Sucker Punch may be currently known as the studio that brought us the electric Cole MacGrath in 2009’s inFamous, but back in 2002 they began telling the tale of another hero. Like Cole, he could parkour like crazy and climb buildings with ease. Also like Cole, he couldn’t touch the water. Unlike Cole, he was completely covered in hair… well, more like fur. Sucker Punch’s first hero on a Sony machine was a slick-talking raccoon in a hat called Sly Cooper. While the first decade of this millennium saw many mascot character-driven platformers, Sly was the quiet one, hiding in the shadows, much like Batman.
"Ever dance with the raccoon in the pale moonlight?"
The Sly Collection collects the trilogy of Sly Cooper games. In all three games you will play as a thief in a cel-shaded world full of anthropomorphic animals. The underlying gameplay is exactly the same as it was for the original titles; only the graphics have been updated. Luckily, the original games were designed with cel-shading in mind, so when those are enhanced (to 720p) the original aesthetic is maintained. Each game is a little different from the others so I will be doing three mini-reviews for them.
First up is 2002’s Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. Just for reference, 2002 saw the release of Metroid Prime , Splinter Cell, Ratchet and Clank,Kingdom Hearts, and GTA: Vice City. This first game is definitely a throwback to the Nintendo 64 style of 3D action platformers (e.g.: Banjo Kazooie or Mario 64). You have five “episodes” which all have a little hub world through which you will need to figure out how to access the door which takes you to a sub-level (usually around seven per episode).
Most of these sublevels contain bottles to collect. Getting them all will allow you to open a safe (also hidden in the level) and in the safe is a new move for Sly. This style of collecting items strikes an excellent balance. You can skip the bottles and move through the game faster, but with a limited moveset, or you can challenge yourself to scouring the whole level and be rewarded for doing so. One interesting hold over from the last generation of platformers is that Sly has lives and only one hitpoint. If he falls in the water, he sinks, and you lose a life… when not playing a Nintendo game the concept just feels quaint. Another feature that smells of Nintendo-style platformers is that you collect coins and for every hundred you gain another hitpoint, maxing out at three. Death will drop you back down to only one hitpoint all over again. The life structure doesn’t even make sense; a “game over” merely drops you at the beginning of the same level with five lives and unlimited continues.
"Lasers ... why'd it have to be lasers?"
That aside, the gameplay is still as fun as ever. The level design is quite excellent, having you run down a bridge while avoiding security lights, only to have to cross back over the same bridge high along the rafters. Some of these sublevels are minigames instead of the standard platforming. These range from a simple kart racer to a timed twin stick shooter and do keep the gameplay varied. However, the game does end quicker than you would like at around seven hours. Enemies here feel just like something to break up the platforming a bit, but are never a problem. It is the same with the bosses, all of which are full of character and creatively designed. They just follow the “dodge my patterns until I get dizzy so you can hit me” routine.
All in all the first game is an enjoyable (if short) adventure that will tickle the nostalgia of 3D platformer fans.
Next up is the crown jewel of the whole collection, 2004’s Sly 2: Band of Thieves. Jogging your memory again, 2004 saw the release of Katamari Damacy, Halo 2, Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, Half-Life 2, and World of Warcraft. Talk about some stiff competition. Putting that to one side, Sly 2 is an amazing game. Gone are the single hit points, sublevels, and even a life system. The more I played this game the more I was reminded of inFamous. You play in more of a sandbox style world with missions (located with a push of the L3 button just like inFamous). Water is death, enemies are better tackled stealthily, the rooftops are your friend, and episodes are set up with brilliant motion comic style cutscenes (just like… ok ok, I’ll stop). You even have a health bar. I never thought I’d miss having a health bar.
This time, instead of being only played during the minigames sections, you get to actually control Bentley “The Brains” Turtle or Murray “The Murray” Hippo along with Sly. This is where the level design will just blow you away. While Sly can scale walls, run across ropes, and climb ladders, his pals cannot. Bentley, being small and weak, must be more cloak and dagger with his sleep darts and explosives. Murray can brute strength his way through sections that the others would be smarter to sneak around. This happens in every new world you come across. Sure, you’ve learned how to get from point A to point B with Sly, but now Murray needs to get there. This completely changes how you tackle a level and makes it feel fresh all over again.
"Because crossbows are sweet"
You still collect coins, sometimes by pick pocketing the guards dry, only this time you use them to purchase new moves and upgrades for your characters. Each main world still has thirty clinking bottles to collect, which will take you around every corner of the map. The collection aspect will add a few more hours to your time in Sly's world, which all together gets you to about fifteen hours of play. The gameplay is as varied as the three main characters. One minute you could be setting mines at the weakpoint of a bridge, the next you could be throwing a fish at a machine in order to convince a grizzly bear to demolish it, or driving a tank down the street. While a few of the missions are a tad annoying, the checkpoints are fair and help keep any annoyance to a minimum. At its best the game reminded me a lot of other excellent stealth games like Splinter Cell or Arkham Asylum. Like those games, you had to be quick yet silent and sometimes the best course of action is running away and hiding.
The one thing that definitely shows its age as far as game design goes is that all of the cutscenes are unskippable. Even if you failed a mission and have to start over you will be forced to see the same cutscenes all over again. The old school element of these cutscenes that made me laugh is how the characters would say things like “jump and hit the circle button”. Nothing will remind you that you are playing a game more than when a character verbally informs you what to do with your controller. All those quibbles aside, this is an excellent game, which really holds up six years later.
The final game in the trilogy came just a year (and 12 days) later - Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. Notable other releases that year were: Legend of Zelda: the Minish Cap, Call of Duty 2, God of War, Resident Evil 4, andGran Turismo 4. If someone told Sly 3 that less is more, it would merely respond, “Well, if less is more, think of how much more more would be.” You start your adventure with two thieves and by the end you will have been in control of eight different characters at some point. I would warn people buying this collection… don’t play the third right after the second. Give yourself a breather or you will overdose on Sly.
Sly 3 is a typical videogame sequel with the standard oddity that comes with it. Moves that you had at the end of one game will be missing until you re-relearn them (most notably in this case, the paraglider Sly had that made long jumps possible). For the third time in as many games the voice actress for Carmelita Fox has changed and she isn’t even trying to sound like the same person. It is awkward when a franchise works so hard to make you care about these characters and then is put in a position where the character feels like an entirely different entity. Also missing are the bottles, or collectables with purpose. This makes progression through the level more of a point A to B thing than about naturally exploring them. The final negative I have is that since this game was originally designed to have some 3D elements (with 80s style red and blue paper glasses) the camera for this game wants to hover lower on the screen to give you more depth. Unfortunately, this will mean there are times when your own character will block your view of where you are trying to go, leading to unnecessary falls and damage taken.
Those negatives out of the way, this is a game that rewards you for playing it by the end. Even without the bottle collections there are more missions per zone so expect to spend another fifteen or so hours on the third installment. The final few acts are so well crafted you won’t be able to stop playing them. Even with the quick turn-around for this sequel they were able to tweak some of the minor annoyances out of the second game. First off, now the three main characters can all steal from the guards instead of just Sly. When you steal an item from a guard you no longer have to sell it, it automatically gives you the monetary amount for it. When you are at the character selection area, you are able to see who has a job to do instead of figuring out there is nothing for someone to do only after selecting them. I know that the third game of the series was overlooked by many people since it came out so close to the launch of the current generation of consoles and the “animal mascot fad” was seen as childish and played out. You’ve been given a second chance gamers, don’t skip it this time.
This game will cost you $40 (about 30 Euro) new. While you could easily get all three of the original games combined for that price, what you get from the collection is amazing value. All three games have been visually enhanced to 720p. There is even 3D support if you are blessed with the proper setup. While the added Move minigames feel like an afterthought, they are packed in there too. The added trophy support is very welcome, especially since they are each considered a separate game, so there are a total of three platinums to achieve. You could most likely push it and get all your trophies in about 30 hours but 40 is a more likely number. Still, if you love trophies (or raccoons) don’t miss this collection.
"Play my games or I'll find you"
This collection is fascinating in many ways. It shows the evolution of a franchise and the adjusting of game design based on tastes at the time. It shows that while some games are popular in the moment, others can hold their value and entertainment for a much longer time. It also shows the ground work that helped to give us the inFamous franchise. This collection, above all else, did one very powerful thing - it has me waiting impatiently for the fourth Sly Cooper game.