Nostalgia or not, Sly is a lot of fun
When it was originally released on the PS2, the Sly series served as an interesting alternative to combat-heavy platformers like Ratchet and Jak. Its adorable presentation, smart level design and approachable stealth mechanics help set it apart all those years ago and these seemingly ageless qualities still make it a discrete entity. The re-mastered HD graphics and a collection of Move mini-games sweeten the deal, but the biggest reason this collection is still worth your attention is because there just aren't any other platformers like it on the PS3.
Sly's Own Niche
Sucker Punch have their own distinctive take on the stealth & platforming genres.Sly instantly sticks to ropes, poles or ledges when you press "O" in air. Combined with the razor sharp controls, this drastically simplifies the platforming. If you're searching for a particularly difficult platforming experience, look elsewhere.
Instead of challenging players to land daunting jumps, the gameplay focuses on mindful puzzle solving and good judgement of enemy movement patterns. Using the environment to sneak around guards and taking them out silently provides the challenge and satisfaction here. Don't get me wrong, Sly still has enough tricks to keep his own in a straight fight but the pay-off isn't as big. Guards often carry gems, special keys and other valuables that can only be pickpocketed while in stealth and this encourages you to be, you know...stealthy. It avoids the common pitfalls of the traditional trial and error approach in espionage games, while still making the stealth meaningful.
All this sneaking around is accentuated by some crafty level design. The environments are lush with things you can grab on to and use as alternate paths for your thievery. While the first Sly is somewhat linear and limited in scope, it's packed with a multitude of great ideas that are expanded on later in the series. The level design really starts to shine in the second game where the linear stages are replaced by nebulous hub towns that are free to be explored completely from the get-go.
The mission structure makes you explore every nook and cranny as you setup elaborate heists.You often have to engage in reconnaissance work or collect equipment to help you break in. These varied challenges force you to tackle the same areas in interesting new ways that make the traversal feel more meaningful. It's not quite Metroidvania but there is enough variation in the back-and-forth exploration to keep you on your toes. These elaborate setups also make the actual grand heist that much more satisfying.
The third game adds many action-adventure elements and a huge cast of playable characters on top of this open-world structure. It's still got plenty of stealth sections but each character has their own distinctive play-style and it ends up diluting the gameplay a little. However, this character overload also turned Sly 3's storyline into a favorite of mine. The whole game feels like a recruitment drive from Ocean's Eleven (or for that matter, pretty much every heist movie ever made). If you don't build up to it by playing the other two first, it might feel a bit overwhelming.
Outside platforming and the simple 2-button combat, the series also features more mini-games than I can recall. Sly 3 alone has seven or so kind of mini-games that range from duel joystick shooters to kart racing to shooting galleries. All of them are executed well enough to distract you from the jumping & climbing routine. There are also a plethora of collectibles and upgrades you can unlock which are probably going to drive the completionists crazy. Sly 1 even has some unlockable developer videos but hundred percenting (can I use it as a verb ?) games just isn't my thing. However, if you're a trophy hunter, then you'll be happy to know that this collection will probably be the three easiest platinums you'll ever unlock.
The Sly series has always been noted for its impressive presentation and beautiful artwork. Sanzaru updated the game to support widescreen and the HD re-mastering gives the cel-shaded graphics a sharp look. It doesn't look quite as good as the new Ratchet but the visuals hold up pretty well on their own, largely due to the adorable aesthetics. The frame rate issues from the PS2 version are gone.
I really like the way the game moves and how it sounds. The animations and facial expressions remind me of the charming Hannah-Barbera cartoons. Sly even makes a comical toe-tapping sound while sneaking around in the dark and the game has onomatopoeia for good measure. Expect to see a lot of "THAWK!", "KAPOW!" and "BAM!". It's a nice reminder of times when character action games weren't brimming with testosterone.
Sly 3's 3D feature has also been updated for HD-TVs but unfortunately I don't have 3D enabled TV so I couldn't try it.
The Move control support is limited to just four mini-games that you'll probably get over in fifteen minutes. It's three shooting gallery games and an on-rails obstacle course where you guide a helicopter through some hoops. It's a minor distraction at best and not something that will make you invest in Move. I actually went in expecting the main games to support the Move controller. I was also hoping they would fix some of the minor camera issues in Sly 2 but no such luck there either. Consider these two a missed opportunity for Sony. I guess I'd have to wait for PlayStation Move Heroes for something that stands up to Mario Galaxy.
Due to the relative dearth of good platformers on the PS3, the Sly collection still manages to feel fresh and relevant. The thing that surprised me the most is just how much the series evolved over the years, from a linear platformer to an open-world action adventure game. It makes each Sly game feel like a unique entry in the series. In retrospect, it's easy to see how Sucker Punch ended up making an excellent open-world superhero game. Anyway, enough tangents - if you have never tried these games before, this is an excellent chance to fix that. If you already own these on the PS2, then you should definitely consider reacquainting yourself with this roguish raccoon. The experience is sure to whet your appetite for the upcoming Sly 4.