Metal Gear Cooper.
The Sly Trilogy (or collection if you’re in North America) has long been rumoured to be on its’ way, with the trilogy being rated by the ESRB a year ago. Being the only PS2 platforming trilogy I hadn’t experienced (Jak and Ratchet took up much of my PS2 era), I was keen to see how well these games played, especially with retrospective eyes, given that my experience with Sucker Punch began with InFamous. It’s easy to see links between the two series, despite the series in question being a cel shaded tale of a thieving raccoon and the latter being a dark, open world adventure with a super-powered conduit.
The good news is that the port has been handled by the team at Sanzaru Games, the same team that brought us Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time last year. If you’re just checking in to find out if the ports have been handled well, fear not; the work here is considerably above The Jak & Daxter Collection (not that I found it that bad, but I know many of you did). The framerate remains for the most part smooth and solid, with only occasional dips in the widest of open spaces.
The Sly Trilogy can be purchased as either a bundle or each title individually, and those of you who purchased the trilogy on PS3 can pick it up for free as the title supports that wonderful cross-buy initiative. If you purchase The Sly Trilogy via retail, the first two games come on the card, whereas the third has a redemption code, but if you buy it on the Playstation Network Sly 1 & 2 come as a 3377MB download, the third title coming in as a separate 2630MB download.
Sly Cooper and The Thievious Raccoonous is the first title in the trilogy, and it shows by the mechanics of game design that are employed. Make no mistake, it’s certainly a fun and exciting game, owing largely to the fantastic level design, but many collect this, collect that goals from the PSOne era are here. It feels unashamedly bold in it’s purity, each level having between 20-40 clue bottles to collect and a safe that can only be cracked when all of the clue bottles have been found. Each safe contains a page from the book of Sly’s ancestors, The Thievious Raccoonous and each page read grants Sly new abilities. What begins as a fairly basic platformer evolves as you gain more of these powers, from being able to deploy decoys, speed up or slow down time, employ stealth bombs, climb and grind vines and branches, and generally stealth kill enemies.
The story is told through a series of cartoons which I can imagine looked nice on the PS2. Unfortunately, this is my biggest gripe in that the resolution hasn’t been upped and the compression is so severe it looks frankly terrible. Luckily the voice overs fare better, but the fact that each cut scene has big ugly black borders and artifacts everywhere cripples them, destroying much of the immersion. Luckily these cut scenes tend to book end each chapter as a general, so the pain is only a couple of minutes at a time. Sly handles perfectly well on the Vita, with controls being responsive at all times. The loss of two shoulder buttons also means the touch screen and rear touch pad come into play, but it’s minimal, with the front touch screen used to activate your binoculars and the rear touch pad to centre the camera behind Sly.
Boss battles happen at the end of each chapter and are a lot of fun. I particularly liked battling against Mz. Ruby as she threw Playstation button shaped voodoo magic at me in a take on Simon Says. Outside of these battles things could have become stale, but the balance of level design and steady stream of new abilities (provided you’re bothering with the clue bottles) means the game rarely feels tiring. There are plenty of minigames throughout, from racing games to shooters that also allow the action to stay fresh. The soundtrack and art style create a lovely atmosphere and the colours look great on the Vita screen, but I think the game is not running at native resolution as there do appear to be a fair few jagged edges, more-so in the first game compared to the latter two.
Sly 2 is where an added level of confidence becomes apparent. Starting with many of your abilities from the first game, and able to play Bentley and Murray this time, each heist has you in a specific open world area, having to first take reconnaissance photos of your targets, then completing missions, frequently switching between characters at the hideout. You work together as a team, and the end of each heist culminates in a final challenge where you play as all three characters, then finally a boss battle. Coins collected in Sly 2 are used to purchase abilities (whereas the first title used them for protection) which are unique to each character, and occasionally you will come across valuable items that you can sell, should you manage to return them back to base without being harmed. Some of these are booby trapped, giving you a restrictive time limit to return, which ends up as a fun little race against time.
It’s worth noting that the graphics are definitely much improved in Sly 2 & 3 compared to the first title, and that the scope is somewhat bigger, but the familiar gameplay means that fatigue can and may set in at some point. The issue lies with the series only progressing to a certain point, and so things can start to feel a bit samey when played back to back. It’s probably best to take a few days rest before starting the next title. Sly 2 & 3 are also longer and more ambitious titles, meaning you’re likely to get around 40-50 hours gameplay if you hope to platinum them all.
Sly 3 further expands the list of playable characters, including Carmelita Fox and a mouse called Penelope. Whilst this increase in characters adds further variation to the game, it can sometimes loose it’s way a little as the focus isn’t perhaps as strong as Sly 2. Because there are so many characters and so many minigames, some of them don’t feel as great as they perhaps could be; variety comes at the slight expense of quality. It’s not that I didn’t have fun, it’s just Sly 2 feels like a step up, with it’s bigger, open worlds and three playable characters, and upping this number even further tends to have the opposite effect; it can sometimes feel like a bit of a step back.
The stealth mechanics in all three games are exciting and fun. Swinging from hook to hook with your cane, dodging security lasers and search lights with your skills and pick pocketing enemies are all features that make The Sly Collection feel unique from other platformers. The story telling and acting is good enough to keep you wanting to play, while the way your character “snaps” onto things with a tap of the circle button is a feeling familiar to anyone who has played InFamous or the Assassin’s Creed series. It’s just a shame that by the third game it becomes apparent that Sucker Punch had already achieved more or less everything it had set out to do.
This is of course my opinion of the series, and if you’ve played the trilogy and enjoyed it then don’t let me stop you double dipping. Personally the variety and story telling of The Jak & Daxter Collection makes for a more enjoyable experience in the long run, but what is here is a hell of a lot of fun. The ports have been handled exceptionally, apart from the cut scenes and the colours of the cel shaded graphics look great too. The fact that the trilogy is so cheap also helps, making it easy to recommend on price alone, but those of you wishing to play individual chapters can purchase each game too.