When Sanzaru Games’ Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was first unveiled for the Playstation 3 back at E3 2011, it felt like an old friend was coming to revisit gamers everywhere. It was in 2005 that Sly had his last adventure, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, and we were all ready to jump back into another sneaking and sleuthing adventure with him and the Gang. However, it wasn’t Sly alone that we haven’t seen in quite awhile. The entire 3D Action Platformer genre has fallen off the map since Sly 3, with very few releases besides the Mario Galaxy games for Wii. The 3D Platformer genre has been dead for years, replaced by faster paced, more intense action games and the revival of 2D platformers. So would Thieves in Time be able to pick up right where we left off after an 8 year absence, or had this genre well outworn its welcome?
In Thieves in Time, Sly and the Gang are called back into action after years of living the comfortable, easy life. Pages of the Thievius Raccoonus are mysteriously vanishing, being unwritten as the Cooper family history is being altered in the past. In order to fix history and maintain the Cooper family’s honor, Sly, Bentley and Murray must travel into the past and correct the wrongs being inflicted on Sly’s ancestors. Along the way you’ll rescue and team up with members of the Cooper clan in Feudal Japan, the Wild West and several other scenarios throughout history. You’ll have your traditional tightrope walking and cane-swinging gameplay from previous Sly games, but mixed in with doses of fresh, new gameplay additions.
What You Need To Know
A Nostalgia Trip Through Time – As I mentioned above, we don’t see a lot of 3D platformers these days. Action games seem to have split into open world-style games like Assassin’s Creed, hack and slash titles like God of War, or your controlled corridor experiences, like Uncharted. It’s very rare that you have a game broken into large levels with multiple platforms that you can climb, jump between, and variety of missions to explore. The levels and the gameplay of Thieves in Time not only call to mind earlier Sly Cooper games, but other 3D platforming classics like Banjo-Kazooie and Jak and Daxter. Add on top of that the cartoony visual style, upbeat soundtrack, hundreds of collectibles hidden throughout the stages and some of the most epic boss fights of this generation, and you feel like you’ve stepped into a world that gaming forgot, but shouldn’t have been completely left behind.
Same As The Old Boss – Repetition can still be a problem in any 3D platformer. Each of the different time periods are fairly similar in design and filled with generally the exact same enemy types, but just stylized with different window dressing. There are missions that repeat themselves, such as most new worlds requiring you to first take pictures of certain objects or areas before advancing the story forward. The sequences where you control Sly’s friends Bentley and Murray are among the worst offenders. Murray’s missions often center around just mashing the attack buttons on groups of enemies and Bentley wears out his gameplay welcome the first time you use him. It doesn’t help that Bentley’s missions often involve a repeating pattern of three hacking minigames, which seem to happen a little too often, and none of which are particularly fun. Especially when they call for you to use the never-welcome Sixaxis functionality.
A Cacophony of Coopers – However, playing as Sly and his family members is often a fun, rewarding experience. Thieves in Time does a fair job at keeping things fresh by introducing you to a new member of the Cooper clan in every level, each with their own unique talent. One ancestor can jump great distances while another can climb ropes at breakneck speed, and the missions are tailored to their strengths. Even Sly himself gets a variety of uses, picking up new costumes that equip him with new abilities throughout the game. You can even go back to earlier stages with Sly’s new costumes to find some of the more elusive collectibles. Plus, the plain old abilities of being able to climb, balance and jump around as Sly are just more fun than anything his friends can do. There are also times where the game will break into minigames that play completely different from the rest of the game to serve the story. While they’re not always the best quality, these instances are a good attempt to further break up any monotony. Not withstanding the minigame that is the final boss battle, which was quite a disappointment.
Saturday Morning Delight – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the 2D animated cutscenes. These cutscenes almost feel more alive than the game itself, and most other games that have come down the pipeline recently. While Sly narrates the action, you see some of the most vibrant, emotive and entertaining scenes play out in a hand-drawn 2D style between major plot points of the game. They’re so good it almost makes me wish I could just watch a Sly Cooper animated series rather than actually play the game.
Is This Game For You?
Sly Cooper Fans – Absolutely. While the times have changed, Sly Cooper remains the same. If you enjoyed sneaking behind enemies, climbing around rooftops and swinging your cane around before, you’ll find plenty to still enjoy in this newest title.
Curious Cooper Newbies – Probably. I’ll admit that outside of a few hours in the first game, I don’t have a lot of Sly Cooper experience. I went into this game looking for a good 3D platformer to break up the constant barrage of shooters and slashers. If you’ve never played a Sly Cooper game, but are looking for a different, slightly old school, lovable experience, you’ll find it here.
Younger Gamers – Absolutely. Just as I cut my teeth on video games in Super Mario Bros, kids nowadays are cutting them on New Super Mario Bros. Well, like the younger me, eventually today’s kids will need to take the next step into a larger world of deeper games and Thieves in Time is a great place to start.
The Dew Generation – Probably Not. The folks I can see enjoying Sly Cooper the most are folks who grew up with 3D platformers and today’s kids. If you fall into that strange middle zone where you only want to play the most mature and intense games that this generation has to offer, I can see Thieves in Time being a little too slow and cartoony for your tastes.
If anything, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time will be remembered as the right game at the right price, even if it’s a bit anachronistic. By 2013, we’ve been treated to years of emergent gameplay, customization, grandiose production values and a variety of connectivity features in our full $60 retail purchases. Now, here comes Sly Cooper, trotting along with his cane and a smile, ready to take us back to a more innocent time for a lower price of $40 on PS3 or $30 on PS Vita. I, personally, am ready to take that trip back in time and wish game companies would follow Sly’s lead. It’s OK for a game to not be a Mass Effect or Uncharted scale project. While the content in Thieves in Time is outdated or repetitive at times, there’s certainly more than enough personality, variety, quality and nostalgia packed into this metaphorical and literal trip to the past to make it well worth the price of admission. Now we can only hope this will be a catalyst that helps revive the great forgotten genre of the 3D platformer.
Ed Note: I played both the PS3 and PS Vita versions of the game, going back and forth throughout the game. I preferred the PS3 version because of its greater visual fidelity, but this review works for either version of the game.