It’s astonishing how unstoppable the Ratchet & Clank series is. The franchise has translated to virtually every Sony platform from PlayStation 2 to its latest hardware. It’s a formula that has rarely been executed poorly, with even a middling remake still providing some fun. The titular Lombax and malfunctioning warbot have survived every trial thrown their way, but one of the series’s greatest accomplishments was sadly overlooked during PlayStation 3’s twilight years with Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus.
Despite being a $30 budget title, Into the Nexus included a free download of Quest for Booty and billed itself as an epilogue to A Crack in Time, the series’s latest main entry. And against expectations, Insomniac Games put 110% into the game, firing on all cylinders to create a dramatic close to the entire franchise up to that point. It makes what should be a glorified three-to-five-hour expansion pack into one of the strongest PlayStation 3 exclusives. The premise is that after sacrificing two different chances at finally finding his fellow Lombaxes, Ratchet is eager for some downtime and finally getting away from the hero biz. He just has to deliver an evil tween space witch to prison and ensure her towering brother doesn’t break her out.
The inevitable transpires, but with it comes an unexpected cost — two of the PS3 era’s main characters lose their lives as the brute Neftin breaks his sister Vendra out of your cargo hold. You learn over time that, like Ratchet, they’re dimensional orphans, long cut off from their own kind in the Netherverse. But unlike Ratchet, they can’t simply go back, instead aiming to tear a hole in spacetime to bring their fellow Nethers to the Solana galaxy. All the while, at every confrontation, Vendra calls out Ratchet’s unwillingness to do whatever is necessary to find his family. His insistence on selflessness, while noble, has ensured he and Clank are forever strangers in a strange land, beloved though they may be as heroes.
As much as Ratchet despises the twins for what they’ve done, he understands what they’re going through. He’s been tempted more than once at the prospect of finding other Lombaxes, but he also cares for those who surround him now, like Talwyn, Clank, and the reformed Captain Qwark. He’s constantly reminded of all the good he, Clank, and company have done as much as the personal cost. An all-ages platforming shooter about fighting goofy purple space demons shouldn’t be this heady, but it works remarkably well.
That emphasis on nostalgically looking back to see what’s been achieved is imbued into every facet of Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus. Rather than reinvent the wheel, much of your arsenal is familiar favorites amped to the maximum. It’s not just Mr. Zurkon as additional fire support, but the entire Zurkon family, each boasting unique dialogue. The Groovitron doesn’t just feature as a dance-inducing weapon, but has its own room in homage to its absurd brilliance. Old familiars get retooled as well, like replacing the flamethrower with a frost thrower that blares Christmas carols as it freezes enemies into snowmen, each full of presents when you smash them.
Where the PS3 era tended to sway between being more for kids or grown-ups rather than the balanced mix of the PS2 era, Into the Nexus recaptures that original feel without being worn down with bitterness. Like Ratchet and Clank, the series has matured enough to laugh at what it once might’ve rolled its eyes at, as well as to stand tall in the face of adversity. It’s a game that can laugh while groaning at a dad joke, then tug at your heartstrings over cartoon characters.
An entire section of the campaign is set inside a fully featured museum recounting every series entry, even spin-offs like Full Frontal Assault. It is a huge knowing wink to Ratchet & Clank fans, as numerous core entries have hidden behind-the-scenes museums, but this time it’s brought to the fore as a central set piece. Seeing all your adventures immortalized like this is touching and speaks to the sheer number of adventures the titular pair has gone on over the decades.
Other chapters are like microcosms of previous games, with a cityscape similar to in the original game, a hover boot-centered hunting ground evoking A Crack in Time’s grander scale, and a combat arena with escalating challenges straight out of Deadlocked. It’s not only a nostalgic delight, but it ensures an incredible amount of gameplay variety.
It all coalesces into a happy yet somber final outing for the pair. Just listen to the main theme — it’s haunting, desperate, yet bursting with life.
Not counting the PS4 remake, this was the last true Ratchet & Clank game until Rift Apart in 2021. Given how Insomniac was branching out into new horizons at the time, it wasn’t certain that there would be another game after Into the Nexus. As a potential final salvo, there’s so much love for the series gushing out of every detail that you can’t help but get swept up in it. This was the PS3’s real swansong — heck, a swansong for an entire era of Sony gaming.
After Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus released, it wouldn’t be long before we got fewer games like this and far more like another 2013 title, The Last of Us. Hopefully the groundswell of excitement for Rift Apart might make Sony reconsider that approach. Once upon a time Sony was known for games that were impressive for more than just their graphics. I’d love to be excited by a Sony exclusive again. They’re a key part of why I even got into console gaming. At least Into the Nexus is a perfect reminder of what we once had, alongside the likes of Puppeteer. If you’re curious, Into the Nexus and all its PS3 contemporaries are available through PS Now.