If I told you that one of the greatest gaming trilogies I had played revolved around a turtle, pink hippopotamus and a raccoon you’d think I were crazy. However these are no ordinary animals (as if a pink hippo was ever normal in the first place), these animals make up the Cooper Gang, the most renowned band of thieves if there ever was one! Orphaned from a young age, due to the deaths of his parents at the hands of Clockwerk (an evil mechanical bird, from what I can gather), Sly Cooper (the raccoon) met Bentley (the tortoise) and Murray (the aforementioned pink hippo). This group of friends went on to become the world wide thieves following in the footsteps of the Cooper lineage of thieves and their first outing, Sly Cooper (and the Thevius Racoonis if your American), follows their exploits as they seek out to retrieve the Thevius Racoonis. The TR is a book that chronicles all the revelations the Cooper family have had when it comes to thievery and thus this book is Sly’s birthright, and is also an extremely clever way of covering up the way you acquire new moves.
Storyline aside, as I’d rather not ruin any part of the plot, the presentation of this game is phenomenal. The graphics are cel shaded, and look like something straight out of a comic book or a sunday morning cartoon (which is what I feel developer Sucker Punch were initially aiming for). Now remastered in HD they look even better, crisp lines and sharp colours really make the character designs stand out and gameplay aside it looks like a very acceptable PS3 game that you could easily buy now. Looks aren’t everything though, if a game has no gameplay then it isn’t worth a dime of your money! Luckily Sly Raccoon does have gameplay, gameplay that it delivers in droves. The game is split into 5 ‘Episodes’ each ‘Episode’ then has 8 Levels to complete then a boss level afterwards. These levels are usually your standard platforming affair except you have to sneak for pretty much most of the game. You can go and bash your way though if you like but its one hit kills all the way through (even in the boss fights) which brings tactics into play much more. Not all levels are like this however, there are some where you have to shoot your way through via a hovercraft with a mounted gun, and others where you must defend Murray as he runs to get the key.
On top of the standard level goals of gaining keys to unlock the next level hub, levels also contain 2 other goals to complete. The easiest of these two are the Safes to unlock. You have to find clue bottles scattered around the level, they range from about 20 up to 50 in a level, but on average a level will have 30 bottles to find; upon finding the bottles you then have to find a Safe located somewhere in the level, it can sometimes be right at the start and others at the end or even somewhere out of the way midway though the level. Unlocking a safe grants you a new move technique from the Thevius Raccoonis and in some ways makes the game even easier to do, such as no death from falling in water, or no death from falling into pits, alongside some powerful sneak moves it makes the standard level a little bit of a breeze but luckily the more game-breaking moves don’t unlock until near the last world.
The second thing to do on almost every level, usually the levels with Safes to open, are Master Thief Challenges. These challenges are speed runs through levels, and are crushingly hard. Many of them expect you to make it through a 3 minute level in under a minute or a 10 minute level in 5 minutes and so on. If you get caught by any of the security measures time depletes in double speed; which makes completing them even harder. Sly Raccoon has so much to do and to keep you occupied its the first game in the series and its just absolutely brilliant. You can easily 100% the trophies in this game but fully completing it really takes dedication and turns the game from a platformer into a twitch response quasi racing game.
Sly 2: Band of Theives
Sly 2 follows on directly from Sly Raccoon, the story focuses again around Clockwerk (in a slightly different way, again don’t want to spoil the story). This time around the gameplay has been approached in a completely different way to its predecessor. Instead of a HQ hub to get to the levels (like in Sly Raccoon) you have a front-end standard menu to switch between episodes, and then each episode is set in an open world hub where mission objectives appear on the level for you to just walk over and play at your leisure. The game hubs do provide some distraction from the main game and its objectives. Bottles have now disappeared from the individual levels and found a new place in the hub levels; safes have now also found their way into the hub levels for moves to be unlocked. The hub does however allow for the acquisition of gold through pickpocketing money and treasures off guards; which in comparison to the first game, gold actually has value in this game (instead of providing second chances like in Sly Raccoon). Gold is now used to purchase moves and upgrades, in addition to the moves you get from cracking safes.
Because the game is split into episodes and surprisingly large game world hubs it feels much more disjointed that its predecessor. This isn’t to say that the game is worse than the original, far from it, Sly 2 is just pure fun and works surprisingly well. After playing Sly Raccoon, Sly 2 takes a bit of getting used to but the changes it makes to the series are welcome additions, it refined a core platform game about sneaking and stealing into a stealthy adventure game about stealing and sneaking. Sucker Punch must have sat down and realised that for a thief raccoon the way the game played previously showed none of this off. In addition to sneaking around as Sly Cooper, Band of Theives allows you to take control of the big guy ‘The Murray’ and tech extraordinare Bentley. Playing as Murray largely revolves around beating up guards and powerhousing your way through the levels and opening up new areas with the power of your might! Playing as Bentley you deal with demolitions and data retrieval, so thats running around and throwing bombs and then playing little hacking minigames that echo shooters like Geometry Wars and Super Stardust HD. Both a nice break from playing as Sly but ultimately nothing wholly new and eventually it becomes tiresome playing a stream of Bently or Murray levels in a row when all you wish you were doing was playing as Sly; luckily Sucker Punch realised this and so they never overstay their welcome.
Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves
Sly’s final outing in the trilogy is his unfortunately his worst, however this s not a bad thing, in terms of the series past brilliance. Sly 3 is a fun game but it just doesn’t invent anything new for the series and if anything only takes away the features that made the first two such great games. However this time around Sly isn’t involved with Clockwerk, no this time it all revolves around him trying to gain whats rightfully his, his family’s lifetime treasure. Shame its locked away in a vault thats on an island thats been turned into a fortress of Dr. M who is a crazy crazy monkey mad scientist hopelessly trying to break into the Cooper vault.
Gameplay wise its very similar to Sly 2: Band of Thieves. Again its got a front-end menu system for choosing episodes to play through and each episode has a game world hub just like before. Its a very similar game to 2. Gone however are the bottles for getting extra moves from safes, and in turn the safes have disappeared too. Now moves are only awarded from purchasing them by stealing gold at every opportunity; which is a disappointment as it takes the fun away from hunting your way through levels for clue bottles, instead you feel no reward for levelling up by purchasing things with stolen money. One thing that has evolved is the pickpocketing skill, now treasures are automatically sold on thief-net instead of having to physically sell them which is a nice touch.
What Sly 3 does bring to the table, without wanting to ruin the games story too much, is the addition of new gameplay missions. These missions revolve around the new characters that you acquire to your ‘Band of Thieves’ and their special abilities; abilities are varied as one character can possess any enemy in the game and run them into objects and fellow enemies, and another uses technology in a similar way to Bentley, so you play through awkwardly controlled helicopter sections or RC car sections. Overall they offer something new but they do tire quickly, and unfortunately as the game goes on they become much more frequent, feeling more tacked on and shoehorned in than smoothly integrated like they should be. One great addition, that is horrifically addictive, is a challenge mode; this mode brings you between 4-8 Master Thief Challenges where you take part in some of the mini games of the main story and have to complete them whilst meeting certain conditions. This mode is also the key to generating coins to purchase all the available upgrades as later in the game cost of abilities on ThiefNet becomes unbelievable, but attainable with perseverance.
As a complete package the Sly Trilogy is by far one of the best games to grace any console. Sly Raccoon and Sly 2 are amazingly strong entries into the platforming genre and even though Sly 3 is less ingenious and a bit tiresome it still stands head and shoulders above almost anything else in the genre, its just a shame compared to its predecessors it appears weak. This is a game I would recommend to anybody who is a fan of fun and platformers.
(Pictures taken from original games, not HD remake)