As easy as it is to bemoan the endless parade of gaming sequels forever choking the shelves, there really is something comforting about sitting down with a fresh instalment of a series you can trust to be consistently fun. It’s like having a nice pair of worn-in slippers. Ratchet and Clank is just such a series and this latest addition, though slight, definitely holds the line.
Touted as the final chapter in the sci-fi franchise’s sophomore Future series, Ratchet and Clank: Into the Nexus has a legacy of eight or so well-liked platformers to draw inspiration from, and does so with aplomb. It’s not overly important that you’ve been following along through the years, as the plot – like the series in general – is driven by an efficient simplicity. But scripting is clever enough that there’s plenty of value snuck in for long time acolytes too.
The game opens with our eponymous heroes helping out with the intergalactic prison transport of criminal psychopath Vendra Prog. Because she’s known to be a crafty one she’s under the most maximum of maximum security, but also has a gigantic thug for a brother who remains at large, so it’s pretty much guaranteed things aren’t going to proceed as planned. The ensuing jailbreak makes for a thrilling, physics-defying set piece as Ratchet desperately hops amongst floating chunks of an exploded spacecraft using his Gravity Boots, just on the brink of being sucked out to space.
Into the Nexus hits the ground running and doesn’t slacken pace for a moment. The result is an excitingly kinetic action platformer that unfortunately crosses the finish line sooner than you’d like. But almost every minute of it is light, chaotic joy, which is an increasingly rare gaming experience.
Equal time is given to exploring the fanciful sci-fi environments and engaging in gonzo firefights, and both elements are stylishly simple and solidly fun. In the PS3′s twilight days developer Insomniac has got the cartoon space adventure looking as slick as you could ask, and the newly tweaked engine has Ratchet jumping, dashing, gliding and anti-grav-ing with flawless responsiveness and satisfying accuracy. The way through each decaying metropolis and exotic alien jungle is always plainly linear and the puzzles as straightforward as you could ask for. But the level design is tight enough that bounding through feels smooth and rewarding, rather than insultingly easy.
The game’s point of difference this time around is the incorporation of the ‘Netherverse’, a parallel dimension inhabited by demon-like creatures that threatens to spill into the slightly-more-regular-verse. At various points in the game robotic sidekick Clank will be sent into this zone where play takes on a 2D puzzler format. You must navigate through a maze of hazards and obstacles using Clank’s inexplicable ability to change the direction of gravity in this realm. Once you make your way to the centre you have to slap a sleeping demon-dog awake and run for your life as it chases you back through the maze and out the portal to the regular world, opening up the rest of the level. These stages are brief blast of unconventional mental gymnastics, making for a nice change of pace.
Combat in the Ratchet and Clank series has always tended towards the outlandish, and Into the Nexus is no exception. Ratchet’s insane arsenal includes old favourites, like the fusion grenades and mechanical bodyguard Mr Zurkon, along with a few pleasantly bizarre new additions. Stand outs include the Winterizer, which fires a tornado that turns enemies into snowmen as the Jingle Bells tune plays, and the Nightmare Box, which summons ghosts and ghouls to terrify and distract enemies.
The closest thing to strategy in these gun battles is choosing which ridiculously overpowered weapon to most efficiently rain hell on the armies of witless goons – it might not be The Art of War but definitely borrows a few pages from The Art of Insane Good Times. A robust levelling system helps to keep you grinding and ensures your favourite weapon never gets made redundant – if you’re a straightforward pistol kind of gun slinger, you can continually upgrade the humble Omniblaster until it becomes a dual-wielded, log-rang, quick-firing weapon of mass destruction.
If you’re really going out of your way to find problems with the game, you might grumble at the lack of variety in enemies and forgettable boss battles – but that’s all quite inconsequential when the main thrust of the game hits its (not terribly ambitious) target so precisely. And yes, it’s a bit short – about five hours at a jog – but that comes factored into a cheaper price point, so it’s far from a deal-breaker. And there’s plenty of reasons to go back and try various level challenges again, if you’re the compulsive type.
Into the Nexus manages the impressive task of being both a fitting end to the Future saga and a completely accessible jumping-on point for the uninitiated. Like a finely crafted pop song you’re not embarrassed to admit to enjoying ten years down the track, the game is fast, easy, addictive, and out of mind before the final note has finished reverberating in your ear. If you don’t enjoy yourself here you’re probably just not that into fun in the first place. 
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Insomniac Games