Review by SneakTheSnake
Isn't it kind of fitting that a game about a band of thieves is so criminally short?
Sucker Punch Studios is a different kind of game developer, and Sly Cooper is a different kind of game. It seems like many developers these days draw from the inkwells of Walt Disney and the Warner Bros. cartoons for the inspiration behind their cartoony characters and art styles, but Sucker Punch encapsulated the look and feeling of these classic-era toons much more effectively than the rest. With their debut title, Rocket: Robot on Wheels, Sucker Punch proved themselves as a very competent studio, ready to - pun intended - roll with the punches in the gaming industry.
The studio continued their streak with the Sly Cooper trilogy, a group of games which - like Rocket: Robot on Wheels - was met with critical acclaim but lukewarm sales. It hasn't been until their smash-hit inFamous that Sucker Punch has really put themselves on the map. And I really don't see why that is - Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is indeed a great platformer, one very different from the pack. It's a great start to the trilogy, but there are some niggling shortcomings that kept it back from full acceptance among critics and from my complete approval.
Sleuthing Through the Story
This PS2 title is full of surprises either way. First off, the game may not have an astounding story, but it does have a remarkable way of delivering it. The Sly Cooper games follow a trio of master thieves - Sly, the mischievous and witty raccoon, Murray, the hulking hippo, and Bentley, the tech-savvy turtle. The three have known each other since childhood, and they take pride in their work; as Sly said, there's no pride or challenge in stealing from regular folk, but taking rare artifacts from the big guns and consider it a pat on the back. Sly comes from an esteemed family of master thieves, whose innovations to the world of thieving, as well as their ubiquitousness around the globe and throughout the centuries, have made them an imposing threat.
Sly's birthright, the Thievius Raccoonus, was stolen and ripped apart one night when a band of criminals ransack young Sly's house. The raccoon watched as his father was taken away and as the ultimate thieving guide was so abruptly and suddenly taken away. Our main thief, alongside his team, has taken it upon himself to regain what's his by obtaining the five missing portions of the Thievius Raccoonus, each having been taken by a different criminal. Sly will travel to China, Utah, France and a few other locations in this game to reclaim what's his.
Granted, the story may be a bit cliche at points, as far as video game narratives are concerned, but how the story is conveyed sets it apart in a big way. The narrative is never spoon-fed or dumbed down; menacing characters carry large guns and aren't afraid to use them (though there's no blood), an omnipresent narrator doesn't take time to summarize what players already saw in the cutscenes, and the dialogue is actually rather dry and comical, pulling from classic spy and film noir pools. For example, there is a certain chemistry between Sly Cooper and Inspector Carmelita Fox, the agent who is quick with a quip but can never seem to catch Sly Cooper for his criminal ways. The relationship is played up in a hammy way with dialogue more akin to a James Bond film than to a game more geared toward the younger crowd. There's nothing in Sly Cooper that parents would object to directly, but it's a game whose narrative style and dialogue will appeal to adults as well as children.
This goes hand in hand with the game's stylish graphics. It's one of the few games of the era to use cel shading well. In addition to the wonderfully animated 2D cutscenes, which hearken back to the golden days of comics, the character models all have a thin black outline to them, and the environments, while lacking in hue and gradients, blend well with the characters to craft a truly unique- looking world. Sly Cooper's universe is angular; it's one of the cartoon worlds where the right angle in building architecture is a no-no. Walls and doorways tend to warp, bend and twist; building walls are hardly ever flat, usually concave. And there's detail; clumps of snow fall from precipices as Sly sneaks from ledge to ledge, characters' facial expressions are varied, and animation is incredibly fluid. There are framerate issues, though; when there's a lot of action on screen, the framerate dips to a few frames a second less - not enough to hamper gameplay, but enough to be noticeable.
Wow! A stealth platformer. Before playing Sly Cooper, I never thought I'd see the day. It's not as deep as Solid Snake's exploits, but darn it if Sucker Punch Studios crafted a world that felt great to play in. In addition to the typical hopping and bopping, Sly has a set of stealthy moves to get him from level to level. In addition to sneaking around walls, he can hide behind barriers, hide in a barrel, spire jump, swing from hooks and take out enemies with his cane - all in the need of keeping a low profile. Tripping a laser, getting in a spotlight or getting in an enemy's sight is enough to trigger alarms, the results of which can kill Sly instantly. I found the one-hit kill to be a bit harsh because of the game's targeting at the child demographic, but Sly can collect a hundred coins to obtain an extra hit point, which depletes as soon as Sly is hit.
The stealth portions work out quite well. It's up to players to constantly remain aware of one's surroundings; though the objectives don't vary much from world to world, there's always a clever arrangement of lasers and guards to keep Sly and players on their toes. This is a platformer that requires players to play it safe, to not go in with the intent of caning all the guards in sight. Because Sly has no long-range weapons, he must rely on his cane and the moves at his disposal - many of which he acquires along his journey - to navigate the environments.
A Safe and Steady Game Structure
Our rowdy raccoon gets these new moves by collecting clues scattered throughout each mission. Nabbing all thirty or forty clues allows Bentley the turtle to crack the code to each mission's safe. Sly's repertoire expands throughout the adventure, but I found the moves he gets to be rather slapdash and unnecessary.
Each of the five countries contain a hub world and a set of four or five missions apiece. The goal in each country (except for the last world) is to sneak one's way to the end of each to acquire a special key. Collecting all seven keys in a country unlocks access to the country's boss. It's quite easy to pick up on the pattern, and the overall game structure stays consistent throughout.
In addition to the stealth missions, certain key-nabbing missions require a completely different set of skills. A few involve racing, a few task players with manning a turret to shoot out enemies while another character goes to get the key, and one even tasks poor Bentley with a Tron-like shoot-'em-up, much akin to Geometry Wars.
These mini-missions are serviceable and do well in breaking up the action a bit, but I find the racing portions sloppy. The physics in the racing portions haven't changed much since Rocket: Robot on Wheels; the bouncy, floaty way the crew's van careens around corners in the race causes accidents and roll-overs very often and, while it was impressive back in the late '90's that a game even had a physics system, this shopping-cart racing doesn't hold up as well these days, making gameplay problematic.
The Sound, Soundtrack and Staying Power of Sly
Sly Cooper and his pals are voiced very well; the voice actors are all very fitting in their roles. As far as music is concerned, while it's very fitting, there are no outstanding melodies or tunes to speak of; it's atmospheric, but nothing especially memorable.
However, by and large, the gameplay succeeds in Sly Cooper. It's exciting, innovative and, above all, fun. I had a blast playing through Sly Cooper, though the game is incredibly short. I got through the game in about four hours with over 75% completion and, while there are time trials and a few extra moves to collect, there isn't enough to bring players back to check out anything again. Also, there is no multiplayer - something which would have definitely helped for the game's longevity. The replay value, then, is quite low, enough to knock my score down a bit. With the recent re-release of the entire trilogy out now for the PS3, I can say that, at the very least, the series got off to an excellent start.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (US, 09/23/02)
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