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The Rise of Ratchet & Clank’s Transforming Weapons

by Ian Colquhoun on 02/28/18 09:36:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

The R&C series is known for its eccentric weaponry. Chief among the franchise’s reoccurring tools are the transformation weapons: ray guns that splice an adversary into harmless livestock or inanimate objects. The functionality of these guns has remained largely the same, and they’ve been largely relegated to gimmicks. But 2013’s Ratchet & Clank: Into the Nexus introduced the Winterizer, blasting peppermint swirls and holiday jingles that leave your foes trapped as snowmen. The Winterizer makes several changes to the design of the transformation class that shifts the gun from gimmicky crowd control to a viable tool that occupies its own space in the weapon economy.


Transformation weapons all fire narrow homing beams that polymorph their targets, yielding the same bolts and EXP as killing them would. Zapping small enemies will instantly transform them, but larger enemies require extra time and pressure. The problem is:

- Only one enemy can be zapped at a time

- The process is slow on larger enemies

- The morph progress is canceled when Ratchet is hit. This also applies if Ratchet moves out of firing range, as is often needed to dodge tougher enemies.

Discouraging the player from morphing certain foes isn’t necessarily bad, yet morphing weapons are highly situational. If there’s a group of enemies weak enough to be easily morphed, there’s no reason not to use the wrench. In R&C1, the only benefit to using the Morph-O-Ray is that it doesn't use ammo. Transforming weapons have been relegated to “gimmick” status, often given to players for free, since Insomniac knows players won’t spend bolts on them. So with each new title, each new transforming weapon has revised the design to be more appealing to players. 

Going Commando had the Sheepinator, which transformed enemies into exploding black sheep (only when upgraded), but the sheep barely moved, making it hard to get enemies into the explosion radius. Up Your Arsenal had the Quack-O-Ray, which created a flying duck that would fly alongside Ratchet and divebomb enemies. This fixed the Sheepinator’s mobility and added some planning to combat, since the player will look for an easy enemy to turn into a duck, and bring it into the next area to take down tougher enemies. Yet the weapon still had to be upgraded to make use of this feature, meaning slogging through five level-ups before any unique combat potential could be had. Aside from the Chimp-O-Matic in A Crack in Time, which didn't’t have any unique features or damage potential, transforming weapons had disappeared from the series. Until, in 2013, Insomniac knocked transforming weapon design out of the park with Into the Nexus

While an enemy is being winterized, a freezing status significantly slows their actions. One of the biggest problems with previous transforming weapons was that they had a binary level of success, as opposed to analog weapon damage. Either the enemy was transformed or they weren't. If Ratchet gets hit, stops firing or the enemy moves out of range, the morph progress resets. Freezing brings with it an analog level of success. It makes enemies much easier to avoid in a firefight, and a slower moving enemy is also an easier target for attacking. In fact, freezing is better than staggering, and players may choose to freeze an enemy while a support unit such as Mr. Zurkon wails away. The Winterizer’s direct damage may be little, but the benefits introduced by the freezing status and the potential weapon synergy it brings gives the weapon a purpose beyond mob control: small enemies can be transformed, and large enemies can be slowed which makes them easier to hit and avoid. The increasing blue hue that an enemy takes when frozen gives clear feedback and is far more elegant than the transformation meter of previous games, now allowing the player to keep track of the transformation progress of multiple enemies at a glance.

The Winterizer has also doubled down as a crowd-controller. When fully upgraded to the Blizz-O-Matic, enemies that are morphed into snowmen will explode in a Frost Nova, which freezes and damages nearby enemies. This means even large enemies can be partially frozen without being morphed, and can set off chain reactions among small enemies, some of which may even immediately turn into snowmen because of their low HP. Attentive players will look for small enemies near larger ones to set off ripples of freezing damage.

The last major upgrade to transforming weapons that the Winterizer brings is the support of the hex-grid upgrade system introduced in Tools of Destruction. Collecting Raritanium allows Ratchet to upgrade a weapon’s properties, increasing the Winterizer’s range, max ammo and damage. Unlocking certain slots on the grid grants new perks that are unique to each weapon, with the Winterizer receiving Absolute Zero, granting Frost Nova more damage, and Deck the Halls, which makes snowmen drop presents that can contain bolts, nanotech or ammo. 

While the Winterizer was viable enough, it’s Deck the Halls that gives the Winterizer a permanent place in anyone’s quick select. The extra ammo and nanotech are handy enough, but it’s the bolt drops, which stack with the regular amount of bolts an enemy will drop on death, that really sell the weapon. For players looking to grind some extra money for that postgame Nether armor or RYNO Xtreme, Deck the Halls will combo with your bolt multiplier, making it the perfect tool for dispatching late-game enemies and scrubbing their wallets clean. 

The surest proof that the Winterizer has succeeded? It’s now a purchasable weapon. It no longer has to be given out for free to incentivize players to use it. That alone shows the confidence that Insomniac must have felt in the weapon’s strength. And I’m inclined to agree.

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