Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus Playstation 3 (reviewed), Playstation Vita The game was purchased by the reviewer himself.
I grew up in a Nintendo household and, frankly, most everybody around me too until the sixth generation of gaming struck and everybody spread across the three camps we still know today. The other platforms on the market were a bit of a mystery to me and it took until my early teens before I learned that there were reportedly a lot of good games to be found in camp Sony while I was jumping about with Mario, Link, and Donkey Kong. While the real big name, Ratchet and Clank, never really clicked with me, I had a mighty good time with Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus.
A Band of Thieves
Sly Cooper is a thief with a pedigree. Hailing from a long line of master thieves, he is the youngest and only remaining member of the Cooper Clan. As a young boy he witnessed his family been wiped out by a union of villains, known as the “Fiendish Five”, who also took his family’s treasure: The Thievius Raccoonus. This heirloom is a book containing the combined knowledge of every thief the Cooper Clan has ever known, but when they stole it the Fiendish Five tore it into bits.
Sly then went to an orphanage where he met his two best friends: Murray and Bentley, a cowardly but loyal hippo and a tech-savvy turtle respectively. Years later the three started work as career criminals who specialize in robbing evildoers. After stealing the needed files during the game’s tutorial level, the three set off on a globetrotting adventure to defeat the Fiendish Five, retrieve the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus, and prove that the Cooper Clan isn’t done for yet.
The story is actually remarkably good and I am particularly glad it takes place in real-world locations like Utah and Wales. The setup works well and after each area the game provides you with a neat cutscene that introduces the next member of the Fiendish Five, giving them hilarious back-stories well before you actually face them. Characterization as a whole is quite strong, especially for the three core characters. Sly is particularly suave and has fun interactions with a female police officer that chases the trio across the world. Murray and Bentley also pull their weight, even if the stereotypes are blatantly simple and lack any surprising twists.
Similarly, the ending of the game is not that surprising, but is handled pretty well and provides the obligatory hook for the sequel to latch unto.
Story score: 9/10
Platforming over sneaking
Despite sometimes being referred to as a stealth game, Sly Cooper is more of a platform game that adheres to some stealth game rules. You’ll find yourself dealing with plenty of patrolling guards as you break open saves, nick valuables, or just try to reach the end of the stage, but the difference lies in the details. The game is a linear mascot platformer with stages where you must reach the end of the level, optionally while collecting coins (which provide you an extra hitpoint for each 100 you get) and other collectibles. On the way there you deal with various guards, some of which you can avoid whereas others will just engage you on-sight.
Sly’s cane doubles as both a weapon and a platforming tool, allowing him to knock down enemies with just one hit, as well as sling from hooks and break obstacles. This is part of the reason for why I won’t call it a stealth game, as the hook takes away your reason to stealth. Guards can be knocked down with ease and there is little consequence for having them spot you first, aside from some having deadly ranged attacks. In fact, if you try to sneak up on foes, even when tiptoeing slowly, they will detect you within a certain radius even if you stay out of their field-of-vision.
Semantics aside, as a platformer Sly Cooper holds up really well. The levels all have their own feel and obstacles to overcome with plenty of gimmicks thrown in to prevent it from ever getting stale. The stealth elements lend the game a unique feel compared to other platformers, as you will frequently have to deal with searchlights, lasers, and other traps that you can later disable. You can also collect bottles in each stage and, once you have all of them, Bentley will give you a code to unlock the safe in that zone, which frequently provides you with new abilities or upgrades to your existing ones.
Control-wise the game suffers a bit, however. All those special abilities you get are all mapped to the triangle button, so in a pinch you are forced to scroll through them in order to find the right one. I only ever used two; the roll move that makes you move faster, which I kept until I unlocked the fast forward skill that speeds up time. While you do get some nifty thieving skills, I never once found a scenario where using them was more convenient than just smacking the obstacle with the cane. The game is also really picky with input and I found myself falling into pits a lot as Sly randomly stopped sidling across a small ridge or refused to grab a hook. The camera can also fail you at the most inconvenient of times.
Besides the regular platforming levels there are bosses to fight and several levels where you have to do a mini-game. The mini-games are short, fun diversions that do repeat a few times, but never to a point of annoyance. You’ll find yourself covering Murray with a turret, racing with your team’s truck, or playing a twin stick shooter for a bit. The bosses vary in quality, but only one is worth complaining about since it devolves into an instant-death sequence of quick-time events. All the other bosses neatly blend platforming with a bit of combat to give the player a neat test of skill.
Gameplay score: 7/10
HD remake galore
I never played the original Playstation 1 title, so I can’t wholly comment on how well this HD remake compares to it. What I can say is that I really enjoyed the visuals of the version I played, thanks to its great use of color that gave each area a ton of atmosphere. The character designs are also superb and I like that all the characters are anthropomorphic animals, except they feel a bit blocky and undetailed. It seems like the HD remake only improved the graphical quality without going back to modernize the original models. The cutscenes you are frequently treated to look absolutely fantastic, however.
The voice-acting is a bit questionable at the start of the game and especially Bentley leaves a bad first impression. Over time the actors seem to get more familiar with the character and their performance begins to improve significantly. One actor that bugged me, though, was Presciliana Esparolini as the voodoo witch Ms. Ruby. Her voice is annoying, her character model is terrible, she’s loud, and her boss-fight is terrible.
The sound-design as a whole is mixed. Voice lines that play during gameplay are often hard to hear and there is no option for subtitles, so I missed a lot of dialogue I would have liked to hear. The music, while fitting for the game, is also not that memorable, but one detail I did like is Sly’s footstep sounds. They used this cartoon sound-effect for sneaking that changes pace depending on how fast you move. It’s subtle and cracks me up every time I notice it again.
Presentation score: 7/10
Completing the Thievius Raccoonus
Beating the final boss does not mean the game is over quite yet. You’ll get a satisfying last cutscene and afterwards you’ll find yourself back in the van from where you can replay all the game’s levels. To get the true ending, you have to go back and collect all the bottles and unlock all the saves. Even that won’t give you a 100% completion on your save. To get that, you head back to all the platforming levels again and participate in a time trial where you must rush to the end.
While I had fun completing the Thievius Raccoonus, these time trials got on my nerve pretty quickly and I didn’t finish a single one. They are strict and, on top of that, the roll move that makes you faster is pretty useless for them. While in a game like Banjo & Kazooie you could use a similar move to speed up, here they included some wonky physics that slow Sly down or make him bounce at the slightest bump. Still, these trials are not mandatory, not even for the trophies if you go for the HD version, so it’s perfectly fine to skip them.
The game is also plenty replayable thanks to its fun levels and relatively short length. Aside from the fight with Ms Ruby mentioned above, there are also no frustrating obstacles I’d dread to play through a second time.
Extras score: 9/10
Sly Cooper is a solid game that holds up to this day. The easygoing platforming mechanics, despite suffering from some small control issues, are a lot of fun to play around with and the levels are designed to accommodate this. Likewise the story, characters, and visuals are all entertaining for both adults and younger players, though older gamers may cringe at some of the voice acting early on. Get the HD trilogy if you can and you’re unlikely to be disappointed.