Developer: Sanzaru Games
Review note: This review mainly focuses on the Vita version of the game. A few days ago (after already finishing the game on the Vita), I was also sent the PS3 version, which allowed me to test the Augmented Reality and cross-save features too. All images are my own screen grabs from the Vita version of the game. If you buy the PS3 version, you will get a free digital copy of the Vita game too.
Aside from the excellent HD re-release a while back, we’ve not had a Sly Cooper game since 2005. This has left a gaping wound in the platforming genre that nobody has even attempted to heal. Sucker Punch have long since left to work on the InFamous games, leaving unknowns Sanzaru to take over full-time after successfully overseeing the aforementioned HD collection. While probably not under as much pressure as 343 Industries with Halo 4, there are parallels. Let’s see how they got on.
This time we follow the Cooper gang through time as they try to find out why the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus are disappearing. This ancient book has been passed down through the generations of Sly’s family of Master Thieves; it taught him everything he knows about his sneaky art form.
It doesn’t take long for Bentley to work out that someone is messing around with the past, so he hauls the gang into his brand new time machine, which series fans may remember he said he was going to start working on at the end of the last game. It’s good to see such strong continuity despite the developer handover and long time between games.
The Cooper gang’s travels through time see them meeting various distant relatives of Sly’s. This varied group include a ninja in Feudal Japan, a Knight in Medieval England, one of the Forty Thieves in India, a gunslinger of the Wild West and the first of the Cooper clan, Bob the prehistoric racoon-beast.
Various criminals from the present have made their way into the past, typically capturing the Cooper resident of the era to prevent them from becoming master thieves. Cue a rescue from Sly, Bentley, Murray and even Carmelita Fox who’s taking a brief break from trying to chuck Sly in the slammer – they’ve totally been at it in-between games by the way.
The premise of each stage is relatively similar, spring the incarcerated Cooper and take down the boss. This always involves every member of the gang and the new (well, older) Cooper using their unique talents to case each job in heist-movie fashion.
Sly is the agile one, with precise platforming on narrow spires being his forte along with using his cane to swing on hooks, pickpocket guards or dish out a beating. Against larger foes, he’s a bit useless, but that’s to put an emphasis on stealth skills. Silent takedowns can be performed on unaware guards and it’s fun sneaking around them.
Bentley is the gadget-toting genius of the group who doesn’t let the fact that he’s in a wheelchair slow him down or put him off fieldwork. He packs various upgradable explosives that can be triggered remotely with the touchpad on the Vita. He’s a whiz at hacking too, with three different minigames utilised to breach security. One a 2D side scrolling shooter, while another is similar to the one in Sly 3 where you control a tank with dual-analogue shooting and driving, although it’s been expanded and improved since 2005. The last minigame is a poor one though, using the Vita’s motion sensors you roll a ball around circuit boards, taking care to avoid falling over the edge so you don’t have to start again. It’s overly sensitive and holding the Vita flat for a centre point makes it difficult to look at the screen.
Murray is the muscle of the group and their driver. Driving missions have been ditched this time around though as Murray’s main focus is cracking skulls - and the odd bit of cross-dressing. You don’t need to sneak around as the large pink hippo as his punches and flaming belly flops are hella powerful.
Business as usual so far then. However, with each stage comes a new Sly costume that’s more than just cosmetic. Each one grants unique abilities. You’ll need all of them to find the treasure hidden in each stage, but more on that later. In Japan, you gain a samurai suit of armour to blend in with the guards and repel and redirect fireballs. The old west gives you a comedic ball & chain prisoner outfit to smash heavy objects or roll around to avoid electrical grids (yes, the crims from the present have brought modern-day tech with them). Later costumes give you access to roped arrows, bigger jumps and even the ability to slow down time.
Controlling Sly’s relatives is usually similar to Sly, but with a unique move or two. These can involve a series of spire jumps, using a six-shooter with Red Dead-style slow motion multi-targeting, climbing ice walls, zooming up poles and more. A long list of Thiefnet unlockable skills help you along your way too, appropriately funded from defeated goons or delicately picking their pocket.
Stages are the longest yet seen in the series. Frankly, they’re too long. Travelling back and forth around the same hubs for missions for more than four hours sometimes gets a bit boring as you may find you get sick of the sight of your surroundings. Generally, the PS2 stages only took around two hours to finish.
The variety of the missions and the playable characters keep things fresh throughout though. Aside from the pin sharp platforming there are other engaging tasks like rhythm matching games, balancing eggs on a moving platform (almost made me snap my Vita), capturing penguins, hiding under animal skin rug disguises or just your day-to-day battle against a three headed robot dragon.
Sly 3 unfortunately ditched the collectable bottles that were scattered throughout the first two games, but I’m happy to report their return. Solely found in the main hub of each stage and often extremely difficult to find, they prove to be a worthy additional task. When you complete a set you’re able to unlock a safe, but it’s just for a Trophy rather than a physical ability as before, which initially dulled my enthusiasm.
After completing the game, you’re free to travel back to any of the stages and use any acquired costumes, making hidden items much easier to find. Vita owners playing the PS3 game can use their handhelds to help them look for these items with Augmented Reality tech. There’s no in-game explanation on how to get it working, but after tapping the Vita’s shoulder buttons, an image appeared showing similar camera angles to my TV display albeit in CCTV-style green, with treasure appearing in bright orange silhouettes in X-ray vision. Tapping the Vita screen briefly shows a marker on your TV too. It’s clumsily done, but I think it’s a fantastic use of the Vita to support the PS3 game.
I played through the game’s story solely on the Vita as I was sent the PS3 version very late on. When firing up the PS3 version though I was pleased to see that the wireless cross-save feature worked simply and the Trophies I’d been awarded on the Vita pinged on the PS3 version too. PS All-Stars required you to earn each trophy twice, this is much better. Both versions have frequent, lengthy loading screens though, with rhythm-breaking waits of 30-50 seconds on a regular basis.
In terms of graphics, the PS3 version is considerably smoother and brighter (all images in this review were captured on my Vita), renewing my enthusiasm to carry on playing the game after the story to collect the remaining items in the endgame. The Vita version looks great in fairness, apart from a few slightly jaggy edges and the occasional resolution drop during the new fully animated cutscenes.
- Gameplay variety is strong
- A great return to traditional platforming
- Free Vita version with PS3 copy for cross-saves and AR treasure hunting
- Lots of loading screens
- Some stages outstay their welcome
- Some frustrating minigames
The Short Version: Sanzaru games have done the Sly games proud in their first proper outing since taking over from Sucker Punch. In a gaming landscape that’s all but abandoned the platforming genre Sly and gang comfortably stand taller than the competition. Tiresome loading screens and a few frustrating sections can be forgiven given the generosity of including the Vita version for free with the PS3 game, allowing gamers to enjoy cross-saves and unique second screen features.