The day of the platformer has passed. During this console generation (albeit for a few exceptions), 3D, cartoonish platformer games have seemed to go the way of the dodo; there simply aren’t many being developed. Sony seemed to follow this trend, as they put two of their fan-favorite franchises, Jak and Sly, on the backburner for the greater portion of the PS3’s life-cycle. Thankfully, developer Sanzaru Games has stepped up to resurrect the Sly Cooper franchise after an eight year hibernation, and for the most part, they succeed with flying colors. Although the gameplay seems archaic and simplistic at times, Sly Cooper Thieves in Time provides a solid and enjoyable ride through the Cooper’s family history.
Set after the events of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, Sly, Bentley, and Murray discover that pages of the Thievius Raccoonus are disappearing, and it’s up to them, with the aid of Bentley’s newly invented time machine, to fix history and restore the book to its former glory. It’s a silly and non-sensical plot that doesn’t quite take itself seriously, providing for some truly laugh worthy moments. It does venture into serious territory but for the most part, they end up stumbling. What should be a heart-wrenching and painful moment is usually bypassed with a quick cliché or two. The series signature sense of humor runs rampant here, from Star Wars and Back to the Future references, to plays on famous movie scenes like the Rocky training montages. The dialoge and actions of the characters are sure to make you laugh, making the journey much more enjoyable.
In addition to the lovable gang from the previous series, Sly encounters many of his ancestors: a quiet and stoic Ninja, a rootin-tootin’ cowboy, and a few others. These ancestors, along with their unique gameplay mechanics and moves, provide for some different gameplay mechanics and story perspective. It’s not at all shocking to be playing a stealth mission, followed by a third person shooter segment; it works seamlessly. Each character has their own strengths, weaknesses, abilities to upgrade, and environmental locations that only they can explore. Switching between characters becomes quite enjoyable, and keeps the game from getting stale too quickly.
The environments and time periods that Sly visits are extremely beautiful. The cel-shaded art style shines on the PS3, even if many other games in this generation are more technically advanced. It’s a solid looking game that runs smoothly on the PS3, but less so on the Vita. In order to comply with processing and storage limitations, the cel-shading effect is practically gone, draw distances are cut, and the game runs at only 30 FPs. These visual degredations are noticeable, but they don’t detract too far from the overall experience. If you have the option, play it on the PS3, but the Vita version is more than an adequate substitute for when you can’t sit in front of your television. Load times can be an issue though, as you can be waiting upwards of 30 seconds to load into different areas of the game.
Thieves in Time is one of the pioneer examples of how a cross-play game works on Sony’s PS3 and Vita. Cloud saving and downloading works flawlessly and instantly. There were times where I would upload to the cloud and be playing on my Vita in under a minute (minus the load times). If you choose to buy the PS3 version, the Vita version is included (as a digital download) for free. Plus, at $40, it becomes a game that is an excellent value right away on launch day.
The Sly Cooper series is well-known for its easy to understand stealth gameplay, and this game continues that tradition. Each team member has their specialty, and throughout the game, they’re used to their full potential. Sly’s an excellent climber and sneaker, Bentley’s technological skills are unmatched, and Murray’s brawn clears the way for the team. It’s a trifecta that provides for some unique gameplay moments and collaboration that is rarely seen in this genre. Each team member’s missions have their own feel to them, keeping the player interested and involved throughout the entire game.
In additions to Sly’s playable ancestors, Sly uses his own costumes, expanding his skill set and abilities. Whether it be shooting arrows with an archery costume, or pouncing on enemies with a sabertooth skin wrapped around him, Sly always has the right tools for the job. Clue bottles, Sly Masks, and hidden treasures are strewn about the games main over worlds enticing players to stick around and explore. The rewards, though not necessary to the plot advancement, are valuable enough to endure the exploration process.
The developers seem to have a slight obsession with mini games. Arrow shooting contests, twin stick shooters, dance competitions, and much more seem to pop up every few missions, and for the most part, they are fun. Some of the forced motion controls falter a bit on the PS3 version, but they are slightly more tolerable on the Vita. It’s nice to have a break from the gameplay every once in a while, but they sometimes seem arbitrarily placed in order to disguise the lack of content or mission variety in a given section of the game.
Overall, Sly Cooper Thieves in Time is a perfect homage to the series. It retains the old school platforming and stealth gameplay of its predecessors, while adding enough new content and gameplay mechanics to keep the series fresh. The story is witty and charming, driving you to push past any issues in order to reach its conclusions. It’s an excellent and solid title, that maybe plays it a bit to safe. Honestly, I wouldn’t rather have it any other way. Revolutionary it is not, but no other game in the past 6 years has made me feel like a young gamer again. It’s nice to simply play for the joy of playing, and not because it’s a “AAA blockbuster experience”. Some gamers may not find a lot new or innovative here, but underneath that lies one of the most enjoyable, charming, and retro-infused platformers of this generation.