As a games journalist I’ve played a lot of great games, but sadly I’ve missed out on a few thanks to not owning specific consoles. The Sly Cooper series is one of the many beloved franchises that I simply missed out on, and never got around to checking out. Sly is basically a Sony mascot now, having starred in four of his own titles as well as Superbot Entertainment’s Playstation All-Star’s Battle Royale.
Back in 2010, an HD remake of the three PS2 titles was announced and released onto the PS3 by Sanzaru Games. They went down a treat with fans of the series, and STILL I missed the opportunity to try it out. Almost four years later and Sanzaru have ported The Sly Trilogy to the Vita, and this time it has landed firmly in my download queue. So I don’t write this review as a fan of the series hoping to find a nostalgia kick, but as a gamer new to the series hoping that it has aged well.
The Sly Cooper Trilogy follows the capers of three best friends who also happen to be expert thieves. Sly, the leader of the gang, is a smooth talking Racoon. Bentley, the brains behind the operation, is a bespectacled turtle, and Murray (or The Murray as he is eventually known) is the brawn, and what I assume is a hippo?
The first game in the trilogy, aptly named Sly Raccoon, is a stock standard platformer. There honestly wasn’t much going on here that made the game feel like much of a stealth, or thief inspired game. Although, other than Sly and the gang’s job of choice, I guess the game never claimed to be a game about stealing. In fact, this entry in the series is about a family tome, the Thievius Raccoonus, being stolen from Sly by another gang of thieves, led by Clockwerk, a mechanical owl. Each member of the gang becomes a boss battle in Sly’s attempts to recover the book.
Honestly, I didn’t think much of this one. It was the kind of platformer that was already in abundance at the time of release and didn’t seem to do much above and beyond what was already out there and this is 12 years later. After only a couple of hours the game was starting to become repetitive and I was losing interest. I also started wondering how they managed to make three more in this series based on what I had seen so far.
And then I played the second one and all became clear. Obviously Sucker Punch had been given a bit of feedback on creating a game about thieves that involved little to no stealing. Sly 2: Band of Thieves starts off in a very similar way to the first, but quickly changes course when you realise that the big bad from the first game was broken into pieces when defeated, and nabbed by another group of villains known as the Klaww Gang. Together the pieces could revive Clockwerk, so it’s up to Sly, Bentley, and Murray to steal back these pieces.
We have stealing! And best of all, it involves having to break into places to get as much information as possible via a recon mission before even planning the heist. That’s right, we also have heists! Bentley is the known brains of the gang, and each episode involves a moment where Bentley explains exactly what needs to be done before the heist can even take place. This usually involves having to collect a number of items, or break a number of items… kind of your stock standard platformer affair, but each thing feels like it serves a purpose thanks to the way it’s all laid out. And once you’ve completed these tasks, another meeting of the brain trust takes place where the heist is fully explained and it’s up to you to make sure it all goes to plan.
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is the last in the trilogy and builds upon what Sucker Punch created with Band of Thieves. It’s more of the same but with what seems like extra polish. The game is broken into episodes (just like the other two), you take control of the main three characters to set up and pull off heists, and this time there are a few extra characters along the way. It’s definitely my pick of the three mainly due to the main villain we meet at the start of the game.
Sly has become aware of a family safe that contains all of the wealth that the Cooper family has attained over the years. Unfortunately for Sly, Dr. M (a mandrill who was an original member of the Cooper gang) has built a fortress around it and is doing his best to break into the safe.
This one follows the tried and true “protagonist is about to die, how did he get there” trope, and soon enough we get to see how Sly plans on getting into the safe, and who he needs help from to get it done. Honor Among Thieves feels like it had a bigger budget, and definitely feels a little more complete than the previous two.
The presentation of the three games in this pack is pretty great for someone between 9 to 12 years old. Each game is broken into cartoon like episodes, each with their own intros and fancy title cards. The only thing that reminded me that I wasn’t playing a game series made specifically for the Vita was the fact that each of the pre-rendered cutscenes played in 4:3 aspect ratio and included some fairly major compression artifacting. It would have been great for Sanzaru Games to remake these, or possibly see if Sucker Punch still had these available for re-render.
Controls are, for the most part, pretty good. One stick for moving, the other for camera motion, with the face buttons assigned to your typical platforming hit/hit/jump. There are however, moments where you’ll need to use either the front or rear touchscreens. The front touchscreen is fine, you use that to pull out Sly’s binoculars or Bentley’s aiming reticule for his tranquiliser darts. But that rear touch panel…. that was a constant source of stress.
You need that little panel to help push you in the right direction. The idea is that you give it a little tap and it shows you the locations of your next missions. However, depending on how you hold the Vita you may already have a finger rested on the panel when you go to tap, and if you do, it doesn’t do a thing. So you remove your finger and tap, and nothing. Maybe you’re not hitting it in the right spot? Who knows? Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Navigating each episode’s main hubs shouldn’t be this difficult.
Now, there’s talk of Cross-Buy and Cross-Save action with the PS Vita and PS3 versions of the games, but I couldn’t see any information on how to get this going, and I really didn’t want to risk spending $45.95 just to test this out. If this is true, you’re getting quite the bargain when picking this up. I enjoyed it on the Vita, but I would’ve enjoyed it even more if I could’ve been playing it on a nice big screen.
In the end, I’m sold. These games seem to hold up really well despite it being almost a decade since the third released. I adore the characters, the latter two in the series are a lot of fun and really help build this world of thieves, and Sly’s little “relationship” with the main Interpol Inspector, Carmelita Fox, is fun to see play out. I’ll be interested to see if the upcoming feature film will be able to capture what the series has created, but that trailer sure is promising.