Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time review


By James Lenoir on Thursday, March 28, 2013
"A perfect nostalgic nod to a bygone era of gaming."

I always get this sinking feeling when I discover a new developer has taken over the reins of a beloved franchise. In my mind, developer Sucker Punch and Sly Cooper (and the antics of his merry band of thieves) were synonymous. Up until a few years ago, I was still hoping that the lads at Sucker Punch would craft another Sly Cooper game. But for all intends and purposes, it’s become clear that they had moved on; Infamous is where their bread is buttered now.

Bentley-san, though the bamboo forest is dense, water flows through it, without effort” – Rioichi Cooper, Ninja Master and Sushi-chef

My hopes for another Sly Cooper game slowly made way to the era of the combat shooter du jour. I rapidly lost myself in a hail of bullets and jarhead military jargon. The platformer was dead. Or so I thought. You see, Sly Cooper, much like Ratchet and Clank and even the now-forgotten Crash Bandicoot are what I would consider part of the Golden Age of PlayStation Gaming. Iconic characters that solidified a new era of gaming. They were new and fresh, but for reasons unknown the transition to our current-gen, left them frozen in time. Artefacts of a different era. Current gamers were less interested in the platformers of old, and even less so for niche titles like Ratchet and Clank, or Jax and Daxter.

A wild Sanzaru appears…

SlyCooper_Screen6

And that’s partly where the sinking feeling in my stomach came from. Would a new studio capture the essence of Sly Cooper? Would they re-imagine the series? Would the Cooper gang be re-invented with atrocious life-like graphics (fitting of this current graphics-obsessed generation)? I hastily googled the new developer, and discovered that their recent claim to fame was a HD spit-shine of the original PlayStation 2 trilogy. My heart sank. I reluctantly slipped the PS3 disk into my PS3, and there it was… the promised land – a cel-shaded introduction screen. My eyes widened, my heart started racing. I pressed start.

The Gang is Back!

The good news is that the gang is back (albeit a little older and probably a little wiser). Sly Cooper, the nimble, and wise-cracking ring-tailed protagonist is flung out of retirement and joined by his friends, the erudite (i.e. the “Brains of the Operation”) tortoise, Bentley, and the fist-pounding hippo enforcer, “The Murray”. Later on, Sly’s main “squeeze”, and Interpol’s greatest investigator, Carmelita Fox (reluctantly) joins the Cooper gang, on their time-bending caper, and lends her gun to the festivities. I’ll admit that I miss the spunky and fiery version of Carmelita Fox (from the first game). Ms Fox was definitely not the Inspector Clouseau to Sly’s Pink Panther (for Heaven’s sake she aimed and fired a rocket launcher at the Ring-tailed Master Thief). But, perhaps age had a soothing effect on even the most fiery of vixens.

The obvious question on any Sly Cooper fan’s lips would be, what could possibly bring Sly out of retirement? Could it be the possibility of the greatest heist of all time?

Not quite!

The game’s introduction explains that while Sly managed to hang up his trusty cane, old habits die hard. But, the real trigger involved a strange development with the Cooper family’s most valuable heirloom, the Thievius Raccoonus. For some mysterious reason, the pages of the Cooper Clan’s thief manual were being erased of all its secrets. Something nefarious was happening in the distant past, and only Cooper and his gang (armed with Bentley’s time machine) can untangle the mysterious temporal knot.

Let’s do the Time Warp again…

SlyCooper_Screen5

Regardless of a few technical hiccups, or the goof-ball time-travel storyline, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time carries a charm that can’t be denied. In the past, I’ve always viewed story that involve time-travel with contempt. This is partly because I could never shake the feeling that the story writers had exhausted all possible story options, and are left relying on an overused trope.

But, Sly’s latest adventure allows Sanzaru to show off their technical wizardry. It allows them to add a few more interesting characters to the fold. For instance, to uncover why the Thievius Raccoonus is slowly turning into a blank moleskin journal, Sly is forced to help his distant kin. This is where the game truly shines. The various ancestors comes with separate story chapters and very different “hub worlds”. While the individual chapters tend to have very similar themes (i.e. Sly and co. must orchestrate a plan to rescue an ancestor from the clutches of evil, and then recruit this specific individual to help them free the world of said evil), the ancestors are sufficiently different. The agile and reserved ninja, Riochi Cooper is a world apart from Sly’s prehistoric, club-wielding Ice-Age ancestor, “Bob”, and the gun-wielding smooth-talking Tennessee Cooper is an excellent counterpoint to the elderly and sombre, Salim Al-Kupar.

In addition to Sly’s ancestors (and the hilarity that spews from their interactions with Sly and co), the size of the individual hub areas is something that surprised me. It takes a while to familiarise yourself with a new area, and with the addition of collectibles (scroll bottles, masks and treasures), the possibility of revisiting areas is virtually assured.

SlyCooper_Screen3

The collectibles are not merely fodder for unlocking trophies. Treasures (artefacts) scattered across the map require you to safely transport them back to your hideout (obviously with a count-down clock in the corner). Once you’ve collected all of them (for a specific hub area), they unlock an arcade cabinet (and game, generally one inspired by Bentley’s hacking mini-game). The masks on the other hand unlock different skins for Sly’s glider and even additional outfits for your party. Since the game allows you to explore the game hubs as either Sly or his friends, some collectibles are only accessible through either one of Sly’s unlocked abilities, or through the talents of his friends. I should probably mention that amongst Sly’s arsenal is a number of abilities that unlock as part of various hub-specific outfits. One in particular is a sabre-tooth tiger pelt that allows you to pounce on enemies (or leap great distances). Another is a Prince of Persia-inspired outfit that even helps you to slow down time.

A Question of Roadkill…

SlyCooper_Screen9

It’s been just over a decade since I played the first Sly Cooper game (Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus). I am mindful that nostalgia can sometimes cloud our memories, and leave us with a completely distorted and overbearingly positive account of the past. But, the first Sly Cooper game blew my mind with its breathtakingly beautiful cel-shaded graphics and the near-perfect use of stealth & combat. The cherry-on-the-top was undoubtedly the challenging and rewarding puzzles. On the first two points, Sanzaru has definitely delivered. They’ve crafted a title that’s worthy of the Sly Cooper name. However, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with the game’s difficulty. It’s a minor issue, but I always remembered Sly requiring a bit more brain power. The puzzles in Thieves in Time are just too easy (with much of the focus being on the mini-games). If there was one thing I could change it would be to add a bit more complexity to the game. There are glimpses of puzzle perfection, but those moments are lost amidst a crazy collection of mini-games.

SlyCooper_Screen34jpg

The mini-games are best described as being slightly schizophrenic. There are some memorable ones like Carmelita’s sultry Guitar Hero-inspired belly dance, or even Murray’s foray into cross-dressing, or even Bentley’s hilarious take on the Arcade classic, Tapper. While, most of the mini-games are mercifully short, there are a few that overstay their welcome. One in particular is one of Bentley’s hacking mini-games that takes you back to the early days of the PS3 – where every title wanted to make use of the dual shock controller’s three-axis gyroscope.

The other major issue relates to the ridiculous load times. The review code didn’t install onto the harddrive. Instead, it took my PS3 on a spinning class. I hope that the retail copy allows you to install to your harddrive, because as it currently stands, the loading times between starting your game, or exiting the Gang’s hideout to the greater game’s world hubs is shocking. The silver lining to this cloud is that it reminded me why I install my PS3 games, and why I don’t have a problem with install times.

Enter the Vita?

But wait… there’s more!

Sly’s latest title forms part of Sony’s CrossPlay program. In a nutshell, that means that every PS3 copy of Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time also comes with a download code (for the Vita version). Since, CrossPlay is built into both versions, you can share your cloud-based saves between the two versions, and continue your game at your leisure. Sadly, my review copy didn’t come with a Vita code, but, if you’re a fellow Sly Cooper fan, and you’d like to take the gang on the road, this is an excellent deal.

Closing Comments

SlyCooper_Screen7

At its core, Sly Cooper pays homage to a genre of games, that I honestly thought died off during the PlayStation’s Golden Era. It’s a delightful title that reminds us that 3D platformers can still deliver if given the chance. The effect is almost the same as when Rayman Origins reminded us that 2D platformers could be visually stunning, or how Telltale’s Walking Dead proved the critics of the point-and-click adventure genre wrong. Of course, if it was handled any differently, Sly Cooper could have easily been lumped amongst the awkward, irrelevant atrocities of gaming.

At the end, all I can say, is that Sanzaru has a new fan.

Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time was reviewed by on the 28th of March , 2013 at 5:00 PM on PlayStation 3

GAMEPLAY
9.0
Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time emphasises stealth over action, but when you have to unleash the cane, Bentley's bombs or Murray's fists, the combat is responsive and fluid.
DESIGN
7.0
You can't go wrong with cel-shaded graphics, and it also helps that each chapter is introduced with a cheesy TV/cartoon introduction.
VALUE
8.0
While you might not want to replay specific jobs, hunting artefacts or finding other collectibles bring a strange sense of calm. The option to revisit hub areas, replay specific jobs and even take on the boss characters get a thumbs up from me.
TOTAL
8.0
A perfect nostalgic nod to a bygone era of gaming. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time will keep fans of Sly happy, while also introducing newcomers to one of the best (yet surprisingly underrated) platform characters of the early noughties. I didn't even mention the top-notch voice acting, and awesome one-liners.

Tags: , , ,

[rpuplugin]
  • Sir Rants-a-Lot Llew

    Banana Jim has spoken!

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      There is definitely a distinct banana flavour in the air…

  • Sam

    Tl;dr lol :p

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      lol! It’s not that long… sniff sniff…

      • Admiral Chief Erwin

        THATS WHAT SHE SAID :P

  • Roland

    Fair review for good game

Must Read

Kim Kardashian Hollywood review: Look Ma I’m famous!

We make our intern review Kim Kardashian Hollywood, a mobile game all ...

Razer Atrox Review – The Stick’s fighting game cousin

We put the Razer Atrox arcade fighting stick through its fighting paces. ...

Yu Gi Oh! Zexal World Duel Carnival Review – It’s a trap…card

You remember when Yu Gi Oh! 5D’s entire premise of card games ...

Steelseries Sensei Wireless mouse reviewed

We've taken the brand new Wireless Sensei mouse for a long test ...

Dark Souls 2: Crown Of The Sunken King DLC Review Round-Up

The reviews for Dark Souls 2’s Crown Of The Sunken King DLC ...

Razer Deathstalker review

The Razer Deathstalker isn't just a pretty keyboard, it also feels good. ...