Who knew thieving could be so much fun (or so short)?
As someone who finds most stealth sections and/or elements of videogames to be poorly designed, tacked-on atrocities, I was a little wary of Sly Cooper and The Thievius Raccoonus. But, at the same, I was intrigued by its concept of blending platforming and stealth into one. A concept that, surprisingly, comes together beautifully in its execution, by delivering simple, fluid platforming, and stealth mechanics that don't rely upon old trial-and-error formula.
The game puts you in the roll of Sly, a young thief who, along with his friends Bentley, and Murray, is on a quest for vengeance against a group of criminals called, the Fiendish Five, who murdered Sly's father, and stole a family heirloom called, the Thievius Raccoonus; a book compiled by generations of the Cooper family that contains all the knowledge one needs to become a master thief. During this undertaking, Sly will recover the stolen pages, and take revenge on the Fiendish Five, all while avoiding officer Carmelita Fox's constant pursuit of Sly.
But first, Sly must track down where each member of the nefarious criminal group resides, as they went their separate ways after stealing the Thievius Raccoonus. This will take the trio of thieves to a variety of locals such as a large vessel in the middle of the ocean, the rooftops of a large city, the murky depths of a swamp, along with a couple others.
These locals all share the same form of progression, which starts off with an introductory level that takes you to the hub level. From there you can enter one of many levels to choose from, each containing a treasure key at the end, which you must obtain to move further into the hub level and eventually reach the boss.
Though the path to these keys isn't a particularly difficult one. The levels feature all the standard platforming conventions with lots of environmental hazards to jump over and/or avoid, and are fairly linear, making it easy to reach the key. However, the game gives incentive to stray a bit from the main path in search of the clue bottles placed throughout the games levels.
These bottles give you codes to safes that contain pages of the Thievius Raccoonus, which grant you new abilities upon obtaining them. A few examples are, a dive attack, the ability to slow or speed up time, or a roll move that allows Sly to move more quickly. These abilities, while not necessary, are quite helpful in certain situations. But because such situations seldom appear, the usefulness of those abilities is considerably lessened.
Still, they're especially helpful during the time trials (which open upon finishing a level), as they force you to find the quickest path through the level in order to beat it in the allotted time. This typically means that you'll have to find opportunities for shortcuts throughout the levels, and make some good use of Sly's abilities. This quickly proves to be quite a difficult task, as while it is possible to use Sly's abilities in quick succession with ease, many of the trials demand near perfection to beat 'em, and therefore there's almost no room for error. Which, given how the time limit essentially rushes you, makes using the abilities flawlessly a tad difficult.
Another source of difficulty comes from the the fact that if you're hit, or fall into water or a bottomless pit: You die. Though when you do, it's more because of a careless mistake rather than it being hard in general, so really doesn't add much in the way of challenge to the game. Though it doesn't help that the charms (horseshoes that allow you to take a couple more hits), and a couple abilities (specifically ones that prevent Sly from dying when falling into water or a pit) make death a less common occurrence, which in turn, makes for an easier game.
Though the stealth portions can be tricky if you aren't careful -- particularly when dealing with multiple flashlight toting guards that kill you instantly upon being spotted by them. But so long as you're patient, and pay attention, you can get by them easily. The same goes for avoiding the other various security measures like searchlights, and lasers.
That said, it's simplicity is what makes it work so well. As it prevents these sections from being frustrating, while providing just a touch of challenge.
This also applies to the some of the other types of gameplay on display, albeit to a much lesser extent. To help break up the standard platforming/stealth gameplay, the game also features a variety of other activities such as three-lap races, providing cover to Murray using a turret as he goes for a key, and even dual-joystick segments similar to Geometry Wars. These are all fun deviations from the standard gameplay, and add nice bit of variety to the game.
And while variety may be one of its strongest points, the visuals are where the game really shines. The game makes excellent use of the cel-shaded style, by, aside from making the game look great, using it to highlight important elements like clue bottles, enemies, and various interactive elements in the environment. The levels all have a lush, and vibrant look to them, which complement the cel-shaded elements nicely. The games frame-rate runs smoothly, though the occasional slow down, while an very infrequent occurrence, can be rather grating.
The visuals are also backed up by some nice music that really helps set the mood for the game, that, depending on the situation, changes the tune to match with what's happening on-screen. For example, whenever you're spotted by guards or searchlights, the game will play a louder, faster tune than the slower tune that plays when you haven't been seen. It also goes along with the levels nicely.
It's too bad that it only lasts for five or six hours, though, with little replay value. Sure, there are the time trials and the behind-the-scenes extras you get from completing them, and they're a nice incentive to keep playing, but it doesn't take long to finish those either. So it doesn't really add much to the games longevity, which, if your anything like me, will leave you wanting more at the end.Still, it's a fun while it lasts, which, if you can put up with it's lack of content, makes it well worth playing if you're into platformers, or are just looking for a good, albeit simplified, stealth game. It won't you long to reach its end, but its a fun ride while it lasts.