After a seven year hiatus, Sly and the gang have finally returned in an all new HD release for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, in the spirit of the franchise, has a sufficiently wacky setup: world renown loveable thief Sly Cooper, and his gang of misfits, have to travel through time to rescue his ancestors and stop an evil force from screwing with the space time continuum.
Does it sound like a Saturday morning cartoon plot? Yep, that’s Sly Cooper alright.
The wacky setup, in this case, works. For the most part, the journey is pretty enjoyable as you romp through time, and try to guess where you’ll end up next or what Sly’s ancestor will look like. I have to say though, the writing isn’t as top-notch as it used to be. As a general rule, the writing in Sly 1-3 transcended most mascot games and did a decent job of shirking the typical tripe dialogue found in many lazily written cartoons of bygone eras.
While Thieves in Time never really hits that same low, it doesn’t set any bars either. Characters will often say what you think they’d say in the situation, to the point of absurdity. But it’s not a funny fourth wall kind of absurdity — it’s just kind of “there.”
“Traveling through time” is basically the story in a nutshell — you visit a new era, do some missions, fight a boss, and go to the next area. It’s basically the exact same formula found in Sly 3, a game that featured environments that were so varied that it felt like you were traveling through time anyway.
There’s really no evolution to be found, which may or may not bother a lot of you out there. Personally, it didn’t really bother me for the most part, outside of the initial realization that this new iteration was not going to put the series on the map again.
From a pure gameplay perspective, you’re pretty much going to get everything you always wanted, with very little curve balls. Action takes place in giant hub worlds, with the ability to roam around them entirely without aim should you decide to ignore the story for a while. The game’s controls operate as they always have, and outside of a miniscule amount of issues with walking on tightropes, Sly and the gang’s control schemes are extremely tight.
But it’s not that Thieves in Time doesn’t try to do something new — it at least attempts it, with the all new era specific costume system and playable ancestors. The problem is costumes are canned, but at the same time they’re not really offensive. All of them operate in a very specific manner that requires you use them at specific points (like rolling on a ball to avoid lasers on the ground). So while they function, it would have been nice to see them actually work well enough where you’d want to use them more often (think wingsuit Sly).
By the same token, the playable Cooper ancestors operate basically the same as Sly with slight variations (one has a gun, one can leap farther). Again, not revolutionary, but not exactly a negative addition, as all of these mechanics still work on some base level.
Despite all of this talk of lack of innovation though, you know what? The franchise is still fun. Roaming around rooftops with Sly and jumping off of hills with the parachute is still just as fun as ever, and the balance of stealth and combat elements still blend together fairly well. Sly’s colorful cast of characters are still endearing, and the wonderful vistas and skylines of Sly‘s levels are still fun to get lost in.
In typical Sly fashion, there’s a ton of extra optional content to tackle, should you buy into the game enough to feel the need to go on. There’s hidden bottles, treasure, safes, and masks to discover in the gigantic hub worlds, which should keep you busy well past the game’s 10-15 hour campaign.
Then there’s the added bonus of the PS3 game coming with a free Vita copy of the game, and the fact that both of them have full cross-save capabilities that really adds to the package — not to mention the lower base launch price of $39.99.
Speaking of the Vita version, I was able to test it a tiny bit. Although this review for all intents and purposes is for the PS3 version of the game, I can report that the Vita version is basically the same exact game, with outright worse visuals (given that it doesn’t do cel-shading). This omission doesn’t completely ruin the game, but it’s still puzzling why there’s such a dip in quality when the Vita is supposed to mirror the home console experience.
Besides the fact that it doesn’t push the envelope, it also has some other issues. Some missions have horrible, horrible checkpoints. For instance, on some stages, you’re able to recover your progress if you fall into a pit, and keep on trucking with a little less life.
But in some random circumstances however, falling in a pit will result in you having to redo a whole puzzle, similar to a game over screen. Although the game is quick to reload your progress, and checkpoints are never more than a few minutes apart, this seemingly random design can get really frustrating, and make Thieves feel a bit cheap or rushed, like Sanzaru Games just forgot to make them function correctly.
Also, like past games in the series, there are three “hacking” mini-games that Bentley the turtle will engage in over the course of the game — and in typical fashion, they’re extremely hit or miss. One is a decent shoot ‘em up clone, one is a twin stick tank shooter, and the other is a Six-Axis motion controlled spark maze.
Your mileage may vary on an extreme level here, but I never really found them to be too offensive or annoying. The real annoyance are the forced non-hacking mini-games, like Bentley’s Root Beer Tapper, or Murray’s Geisha DDR (you’ll see), which feel outdated and completely out of place.
Still, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a very serviceable platformer, and I really enjoyed my time with when it hit all of the right notes. Although it may not be the be all end all of mascot games in the HD-era or the shining savior of the Sly Cooper franchise, platforming fans (and Cooper fans) should find plenty to like in Sly and the gang’s latest adventure.
This review is based on a physical copy of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for the PlayStation 3