the Nexus has other issues too. Like many games in the Ratchet & Clank series on PS3 it has a frame rate that can tank when action is fast and furious (or fast and furrious…because he’s a Lombax, you see. It’s funny if you understand it!) There is a lot of story here, and a metric ton of fan service for people who like the series, but the main plot is disconnected from the past games and the way some fan favorites are treated probably upset quite a few people who were hoping for a continuation from prior games. Into the Nexus itself seems abbreviated and like it should have had a lot more in it. It feels like a game that had its ambitions scaled back mid development and was patched together into salable state and shoved out the door. At the time it seemed like Ratchet & Clank might be going out not with a bang but a whisper, especially considering where Insomniac was as a studio at that time.
For me, playing it in 2021, this game gave me a lot of what I wanted from a PS3 Ratchet & Clank title. I have the benefit, 8 years later, of knowing that there was another game on PS4 and there’s a PS5 title planned this year. Insomniac is thriving as a studio and was just purchased by Sony. I bought the game for $15 years ago, so the short length is even less of an issue at that price, especially considering that I didn’t already own Quest for Booty so I got to play that too.
Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus starts with Ratchet & Clank aboard a prison ship escorting a prisoner to the Polaris guard. Talwyn, Ratchet’s semi-unspoken love interest from Tools of Destruction and Quest for Booty, warns him that this particular prisoner is particularly dangerous and in typical Ratchet fashion he reassures her that nothing will go wrong. Things then proceed to go wrong and Ratchet & Clank have to recapture the prisoner, save the universe, blah blah blah. I don’t come to these games for the story and the plot here is just a framework on which to hang some nice character moments and the tried and true Ratchet & Clank gameplay. Despite being a short game without a lot of extras, Into the Nexus does introduce a few new ideas to Ratchet & Clank. Ratchet can leap from magnetic surface to magnetic surface, and he quickly gains the ability to create a sort of wind current that he can ride between two predefined points. This makes for new platforming opportunities and the first half of the game really takes advantage of this with some neat little puzzles where you combine platforming and current riding to get where you want to go. Clank’s sections are also new and are sort of a 2D take on Gravity Rush. I love Gravity Rush and I enjoyed these little segments, which all end in an intense but never frustrating chase scene.
Otherwise this is just Ratchet & Clank as you know and hopefully love it, but scaled back a bit. There are weapons to buy, and what I think is the best upgrade system in the series, where you use Raritanium on a hex grid to purchase upgrades and unlock new abilities. Mr. Zurkon is here and he brought the wife and kid, which is a lot of fun. There are a few gadgets to get including the hoverboots and a jet pack. There are gold bolts and RYNO plans and all that stuff. The majority of the game is structured like typical Ratchet & Clank, where you fly to a planet and go down one or two paths, but the game is much more linear than most of the titles in the series and you have to do most of the objectives in order (though you can sequence break in the first planet you get to, which is one of the reasons I think this game once had larger ambitions.) There is one planet that’s just a battle arena and one that’s more of an open world you can explore to collect things in, but with only 5 planets in total there’s just not a ton to see or do. There are only a dozen gold bolts in this game, while most of the games feature around 40, to give an idea of comparative size.
I really liked the combat in Into the Nexus, I liked the weapon upgrades, and I liked the character moments, especially between Ratchet and Clank. When I played through A Crack in Time I commented that having Ratchet and Clank separated for most of the game reduced my enjoyment of it, and it was great to see them back together in a game that’s at least structured like the mainline. The new villain characters are underdeveloped but fun, the smuggler’s back and just as shady as ever, and Talwyn’s brief appearances are welcome. One planet is mostly devoted to fan service for the series, and despite having played the games recently I loved seeing the callbacks to prior titles.
Into the Nexus definitely feels like a game that should have more to it. Only getting 4 real planets was disappointing, and flying around a simple 2D map without any ship combat or side areas was a real step back after prior games made piloting a substantial side activity. The open world area is pretty drab and feels mostly like busy work. Even the substantial linear planets (of which there are 3) feel smaller than prior worlds. But all this just made Into the Nexus feel like a delicious appetizer to me. Is it a full meal? No. If I’d been waiting 4 years for new Ratchet & Clank and got this I would be disappointed. But as a snack it’s tasty stuff.
Into the Nexus may be a short game but it doesn’t skimp in production values. This game is gorgeous, with lush areas that reminded me that the PS3 was a very capable machine for its time, and that Insomniac can be a very strong developer. If you told me it was an early PS4 game I might even believe you. The music in the game is also top notch (and not just a pop song reference that raises a lot of questions the game does not answer about whether humans exist in this galaxy) and the score actually includes what I think is a proto version of the Spider-Man 2018 theme. The voice acting is, as always, impeccable, the new and returning weapons are a lot of fun with some great upgrades, and the whole thing feels polished and goes down super easy. There’s some disappointment with the final boss battle, which is ludicrously easy, but at least it’s not frustrating.
Into the Nexus feels, to me, like a successor to Tools of Destruction. Something about the camera angle and the level design (which is much more vertical than that of Crack in Time) recalls the first game in the Future series more than the subsequent sequels, and I really like that. Nexus is too short and underdeveloped to be a great game, but I had a great time playing through it and removed from its disappointing context I feel like the criticisms I have for it didn’t really matter.
What do I like about Ratchet & Clank? The art and music, the characters and voice acting, and that sweet gameplay loop where you get a new weapon or gadget, fly to a new planet, and just jump and shoot your way through well-designed levels against fun, colorful foes. Give me a few puzzles to solve, a few collectables to find in out of the way areas, and a couple tight platforming sequences and I’m happy.
Into the Nexus made me happy.
After the disappointment I felt with A Crack in Time (which is a good game, but felt regressive to me), the mediocre slog of All 4 One and the waste of time that was Full Frontal Assault it felt really good to find a game in the series that resonated with me. I get why fans didn’t like it at the time, but removed from that context it’s an easy recommend for people who enjoyed Tools of Destruction.
I’ll probably take a break before the PS4 game, just because I’m a bit burned out, but I’m looking forward to Ratchet and Clank’s PS5 debut with renewed excitement after this. These games may be formulaic and I get why Insomniac tried to mix things up, but it’s a really great formula.