The PlayStation 2 never managed to define itself with mascots in the same way that Nintendo did; it's tough to match the near-universal recognition of Mario and his pals. Many people who grew up with the PS2 have fond memories of Rachet & Clank Jax and Daxter and Sly Cooper. The Cooper developers might have moved on to the inFamous franchise, but Cooper was their original money-maker. The Sly Cooper Collection came out on the PS3 in November 2011 and contained the first three games in the series, updated for HD televisions by Sanzaru Games, who also developed Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time. While the Vita got Thieves in Time, it lacked a playable version of the original three Cooper titles. Fortunately, The Sly Cooper Collection has finally arrived on the Vita and is a top-notch port.
The Sly Cooper games are all roughly in the same niche. Players are put into the role of the titular Sly Cooper, a legendary thief raccoon who, along with his pals Murray and Bentley, performs Robin Hood-style heists. Along the way, he's confronted by his rival and sometimes-love interest, Inspector Carmelita Fox. Each of the stories is self-contained, although certain characters and events carry over from game to game. You don't want to jump into Sly 3 before playing the first two games in the series, or you'll miss a lot of callbacks and references. The Sly Cooper titles are good for players of all ages because they're lighthearted and fun, though there are some surprisingly dark moments. (Something happens to a character at the end of the second game that was legitimately shocking when the game came out.) It's nothing worse than you'd see in the average television series or Disney movie, though. The characters are likeable, and there are some extremely memorable characters in the franchise.
The core gameplay of the Sly titles focuses on a combination of platforming and stealth. Sly Cooper can fight enemies, but by and large, you don't want to be in a straight-up battle. Instead, a big chunk of the game involves finding paths and avoiding encounters unless you can stealthily take out an enemy. It's closer to Mario than Metal Gear, but there's an emphasis on platforming and acrobatics to avoid combat. The gameplay is incredibly easy to pick up and play, since most of the complex actions can be done with a single button press. Combat boils down to smashing another button — sometimes while behind an enemy.
The first Sly Cooper title is a far more episodic affair than the later games in the series, which have an open hub world with a few self-contained levels. The open-world areas allow you to approach situations however you like, though there's a guided path. In the first title, each level is self-contained, more strictly designed, and contains more dynamic challenges. The first game also tends to be more traditionally difficult with a greater emphasis on trial-and-error gameplay. Younger gamers may find it to be the toughest of the series, but all three games are incredibly playable regardless of your skill level. Nothing in the game world presents an unpassable obstacle, and several unlockable skills make it easier to get past certain challenges.
In addition to the core Sly Cooper gameplay, you'll frequently encounter tons of alternate gameplay styles, usually involving one of Sly's heist partners. You might have more straight-up brawling as Murray, computer hacking as Bentley, or some other minigame or alternate play style. Even the bosses get into the game, as evidenced by one of the rhythm minigame encounters with a Sly 1 boss. Some of the alternate gameplay styles are fun, but others are tedious or tiresome. The only positive thing I can say about the tiresome minigames, like the Murray races in Sly 1, is they're over relatively quickly. It's an unfortunate side effect of the games doing everything they can to remain fresh and exciting. The Sly Cooper sections of the games are always the most polished and most playable, and fortunately, they comprise the bulk of the gameplay.
Each game has a boatload of content. In addition to the main game, there are tons of extra side-quests or hidden items to find. The first Sly title is the least content-packed but still a solid game. It's also one of the easiest Platinum Trophies on the system if you're a trophy hunter. The later games give you more to do, especially due to the larger hub worlds, which can hide collectibles in almost every corner. As a whole, the collection is likely to last you a long time. The mission structure is designed with a PS2 in mind, but it translates well to the Vita. The missions aren't overly long, and since the game is divided into multiple missions, it's easy to pick up and put down. The franchise will take at least 25 hours to finish, though count on more if you're going for the collectibles.
Sly Cooper's gameplay translates almost perfectly to the Vita. There are a few flaws that weren't present in either the original game or the PS3 version. The Vita uses rear and front touch controls in place of the shoulder buttons, which aren't available on the system. This isn't a huge problem since the touch controls are rarely accessed, but it suffers from the usual problem of finicky touch controls. It can be annoying when you accidentally trigger one by brushing the rear touchpad or when one doesn't trigger when you want it to. Fortunately, this is unlikely to be a serious issue in any of the three games in the collection, and the basic movement and combat controls work well. The camera controls are more awkward on the Vita than on the PS2 or PS3, but it doesn't seriously interfere with the gameplay.
The frame rate and visuals are quite good, and the HD port of the franchise worked out for the best. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus looks worse than its sequels, but that's a matter of age and character models more than any flaw in the porting process. One big exception is the out-of-engine comic-style cut scenes, which weren't re-rendered like the rest of the game, so they look quite bad. They've been compressed extremely badly and appear small, blurry and with distorted coloring. It's a significant flaw that really detracts from some of the game's more charming moments, and it's very disappointing considering the quality of the rest of the port. The audio also suffers from some noticeable compression, especially in the aforementioned cut scenes. It isn't terrible and is a lot less noticeable than the poor quality of the comic scenes.
The Sly Cooper Collection is a fantastic purchase for any Vita owner. The games are fun for young gamers but well designed and playable enough for adults. It's hard to name a collection that provides more bang for your buck than The Sly Cooper Collection, and the Vita port is a big step up from the unfortunate Jak and Daxter collection for the same system. There are some annoyances, including low-quality compression of cut scenes and some uncomfortable use of the Vita's touchpad, but they don't get in the way of enjoying the product. If you're a Sly Cooper fan or are looking for some good platforming action on your Vita, you need The Sly Cooper Collection.
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