The last Sly Cooper game graced consoles in 2005, essentially the eve of the current-generation hardware. It's been a while since we've seen Sly, Bentley and Murray — aside from the HD port of the three original titles that hit the PS3 last year. Since that game teased that a long-awaited fourth title in the series was indeed in the pipeline, fans have been clamoring for a return to the stealth/platforming hybrid action that made the originals so memorable. Thankfully, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time really evokes the fun and unique qualities of the original games while successfully updating the look and feel to take advantage of the current hardware.
This new adventure kicks off a short time after the events of Sly 3, which saw Sly Cooper and pals disbanding as he attempts to pursue an honest life while paired up with his love interest and frequent nemesis, Inspector Carmelita Fox. Sly's romantic adventures are short-lived, as he soon learns that the Thievius Raccoonus — a book that chronicles the history, tricks and trade of the Cooper family — is slowly erasing itself. Correctly guessing that it's the result of a time-traveling plot, Sly gathers up Bentley and Murray and kicks off a tale that sees them traversing five time periods. They must thwart the nefarious Le Paradox, who is manipulating the past to support his criminal enterprises in the present.
The five time periods take the trio from the prehistoric era to the Wild West. The main hook to this plot point comes in the form of a playable Cooper ancestor in the time period you're visiting. Feudal Japan, for instance, gives you a Cooper relative who's a renowned ninja and sushi chef, whereas the Wild West gives you the expected gun-slinging outlaw Cooper forefather. Each relative has a special ability that is generally useful in his or her era.
The concept of having other playable characters isn't new for the Sly series, as the last game introduced some. Tying the Cooper descendants to their respective time periods makes more sense and gives a more cohesive style to the gameplay than shoehorning in random characters, though. It's enjoyable when a sequel introduces new gameplay elements that also make sense from a story perspective, and that's certainly the case with these additional characters.
In addition to the ability to play as the newly introduced ancestors, you'll also have access to a number of optional tasks and minigames, including collectibles scattered around each time period. Collectible hint bottles return from Sly 2, with 30 to find in each time period that unlocks a singular safe in each world to yield a fairly significant bonus. You can also pickpocket enemies with all characters, so you can build up funds to purchase new moves and abilities for everyone. Certain enemies also hold a more valuable trinket, which grants a huge coin bonus if pickpocketed successfully.
There's a hub area for each time period, and the style matches the era you're visiting. The hub areas allow you to choose story missions, or you can take any available character for a spin, giving you the option to freely explore the open world in each time period. There are a couple of other activities in the hub, like an extremely basic version of table tennis and unlockable minigames in the form of a broken arcade cabinet that can be repaired once you find the required number of hidden treasures.
One of the things that stands out the most about Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is the sheer amount of variety in the story missions. At its heart, the game is about a combination of platforming and stealth. The platforming element is used well here, giving you a lot of movement options for every character besides the bulkier Murray. It's a lot of fun to move around the open world, search for collectibles, bound from one rooftop to the next, walk across high wires, perch from the tops of posts or other peaks, and so on. You'll find that the story missions often consist of much more, though.
For instance, when you hit the prehistoric period, one of the missions involves the Cooper ancestor from that time period who's hit a snag and has fallen out of shape. Determined to whip him back into shape, Murray constructs a work-out program that consists of six different minigames. Granted, this could be a groan-inducing sequence for a number of reasons, but Thieves in Time handles this in a humorous and genuinely fun manner, stringing together the events as if they were culled from an '80s action movie montage, like something right out of the Russian farm workout sequence of "Rocky 4."
Sometimes the overreliance on oddball minigames and missions can work against the experience, and I do wish that there was a better balance between the pure platforming and stealth sequences, which feel few and far between. Some of the missions can be downright annoying or aggravating, featuring things like following a character while staying out of sight and listening to their conversation. We've all played scenarios like this in various games, like Assassins Creed, Grand Theft Auto and so on, and even there, I've never been a particular fan of these sequences. There are other minigame events that are so basic that they end up feeling like a way of padding the overall experience, as opposed to adding something memorable or significant to the gameplay.
When Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time chooses to shine, it really does. I can't overemphasize how great the platforming is and how well the game evokes a PS2-era platformer in the best possible way. It's often charming, with some great character interaction moments. While not all of the voice-over performances are fantastic, the majority breathe a lot of life into this anthropomorphic cast. I think the soundtrack falls a little short, as I didn't find it to be very memorable, but from a visual standpoint, the game nicely captures the cel-shaded look that was featured in the original titles, and it maintains a fairly solid 60 frames per second throughout.
Another big bonus for Vita owners is the ability to play Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time on both Vita and PS3. The PS3 copy of the game comes with the Vita version on disc, which you can start downloading and installing after a quick verification. That process was pretty painless, and I imagine it's similar to the way that Playstation All-Stars handled it with its pack-in Vita version on PS3. I toyed around with the cross-save feature, which worked flawlessly. Transitioning from PS3 to Vita and back again was as simple as bringing up the menu in one version, uploading my save to the cloud, and then doing the same on the other device. It took seconds to do, and I never ran into an issue with lost progress or trophies. This is my first experience with using the Vita and PS3 in this manner, and based on this, I'd love to see more games with this option.
Whether you're a longtime Sly Cooper fan or new to the series, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is really enjoyable. Story-wise, the game gets you up to speed if you missed the first three games, and the gameplay is intuitive and easy to pick up and play. It certainly left me wanting more Sly Cooper in the future, and I think you'll feel the same way after playing this title.
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