Ratchet & Clank Trilogy is the latest in a long, respectable line of Playstation stalwarts ported to and revamped for the PS Vita, joining God of War, Jak and Daxter, Metal Gear Solid, Flower, and a deep well of PSOne Classics. The steady trickle of old standards back to storefronts is a boon for players looking to revisit old favourites or explore games they missed the first time around (assuming they were even alive – kids born around the time the first Ratchet & Clank was released will be 12 now).

But this steady trickle, this great excavation of recent games history, serves another purpose. It lets us revisit these games with fresh eyes. We can shine a light on the old canon, see if it still holds up. In the case of Ratchet & Clank Trilogy, it's holding up pretty well. But the cracks are showing.

We can still say Ratchet & Clank’s foundations are strong, though. Its faithful adherence to the fundamentals of the modern 3D platformer and mechanics with their roots Super Mario 64 makes it feel similarly timeless, and the weapons system remains diverse and almost ahead of its time (even if Armed and Dangerous was only two years off). But its most interesting feature is still its level design.

Ratchet & Clank Trilogy review
Ratchet & Clank Trilogy review
Ratchet & Clank Trilogy review
Ratchet & Clank Trilogy review

One part arcade shooter and one part Metroidvania, Ratchet & Clank effectively disguises its network of linear corridors and encounter rooms with open-air spaces, occasional side-quests, and grand cartoon landscapes (with impressive draw distance to boot – cities and seas stretch to the horizon in locations like Fort Kronos and the Gorda City Ruins).

That design choice is instrumental in the way Ratchet & Clank frames its combat. Rather than treating combat as something you react to, each encounter is made to feel like a puzzle you prepare for – enemies have different weaknesses and patterns, and you come out best (and having lost the smallest quantity of nanotech) if you study them, and adapt to them with the appropriate weapon. Even now, it’s a refreshing, satisfying change of pace for a third-person action-adventure, even taking into account this game’s wild third-act difficulty spike.

Then there's the sequels, Locked and Loaded and Up Your Arsenal. Their improvements are incremental, largely isolated to how weapons operate, but I say that not to downplay them. Both games provide more ways – and more visceral ways – to violently interact with enemy creatures.

For example, Up Your Arsenal's Plasma Whip is a Hall of Famer when it comes to video game weaponry: the button-mashing makes it feel blunt and brutal, but it traces fire-laced arcs through enemies, graceful and entertaining, like a gymnast with a ribbon.

Then there’s the introduction of watered-down role-playing elements: guns level up with use, and this small change alters your play style significantly. With the promise of overpowered bombs and shotguns, weapon-play becomes the priority and you become much more conscious of each gun’s limited ammo counts, which encourages more patience, more experimentation, and less impulsiveness going into encounters.

Ratchet & Clank Trilogy review
Ratchet & Clank Trilogy review
Ratchet & Clank Trilogy review
Ratchet & Clank Trilogy review

But the cracks. 3D platformers in the late 1990s and early 2000s often struggled to successfully implement precision platforming, and the Ratchet & Clank games were no different. Take the first game’s frequent airduct segments. While they were never meant to be easy, the problem isn’t that they’re thin and combined with environmental challenges.

Rather, the problems caused by imprecise analog controls are compounded by a temperamental camera that doesn't always snap to dead centre, turning an essential mechanic into an enemy to work against and leaving you vulnerable to so much as a five degrees analogue stick push too far to the left.

Then, as if to twist the dagger, the uncharitable turn-of-the-millennium checkpoint system leaves you negotiating chains of these challenges – challenges where your greatest enemy is the game complicating your input.

There's the stories, too, wafer-thin across all three games. There's basic character development, sure, but that's a low bar to clear and even then Insomniac's only clearing it when they can be bothered. Ratchet's regularly humbled but his snarky Dreamworks 'tude never softens, while Clank spends the first two games as a plot device that lacks common sense.

What's more, they're surrounded by the tired mainstays of Saturday morning cartoons and the video games they inspired – the sneering pantomime villains, the broad-shouldered buffoon who'd be voiced by Patrick Warburton in any other project, comedy that's all contradictory visual gags, characters rolling their eyes, and people getting hurt in the butt.

The port itself is a mixed bag. There's a real vibrancy to the in-game graphics, especially in Up Your Arsenal, and occasional aliasing doesn't have an impact on how good the games look with their expansive environments filled with strong colours (Nabla Forest in Up Your Arsenal and Jowai Resort in the first game are exemplars for this).

Ratchet & Clank Trilogy review

However, the sound has a hollow quality in the first game, the cutscenes are low fidelity, and the port effectively neuters one of the most pivotal improvements in Locked and Loaded - the introduction of strafing. Both Locked and Loaded and Up Your Arsenal attach strafing to the rear touchpad, and while it probably seemed like a good idea at the time, its implementation is clumsy and counterintuitive, particularly in fast-paced encounters.

Video game history has always been difficult to preserve. A lot of it is dependent on obsolete, hard-to-source hardware, and even games like Ratchet & Clank become less accessible as console hardware deteriorates and copies stop circulating.

So even if the PS2 isn’t the technological dinosaur that, say, the Amstrad CPC is, the steady porting of games like the Ratchet & Clank Trilogy to every Sony console is a welcome move. But not all old games are what we built them up to be 10 years ago, and not all attempts at preservation are seamless. With Ratchet & Clank Trilogy, the cracks are there. You can't really ignore them.