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Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Review By:  Christopher Coey

 
Developer:   Sucker Punch
Publisher:   SCEA
# Of Players:   1
Genre:   Platform
ESRB:   Everyone
Online:   No
Accessories:   Memory Card
Date Posted:   5-26-03

I get a real kick out of games that roll credits during the open level of gameplay. It gives the games a real cinematic quality that I love. Of course, the cinema here is more Looney Tunes than Titanic. Actually, this game could be a Looney Tunes cartoon. The graphics are that beautiful; and the characters are voiced, drawn, and animated with every bit as much detail. Add to that, rich, witty dialogue and a variety of wacky bosses and locations, and it’s like you are playing a Tom and Jerry episode [I realize that there is actually a Tom and Jerry game on the market, but I have yet to purchase it, and no one has sent me a copy, so I haven’t played it.] Nothing has come this close to capturing the spirit of Saturday morning in the 80’s since Sheep Raider for the PSone. Take my word, if you have only seen screen shots for this game, you haven’t seen anything. Plus, how cool is the title?

I need to be serious for a moment, because I really must issue a retraction of sorts. I was convinced that many of the gaming genres recently have hit somewhat of a plateau. In my defense, I’m not the first, or only person to discuss this. Nearly everyone has been talking about the stagnancy of the First Person Shooter. Others slag the Real Time Strategy titles. After playing Super Mario Sunshine, I thought the Platformer had peaked. I loved Sunshine, but it wasn’t very innovative. Sly Cooper has made me rethink this issue. Sucker Punch has added, with amazing seamlessness, such a slew of cool moves, and slick levels it opens up a new door for the platformer.

Each mission is set up like an ‘episodic cartoon’, such as “Sly Cooper in…”, and this further adds to the game’s overall sense of style. Within the game are some incredible, often very subtle visual touches that could easily be overlooked. Where I first realized the amazing level of detail was in a ‘run through’ level where Sly is edging along a precipice, hugging the wall, with the camera angle from above. As he steps across, some of the ledge crumbles underfoot, and the stones fall many stories, crashing to the ground. Subtle, but really cool.

The one negative thing I can say about the visual style of the game is that, because the graphics are so seamless, and the animations so integrated into the action, it’s not always immediately obvious what can kill you and what is just scenery. Eventually you learn simple things like “if it’s sharp, it will hurt you”, or “if it’s liquid, you will drown.” It comes down to concentration. It’s unfortunate that since this sort of simplicity and style is lacking in most other games these days, that this issue would even crop up. The best compliment I can give to this game is that while playing it, I was reminded of the good old days of seeing Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3 for the first time. High praise indeed.

The controls are precise, and accessible. An observer, simply watching the game may marvel at he complexity and majesty of moves happening onscreen; for the player, however, the moves quickly become second nature. That’s the real beauty of this game. You start the game with some pretty slick skills. But as the game progresses, and Sly discovers more pages of the stolen ‘Thievius Raccoonus’, you gain more and more complex skills. Some of them get pretty badass, such as the time-stop, or sneaking invisibility. Not to mention a Metroid style electric ball roll. Each new move is explained as it is introduced into the gameplay. Never, do any of the moves seem unnatural, but they do continue to grow cooler throughout the game.

Let’s say, for reference, that the majority of this game is a difficulty of ‘3.’ The occasional level may reach a 5, possibly 6. The Master Thief challenges are a definite 10. They are HARD. In the past, I would have preferred that all of my games were at maximum difficulty. Maybe it’s my years of playing, or possibly I’ve been influenced by the many Japanese produced games that tend to be easier than their American counterparts; but I am more easily frustrated by games these days. I still prefer games with an overall difficulty higher than this game. But to then throw in these Master Thief levels after the game is completed threw me into shock.

These days, a platformer wouldn’t be a platformer without a crop of wacky mini-games. It almost seems that game designers are trying to out-weird each other in this category. This game sports jetpacks, skiffs, road races, a ‘catch the chickens, and exploding roosters’ level, and even a mini-game shooter that seems inspired by Tron.

The replay value of Sly Cooper is off the charts as far as I’m concerned. I am usually obsessed with completing levels or games with 100% completion, but I think with this game, most people will feel the same way. Within many of the levels are hidden safes. In order to obtain the combination to the safe, Sly must collect bottle-clues scattered through out the level. After finding all the clues, and unlocking the safe, you receive either a new skill, or additional intelligence about the levels. And as I mentioned, some of the additional skills are worth the extra effort.

On top of that comes my absolute favorite surprise from any game in recent memory: After completing the game, you unlock a new mode, the Master Thief Time Challenge. Most of the levels can be replayed, with use of any new skills you acquired while progressing through the game, this time, with a countdown timer. If you complete the level in the time allotted, you unlock a running commentary of that level. Just as if it was a Special Edition DVD, the game and level designers discuss the development of the game, characters, and levels while you play through. Brilliant! A couple (an elite few) games so far for the PS2 have included features like this. This type of feature is REAL replay value. It’s not just a lame new costume, or mini-game, it’s a new thing altogether. I just wish they were easier to unlock.

Finally, just as I thought this game opened well, it closed on a good note as well. The final boss, Clockwerk sounded like Darth Vader; and that’s always cool.

HIGHS:

  • Boss battles and gameplay are exceptional
  • Cel-shaded graphics are best yet on PS2
  • New franchise character

LOWS:

  • First time through is relatively short
  • Master Thief challenge a little TOO challenging

FINAL VERDICT:

…sliding down a power wire that ends in a pit, jumping off at the last moment to spin in the air, using your hook/cane to pull yourself up onto a sewer pipe, shimmying up to a six inch wide ledge that crumbles under your feet as you sneak across. This is not a traditional platformer. Visually it’s stunning. The controls are near perfect, especially given the complexity of some of the moves available. I predict many more Sly Cooper games in the future. But if you can’t wait for a sequel, the replay value of this one should keep you going for a long time to come.

Overall Score: 8.9

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