Review by SilverMelee
A Positivius Reviewus.
Platformers. To think that these used to be the "in" genre; before the market was flooded with Call of Duty and Gears of War clones, it was flooded with Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog clones. Where am I going with this, you ask? Well, while the market will always be flooded with bland and unimaginative rip-offs as well as clones of whatever's popular, if you look hard enough, you'll still find gems in these popular genres; games that manage to be charming and fun without feeling derivative and same-y. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is an terrific example of that.
So, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus... what exactly is this "Thievius Raccoonus", anyway? While one might think it refers to Sly Cooper himself, it's actually the name of his family's keepsake - a book that details the thieving exploits of his ancestors. You see, Sly comes from a long line of Cooper thieves, and he was going to be the next to inherit the book. But before he could get this fancy heirloom, his house gets raided by five thugs who steal it and wind up orphaning poor Sly in the process. So, now all grown up and with the help of his friends Bentley and Murray, he's determined to get the book back and take down the five fiends who were responsible for stealing it!
It's hardly a fascinating story and is actually a little cookie-cutter, but it's not so much the story that will draw you in, but rather the presentation. When you begin in a new location or when you defeat the boss of that area, you'll be given these cutscenes that consist of these short, but charming cartoons that are so full of color and personality that you can't help but go back and watch them (fortunately, players can go back and watch them by going to the hideout and talking to your turtle pal, Bentley). There's also the conversations between characters, which are equally full of personality without feeling too hammy or nonsensical. It definitely shows that Sucker Punch knows what they were doing when making the game.
But personality alone doesn't quite cut it - how does Sly Cooper play? Well, it's obviously a platformer, but what helps it stand out is its increased emphasis on stealth. I've noticed a trend in quite a few games to implement stealth elements that often feel tacked-on, iffy, and not very fun. Sly, however, manages to implement these features without ever feeling tedious. For example, there will be instances where you'll see enemies carrying flashlights and scouting an area or even blocking a certain route. You could try taking them head-on, but in most cases it'll end poorly for Sly. In a few instances, I noticed I could climb a rope or hop on some platforms above the baddie, from there I could either sneak by or get the jump on him and strike from above, ensuring he doesn't get a chance to attack. It is, to say the least, a rewarding experience.
Other instances of stealth include frequent use of IR lasers and searchlights - avoid them and smash the nearby alarm system they're connected to and they'll deactivate. Likewise, if you fumble and get spotted by the security system, the alarm will go off and the lasers and light will go red - trip the lasers or lights again, and you'll get fried (literally). I really dig the sense of reward of getting past a laser-heavy area without getting seen, but the sense of desperation of scrambling to deactivate the alarm before the security system fries you is also pretty entertaining in its own right.
But don't think that Sly Cooper is all about stealth - remember, it's still a platformer at heart. And while there are platforms that need to be jumped across and goodies to collect, the way Sucker Punch delivered it is indeed quite special - in one level, I was being chased by a massive serpent in a swamp. The camera shifts to show the monster behind you, edging ever so closer as you run across narrow branches sticking out of the water and swing from branch to branch flawlessly to get away. While you might not think anything of it at first, it was here that I truly noticed just how graceful the platforming elements were; it's not just jumping from platform to platform, but rather fluidly running along rails and swinging over the water. It's kind of grace and fluid motion that few platformers follow, and it's kind of hard not to compare it to the Assassin's Creed games, where you can quickly and easily jump across rooftops and platforms without skipping a beat (Assassin's Creed had simpler controls, though - but Sly is pretty accessible too). That's really the best way I can describe Sly Cooper's platforming. This sense of agility and grace, combined with the stealth aspects, it really gives the player the impression that they are indeed playing as a master thief.
As I mentioned above, there are indeed goodies to collect; the most notable of which would be the green bottles with messages in them. These are "hints" which are used to unlock a large safe in the level it was found in. Collect all the hints in a level to unlock the safe. Simple, right? Well, it kind of is - granted, while quite a few of these hints are cleverly hidden and may require some searching, finding them all certainly isn't going to require a visit to GameFAQs or anything of that caliber. That's not to say finding them and unlocking the safe isn't rewarding, however... the things you find in these safes typically grant new abilities which can range from small things like highlighting hint locations and breakable objects when looking through your fancy binoculars to especially helpful things like the ability to no longer die when you fall in water or bottomless pits. And while these abilities are useful, it should be worth noting that they're also optional so players who just want to beat the game or progress the story don't have to actually collect them. But those who do will be rewarded with a less frustrating experience.
So I've mentioned the stealthy aspects, the platforming, and the collectibles and the rewards... I think it's time to talk about the non-platforming levels, or to be more precise, the mini-game levels. These were... not so fun. The least offensive of these were probably the levels where Sly has to man a turret and protect his well-meaning, but oafish pal Murray as he runs to the goal. The controls worked well enough here and I never had to worry about accidentally hitting Murray. The worst of these mini-games, incidentally enough, also involved Murray - but rather than protect him, you took control of the pink hippo and the team van as you race against 5 other individuals. While the controls are simple enough, the van's physics have not aged well and I often found myself teetering about and accidentally bumping against the walls. If there's one good thing about the racing minigames, it's probably the fact that there are only two of them, but that's still two too many. There was a bit of variety in the other minigames, but none of them are really worth mentioning as they were wholly forgettable experiences.
But the meh minigames aren't the only issue in Sly. Indeed, there are two issues with the gameplay that need to be addressed. The first problem? It's short - players will likely be able to beat the game after only two or three days. Obtaining %100 completion will take a little more time, but you'll still be able to beat the game in less than a week. With that said, don't expect the game to hold your attention for very long. Second problem? It's easy - while the developers may have intended the game to be easy to beat, this doesn't change the fact that even the extra challenges meant for more dedicated players aren't very difficult, either. Hint bottles, while cleverly placed at times, tend to be easy to find nevertheless. Almost every enemy goes down in one hit, and bosses aren't much tougher - to say the least, even young kids likely won't need GameFAQs to hold their hand.
As I stated in my paragraph about presentation, the game opts for a colorful and rather charming cel-shaded approach - while the game worlds might come off as a bit stale at first (a snow world, a swamp world, etc.), it's when you play the levels within these worlds that they start to come off as distinct and separate. One world takes on a sort of "junkyard urban" feel, with levels that range from sneaking about a casino at night to hopping from rooftop to rooftop as your nemesis is taking shots at you (sometimes destroying the platforms you just jumped off of). Or the snow world, which has Chinese influences and levels that often have Sly ducking into buildings and then back into the cold outdoors. The characters are no different, each with their own distinct designs and animations depending on the world - from rodent witch doctors, sword-swinging gorillas, and well-dressed Dobermans with machine guns. One of my favorite things about the enemies was that if they managed to hit Sly, they would go into their own little celebratory animation that varied depending on the enemy. That was a pretty neat touch.
The voicework has just as much color and personality as the character designs themselves and there's never a dull moment with the conversations, especially between Bentley and Sly. If there's one gripe I have with the voice acting, it's probably the fact that whomever did the voice of Sly was too quiet - it's sometimes hard to hear what he's saying over the background music. This can be somewhat worrisome during the animated cutscenes, since Sly also doubles as the narrator and the background music is especially loud during a lot of these cutscenes. C'mon, Sly! Speak up!
Ambiance seems to have been key when composing the music, as outside of cutscenes, the music is usually relatively quiet. To be honest, I can barely remember any of the music that played in this game - not once did I feel compelled enough to just stop playing the game and listen. That's... kind of sad. The only songs I really remember would be the urban beats that plays when Sly is prowling about the city world and the oriental chiming from the snow world. I also remember that the background music would become more tense and louder whenever an enemy spotted you or if the alarm went off, but that's it. I guess one can't be too annoyed by it; at least isn't offensively bad or anything (I think I'd remember otherwise). It's just... unremarkable.
Even upon beating the game and collecting all the pages of Thievius Raccoonus, replay value can still be found in completing the Master Thief Sprints where the player is required to beat the level in a very short amount of time (quickly with almost no margin of error - a speed-run, if you may). And even with these tough and entirely optional challenges, you get rewarded with the option to listen to the developer's commentary next time you play through that particular level, where you get to listen to the thought process that went into the level and whatnot. In addition, completing all the speed-runs will even net you a special "behind the scenes" video! Well, I thought they were cool bonuses...
With all this said, Sly Cooper is certainly a good game and people searching for it can likely find it for less than $10 - even if the game is new and factory sealed! And while the game isn't especially challenging outside its speed-runs, has some unimpressive minigames, and among others things is also kind of short (even if you're planning to get %100 completion, you'll almost certainly beat the game before the week is over), Sly is however beautiful, rewarding, and overall a pretty fun game to play.
Rating: 3.5 - Good
Product Release: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (Greatest Hits) (US, 09/08/03)
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