How do you go about bringing a stagnant franchie back to life? This was the task levelled at Sanzaru Games – a developer who’s catalogue is little more than ports and tweaks of other studios titles bar the mediocre Ninja Reflex (their first title). However, for their second original title they enter into the world created by Sucker Punch by creating the sequel Sly Cooper fans have been waiting for. Luckily they didn’t stroll in blindly to make their mark upon the franchise as they previously revamped the PlayStation 2 series in a wonderful HD collection. It certainly shows though as Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time only shows splashes of something new.
Bringing back Sly and the gang, including most of the previous side characters that populated Sucker Punch’s series, means that in an effort to stick with series continuity, they’ve managed to bring across both the bad and the good. It’s still got the witty dialogue, cringeworthy (yet enjoyable) puns and the creative level and character design of yore. But it’s also still got the frankly dull and tiresome Bently and Murray sections that spoilt Sly Cooper 2 and 3 in equal measure.
It’s also still got the duller fetch quests and on the Vita has some cumbersome controls to boot. But, as series fans know all too well when I say that this is still one of the best Sly Cooper titles in the series. That’s not because the bar was set too low, far from it in fact, Sucker Punch put a lofty target out there for Sanzaru to hit and it turns out they’ve managed to come extremely close to the bullseye.
Following on from the events of Sly Cooper 3: Honor Among Thieves, the story takes place in a modern day Paris, a rather happy Sly Cooper has hung up his cane and is in love with his foxy girlfriend Carmelita Fox. That is until his family history slowly begins to be erased when pages from the Thievius Raccoonus – a book chronicling all the skills and feats of Cooper ancestors – start to disappear completely. Naturally, as you’d expect from the super-genius wheelchair bound turtle that is Bentley, Murray – the pink hippo – has his van turned into a time machine (complete with flux capacitor) so they can go back and set things straight.
On your travels through various time-themed worlds, you’ll go through a rinse and repeat pattern of locating Sly’s long-lost ancestor, currying their favour, then using their skills – alongside costumes you gain – to take down the evil tyrant who’s tampered with their slice of the time space continuum. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fun donning costumes, making use of your ancestors abilities and generally exploring and scoping out new areas, but it does become a little tiresome when you do it for the third time in a row – only to discover you have to do it all over again with a different character a couple of hours later.
Luckily there are things that come along to inject some much needed change now and again. The costumes, for one, are a rather wonderful addition that, when implemented properly, create some interesting gameplay sections and open up the mission hubs to further exploration. Some costumes are far better than others – such as a time-slowing thief costume or pounce-enabling sabre-tooth tiger skin. Others, however, won’t be used for anything more than simple puzzle solutions.
The same can be said for gameplay sessions with Sly’s ancestors, offering little exploratory benefits – in fact more limitations - and are really only used to play their predefined missions. Thankfully these levels make good use of their abilities and provide entertaining moments, but they don’t come often enough and don’t last long enough either. I’d much rather play through more of their levels over controlling Bentley or Murray through the general tripe they end up wading through with their hacking mini-games and fist-first bravado.
However, when you’re in the boots of Sly Cooper himself everything feels grand. Sneaking up behind foes and picking their pockets or knocking them into the air for a stealthy takedown is exceptionally fun. Making use of the upgrade system is also as enjoyable as it’s always been, letting you paraglide your way down from heights and traverse the environment quickly and quietly. It’s also great to see the return of fiendishly hidden bottles and more treasures than you can handle – with many requiring you to return back to an area with a new costume, thus encouraging a lot of revisiting. It’s even got smarter trophies than The Sly Trilogy had, meaning it’s a little bit more taxing to platinum this time around.
If you’ve got a PlayStation Vita, or a Playstation 3 depending on how you look at it, picking up the PS3 version grants you a cross-buy copy of Thieves in Time to enjoy on the go. It’s quite a testament to both the skill on show at Sanzaru and the artistic design of the Sly Cooper series as on the Vita it looks near identical. It definitely isn’t, as much of the subtle detail is lost when comparing them side-by-side, but on the road the difference isn’t noticeable at all. The only punishment for the visual fidelity on the PS3 is immense amounts of slowdown at times – especially as Sanzaru peculiarly decided to not have a game install.
The Vita build does have some little niggles in terms of how it controls, mostly being a surprising lack of responsiveness to both the touch-screen and rear touch-pad, taking a couple of taps to really do what you want – which isn’t good when you’re in a bit of a bind. Thankfully the Vita’s other Sly features (see what I did there?) are rather good. Cross-Save works absolutely seamlessly and is a fantastic addition, and the innovative AR mode really helps you find those tricky bottles and treasures still lurking in the game world – although it’s recommended you don’t bother with trying to use it as a scanner and instead opt to just have it up all the time.
Sanzaru really did have the odds stacked against them, especially as there was a strangely staggered release date of a few months between the North American and European releases – along with an absurdly low amount of marketing from Sony themselves. But, in the end Sanzaru have proved that while the 3D action-platformer won’t be causing a storm amongst the mainstream like it once used to on the PS2,
they can bring Sly Cooper back to its heyday. It may not be perfect, and it may have some of the series long-term niggles, but it embodies everything about Sly Cooper and can be enjoyed on the go. Quite honestly, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time has provided us with more fun than any other title has recently. And on that alone it’s worth your attention.
Audio/Visual – 4/5: Looks fantastic, sounds brilliant and manages it on both Vita and PS3 – although PS3 does have slowdown issues
Gameplay – 4/5: Somewhat repetitive and the Vita could do with some tweaks, but it’s solid and true to the series.
Innovation – 4/5: Costumes and ancestors work well and cross-save and the AR system helps keep things seamless and fresh.
Value – 5/5: A story of mammoth proportions for a platformer, with plenty of collectables and distractions to keep you hooked.
Final Score: 4/5
- Vaughn reviewed Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, images are taken from both versions -