Often overlooked in favour of Ratchet & Clank or Jak & Daxter, Sucker Punch’s Sly Cooper series has never really managed to set the gaming world alight. It’s a shame, because the Sony exclusive franchise is just as playable and, dare I say, more interesting than either of its more popular peers.
Casting you as the titular Sly Cooper, master thief and cat burglar extraordinaire, each game in the series asks that you complete various nefarious, nocturnal jobs such as breaking and entering, or theft and sabotage, made more palatable and kid-friendly by the fact that Sly and his crew only steal from other criminals, maintaining an effortless Robin Hood-style likeability at all times. The first three games made the jump to HD (sort of) at the start of 2011, but have only just been remastered for the PS Vita, possibly in the wake of the moderately successful Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, released last year.
Every game in the series follows a similar template of stealthy reconnaissance and night-time espionage, and it’s only the targets and the enemies that vary greatly between instalments. The first game, Sly Raccoon (or Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus overseas), has actually aged rather well. In it, we join Sly and his cohorts – tech-wizard turtle Bentley and brainless, brawny hippo Murray – as they attempt to locate and steal back five parts of the Thievius Racconus, an ancient tome containing all the secrets of Sly’s legendarily light-fingered ancestors.
Levels follow a set pattern of breaking into an area and locating a number of keys scattered about the place, which will unlock a boss fight with one of the Fiendish Five – the gang who killed Sly’s parents and stole his birthright. He’s pursued along the way by Carmelita Fox, a police officer whose love-hate relationship with the plucky raccoon is always a step shy of mutually flirtatious.
While the graphical overhaul is decent (if not revolutionary), Sly Raccoon shows its age in other ways – most notably its archaic use of lives. You’re given a certain number of tries, and every life lost (by taking one hit, usually) sees you bounced back to one of several widely-spaced checkpoints, while losing all your lives will force you to restart the entire area. Collecting 100 coins will award you with a horseshoe that negates the effects of death once, but it’s still a frustrating mechanic – especially when so many deaths are due to the stubborn camera or the fact it can often be hard to judge the distance between Sly and a lethal hazard.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves does away with such things, this time giving you a health bar and fully controllable camera. It’s still frustrating at times, mainly due to the sudden difficulty spikes and its low tolerance for failure during certain stealth sections. Controlling Sly feels very similar to the first game, though, and playing them back to back or even alternating between them doesn’t feel awkward.
The story this time revolves around Sly and his crew attempting to stop the Klaww Gang from reassembling the mechanical villain Clockwerk, pursued once again by Carmelita and her new partner, Neyla. It’s a little less engaging than the narrative of Sly 1, but then revenge and the reclamation of birthrights always carries a certain gravitas.
The final entry, Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves, is arguably the weakest of the three and only slightly more likeable than Thieves in Time. It’s not a bad game, but by the time you reach the third instalment the tried and tested mechanics are beginning to wear thin, as Sly 3 offers little innovation over the first two games. Searching for the Cooper Vault, a hoard of treasure and riches gathered over the years by his family, Sly, Bentley and Murray go up against the evil Doctor M, recruiting new characters along the way such as Penelope the mouse and a Koala known as the Guru. While Sly 3 doesn’t mix up the gameplay all that much, the additional characters are a welcome element. The visuals in Honor Among Thieves are, ironically, the most ropey. The odd cel-shaded style and Sly’s slightly creepy dialogue animations don’t translate well into HD, and by the time you hit Sly 3 the samey environments will begin to grate a little.
The Vita version of the Sly Trilogy does a great job of making the three games feel like one continuous adventure, adding uniform controls through all three such as tapping the touch screen to open the binocucom or hitting the rear touchpad to highlight your objective. You’ll be using both an awful lot, too, as the binocucom is especially useful for taking photos of targets and zooming in on distant points of interest. Reconnaissance is important in the Sly Trilogy, and adds to the sense that you’re the rodent version of Sam Fisher, planning your moves and using the shadows to your advantage.
Combat and exploration don’t change a lot from one game to the next, and collectibles are still a large part of the experience, as you hunt down coins and clue bottles in every area. Sly always feels slick and easy to control, and despite his sarcastic quips he never slips into full-on douchebag mode, managing to remain likable throughout. The supporting cast are always on hand to get him out of scrapes – and are occasionally controllable – so you never feel alone or unsure of where to go next, even in the more open Sly 2.
VERDICT: It’s no surprise that the Sly Trilogy is a great fit for the Vita. Fun and engaging despite occasional difficult spikes, the enjoyment only tends to wane after playing for long periods, and may become slightly tiresome should you decide to marathon all three games one after another. The interesting stories and well-crafted characters help elevate the Sly Trilogy above its better-known contemporaries, and the effortlessly cool gameplay means all three games remain eminently playable even now, almost a decade after Sly 3 was released. Even if you picked up the Trilogy on PS3 a few years back, this is still worth your time and money if you’ve got a hankering for some light-hearted espionage.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.