Sequels are a funny thing. Take the FPS genre: throw in a few new multiplayer maps and weapons and we’re happy. Platform games on the other hand are different. If it’s too different the game has “forgotten its roots”, if it’s too much like the original “the developer got lazy with this one”. Sly Cooper Thieves in Time has a few unique ways around this. For a start, the game is not even created by the original developer. With Sucker Punch working hard on the InFamous series, the developing reigns have been handed over to Sanzaru Games, the developer responsible for HD revamp of the first three Sly Cooper games. The result is a game that is old school and original at the same time.
The story carries on from the first three games and is a pretty standard fare: something is missing /wrong and you need to travel to various locations to right the wrong / find the missing item. In the case of Sly Cooper Thieves in Time, the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus – the family history book – are being unwritten and it’s up to Sly and his buddies to travel back in time to restore the family history and discover who is behind this dastardly deed. The game starts in modern-day Paris, then with the aid of your trusty time machine you travel back in time to Feudal Japan, the Wild West, the Ice Age and Medieval England meeting and helping various descendants of the Cooper clan along the way.
In the same way that the story continues from the first three games, the same can be said of the gameplay. You play most of the beginning of the game as Sly Cooper. Once you start to time travel to the various “worlds” the gameplay becomes mission based and you need to complete various missions that require certain skill sets of which your team mates possess. The Sly sections of the game tend to be stealth based – traverse the level without being seen or setting off alarms – whilst the beat-em-up sections are handled by Murray the pink Hippo. Bentley, the brains of operation is all about the hacking, and his sections are normally split into little mini games that are either a twin stick shooter, a side scrolling shooter or a maze that utilises motion control. You also get to play as each of Sly’s relatives who essentially play the same as sly except for a small tweak in each one that sets them apart. Take Sly’s ninja relative for example, he has a teleportation like move that allows him to clear larger areas than a standard jump. The eclectic mix of the gameplay styles works rather well. It gives the sense that you are in control of a well-oiled thieving machine where everyone has a job to do. Sometimes the team members are called upon to go the extra mile. In one section Murray has to perform a dance routine and the gameplay switches to rhythm action – this is clearly a nod to a similar section from Sly 2. As with most platformers, there are loads of things to smash to collect coins which can then be used to purchase various upgrades for the main protagonists. There is also a huge amount of collectables scattered throughout the world. There are the Sly Cooper masks which unlock various mods, clue bottles which unlock the Cooper family safe, and finally there are the treasure challenges – little bits of treasure that need to be taken from one point in the level to another. It is also possible to play through any of the worlds in a kind of free play mode to grab any of the collectables you may have missed during the missions. The gameplay of Sly Cooper Thieves in Time is a combination of all the styles from the original series squeezed into one game so that it feels like a genuine sequel and continuation of the Sly Cooper series of games.
Graphically, the game looks very similar to the HD revamp The Sly trilogy. This is due to the fact that the same engine has been again used with great success to create the world that Sly and his band of merry misfits inhabit. There are only two criticisms. Firstly the camera controls are not the best. You are sometimes left with a strange camera angle to figure a puzzle or boss fight out. Secondly is that the loading screens are painfully slow. They are more akin to the loading times of Playstation 1 and 2 games rather than games of this generation. It is not a deal breaker by any means but it can be rather frustrating to be getting ready for the final boss fight of a level and be faced with a twenty-eight second loading screen (Strangely enough this figure is reduced to twenty seconds on the Vita).
Sly Cooper Thieves in Time is part of the cross-buy initiative. This means that when you buy the game for the PS3 you get a digital copy for the Vita free of charge. Now, you may ask why you would want two copies of a platform game. The answer to this lies in the fact that this also has a cross save feature. This allows you to play away on your PS3 when you are at home and when you are about to leave the house you can upload your save to the cloud, retrieve it on the Vita and pick up your adventure while you are on the move This is a relatively painless task and takes mere minutes to achieve. The game still looks very good on the Vita’s gorgeous screen and the controls are mapped well enough so that you are not relearning them every time you switch formats. One side effect of the cross save however, is that you also earn the trophies instantly from the other system when transferring your saves. This essentially means you are getting two sets of achievements from one game. Trophy hunters rejoice!
Another interesting feature to do with the connectivity between the two versions of the game are the AR treasures. This allows you to point the Vita’s camera at the screen of your television that has the PS3 version running and turns the Vita into a pair of X-Ray specs highlighting hidden collectables. Once you have found the location of said collectable, you can apparently use the Vita as a controller to guide Sly to grab your newly found treasure. I say apparently because I was unable to test this feature. There seemed to be a connection issue to something called an AR server. Hopefully this is something that will be rectified with a patch as it sounded like a very clever idea and another way to extend the life of the game.
So, to recap: we know the game has been made with love and care; we know Sanzaru have treated Sucker Punch’s creation with much respect; we know the graphics are decent, the gameplay is varied and fun; and we know there is some nifty tech thrown in with the cross save features but is it any good? In short, yes. Fans of the series will love this, as will younger gamers and possibly those who play games on a casual basis. For the rest of us it is a cool retro platformer made with today’s tech that makes for a refreshing wee change amongst today’s hardcore gaming fare.
8 funny shaped canes out of 10