A criminal drought.
So these last few months have been a decidedly weird malaise for me. I feel like the medium of video games as a whole is failing to provide me with any kind of satisfaction. The big blockbuster disc releases are too mindless and unintelligent for my cerebral cortex, but the smaller arthouse games are too intelligent and complex for my mushy skull. I need some kind of middle ground. Intelligent murder games, maybe? Unintelligent adventure games? A new Kirby game? I don’t know. Thus, I’ve spent the last little while catching up on odd bits and pieces that have slipped past my notice from the years of intelligent murder games and unintelligent adventure games in my wake.
I never played a Sly Cooper game before on account if it being the bottom rung of Sony’s marketing strategy of “take what’s popular and make it three times over.” Realizing that a whole lot of people really liked Super Mario 64, armies of programmers were commanded to do-things-like-Mario-and-do-lots-of-them, leading to a trio of Jaks, a quartet of Ratchets and a flock of Slys. And I had collected too many coloured stars, eggs, lums, bolts, jingos and otherwise in other games to be particularly excited about yet another fetch quest platformer. But now that some time has passed and Sony has redirected its cloning efforts from recreating Mario to recreating Halo, this felt like the time to fill in the missing Easter Egg in my collection of Easter Egg Hunt action games.
The Sly Cooper franchise is built around a raccoon master thief, his Milhouse turtle friend and their opposite-of-Milhouse hippo brute friend. Except these games are rated E for Everyone, so these are thieves that only steal from bad people, of course. There’s somewhat of a connecting thread between all three games, sometimes involving Sly’s ancestry of master thieves, just enough that you may as well play through all three of these games in such a format as, perhaps, the Sly Cooper HD anthology for the Playstation 3 Entertainment Netflix Housing system. This HD set features such improvements as widescreen visuals, Playstation Move-supported shooting gallery mini-games, and Sly’s hat occasionally glitching out of existence in cutscenes.
Your tour of the history of mammal robbery begins with Sly Cooper and the Thievious Raccoonus. Here, you primarily play as Sly Cooper, a raccoon platform mascot pretending to be a master thief. Despite allusions to being a criminal from a dynasty of thieves, you never really do anything thief-worthy. Sometimes you’ll dodge lasers , sometimes you’ll dodge spotlights, thus meaning the game has as many stealth elements as The Wind Waker. No, this game is more Crash Bandicoot than Splinter Cell.
You mostly play through linear stages of platforming sequences. Sometimes you’ll whack enemies with your hook cane. Sometimes you’ll climb and shimmy objects. I stress the “sometimes” part; Sly, disgracing his raccoon genetics, often has a hard time gripping on to the climbable surfaces you intend him to. Even simple platform jumping can be tricky when you’re not sure what platforms are considered flat surfaces to Sly, and what platforms are too curved for his weak paws. Toronto’s many garbage-can-excavating raccoons would scurry circles around this Sly Cooper’s immobile ass.
You also deal with occasional mini-games, like a basic shooting gallery or a basic racing game, or basically throwing your controller to the ground because the checkpointing during boss fights is awful. Or basically giving up on the story, because the narrative exists solely to explain each of the game’s contrived scenarios. Why do you need to collect yet another pair of identical keys to open more identical locks? Are master thieves not master lockpickers?
Don’t mistake my above two paragraphs of ranting to think I despise Sly 1. It’s just that Sly 1 exists in a post-Meat Boy world, where a slab of flesh raised platforming standards with perfect controls, perfect checkpointing, perfect parodies of NES games and perfect fecal humour. Times have changed since people thought watching DVDs on Playstation Twos was revolutionary tech, and Thievieus Raccoonus has aged the worst of the games in this set. At the least, playing through Sly 1 will give you a fond admiration for the games to come in this HD set.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves is the first Sly Cooper game that establishes what a Sly Cooper game should be. Gone are the linear platforming sequences, in favour of a series of missions within various colourful overworlds. There are a myriad of mini-games too, and the quality of mini-games is solid enough to keep things feeling fresh. Imagine Grand Theft Auto without the autos, the mass murder, and in favour of more Grand Theft. Besides being better in tune with his rodent roots in regards to climbing, jumping and other platforming, Sly has the added, series-defining ability to pick pickets. Slink behind an enemy, and press Triangle to use your cane to empty their oversized coiffeurs. It’s a simple, easy and satisfying mechanic that leads to me being distracted from any given mission because I see the warming glow of a golden watch sticking out of some security guard’s pocket.
There is more confidence in the game’s own cartoonish narrative. The game is comfortable with making its villains the most absolute of ridiculous stereotypes. Be it a lizard with Andy Warhol-like qualities or a Northern moose that made me come to the horrible realization of what a “Canadian accent” is, the game is delightful in its insensitivity. Most importantly, Sly 2 succeeds at putting the player through the paces of a criminal mastermind, or at least an E for Everyone-criminal mastermind. Each mission is positioned as a thread in a greater scheme, setting Sly and his crew in the direction of an all-too-elaborate Ocean’s Eleven-style heist.
It’s not an entirely perfect experience; the game handles waypointing by making a giant blue/green/purple arrow near your next objective; an arrow that isn’t visible if your character is surrounded by towering skyscrapers. And to an anthropomorphic rodent, two-storey houses are considered skyscrapers. Also, you’re not only playing as Sly. Sometimes you have to play as cowardly turtle-genius Bentley or pro wrestling mark of marks Murray. Their missions tend to be amusing mini-games, but the process of getting to said missions can be tricky for animals that can’t scurry or climb the way blue raccoons are capable of.
Small sacrifices that one makes in the name of an entertaining criminal platformerish experience, a fun way to spend 14 hours of your life. Not to mention an ideal set-up for Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves.
Sly 3 is the wiser, smarter, maturely-more-immature version of Sly 2. The structure and concept of going into an overworld and performing a myriad of conniving sub-missions is the same. There are some wise tweaks; waypoints are easier to find thanks to the incorporation of sonar hearing in Sly’s genetics. Traversal upgrades are made available sooner as to make getting through the land as either Sly, Bentley or Murray less menial of a task.
Most importantly, Bentley and Murray are now also capable of pickpocketing.
The Ocean’s Eleven vibe of performing mini-tasks in service of a master heist has been slightly compromised. Instead, the game’s plot involves Sly’s crew attempting to recruit good guys by way of doing bad things to bad people. But even with that in mind, the writing in Sly 3 is the very best. The game is rich in sharp dialogue and humour that doesn’t just pander to the youngest possible audience.
I guess you could buy these games a la carte on the PSN store, and I can sit here and say that just buying Sly 3 by itself isn’t the worst idea in the world if you’re strapped for time. But hey; I paid thirty dollars for little over thirty hours of entertainment from this package and came away very satisfied. Ergo, I consider this a strong purchase for people craving a charming, pocket-lightening value proposition.