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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time PS3 Review

About.com Rating 3.5 Star Rating

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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

Image © Sony
"Sly Cooper" once occupied that rarified air of beloved Sony icons like "Jak & Daxter," "Ratchet & Clank," and the other heroes that made the Sony-exclusive brand such an important entity. Sadly, after Sucker Punch left the franchise to focus on the "Infamous" games, it seemed to die. Fans kept hope alive but after three games in four years -- "Sly Cooper and the Thievius Racoonus" (2002), "Sly 2: Band of Thieves" (2004), and "Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves" (2005) -- the legend of "Sly Cooper" went dormant. It wasn't until E3 in 2011 that Sony revealed that Sanzaru Games had dove in and taken up the mantle of bringing "Sly Cooper" back to a new generation. "Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time" is finally here and while it definitely feels like a game that is a product of the waning current generation (and not the imminent PS4 one), it is undeniably something that we don't get a lot of in today's market -- a smart family game. The broad demographic appeal of brilliant games that one finds in the "Ratchet & Clank Future" series is not quite here as the game is often a bit too simple for anyone beyond their teenage years but I realized while playing it that I so often complain about a lack of clever games for kids and that I nearly missed that this title definitely qualifies.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Developer: Sanzaru Games
  • ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
  • Release Date: February 5, 2013
  • Genre: Platform, Family
  • Website: Sly Cooper
  • Pros: Clever Story, Smart Dialogue, Fun For Young Players
  • Cons: Not as Much Fun For Older Players, Simple Gameplay

Sly Cooper, a raccoon who comes from a long line of notorious thieves, has to use his stealth and a bit of time travel to save his own ancestors. With the help of Bentley, a wheelchair-bound turtle who is really the brains of the operation, Murray, a pink hippopotamus who often serves as the group's muscle, and Sly's love interest, Carmelita Fox, the gang zips through time, allowing for the developers to offer a variety of environments and gameplay elements to players. The game can also be played with Cross-Save, allowing those who own both copies to start a game on the PS3, save it to the Cloud, and continue the adventure on the PlayStation Vita. For a relatively simple game like this, it's a neat addition in that one really doesn't lose a whole lot by experiencing it on the Vita. In fact, I played a lot of "Thieves in Time" story on the Vita, as it feels more like a handheld game and the flaws aren't as prominent as they are on a large TV.

Gameplay

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

Image © Sony

The game opens with a tutorial and one realizes pretty quickly that this is a simple game. There are shiny blue marks on where to jump. There are spotlights to avoid. Swinging at enemies is easy and turns them into flashy coins. It's a kid's game. No doubt about it. And that simplicity of gameplay threw me off for the first hour or so. As Sly and the gang adventured around the first time-travel spot (Feudal Japan), I hoped for more of a challenge. And I do think that the developers of "Thieves in Time" could have found more of a balance in terms of gameplay that would be simple enough for the kids and challenges that felt more complex than "go here, get this, come back."

If the gameplay is disappointingly thin, what elevates "Sly Cooper" is the writing. Dialogue and storytelling are so much stronger here than in your average family game that it didn't really dawn on me that this was a title aimed at kids at the beginning. In general, family games are awful. Most of them are based on TV shows or animated movies and feel like they were given the bare minimum of effort to serve as a tie-in. They're about as creative as Happy Meal toys. "Sly Cooper" may be a simple game in terms of gameplay but it is a smart game in terms of storytelling, character, and dialogue. And it could be a fantastic gateway game for kids trying to transition from their Leap Frog to more complex gameplay. My 3-year-old wasn't ready to play it but he was fascinated watching me do so and as he enjoyed the animation and storytelling, I realized that this was a fun, clever game that I would definitely want my kid to play before most of the alternatives.

The developers also maintain a healthy degree of variety, largely because they get to reset their scenarios every time the gang travels to a new era. From Feudal Japan to Wild West to Ice Age to Medieval England to Ancient Arabia and back to Paris, "Thieves in Time" allows for a gameplay that is often refreshing itself, in no small part because you get to play the Cooper ancestors as you rescue them, each with their own unique skill sets. A kid's game that doesn't get boring is a true rarity.

Graphics & Sound

If someone told me that "Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time" was just an HD upgrade of a PS3 launch game, I would have believed them. It simply looks like a title that someone started working on in 2009 with some very unrefined graphics and environments that were clearly simplified for children but arguably too much so. "Sly Cooper" has a definite style -- it looks like a Nick Jr. cartoon -- but it felt a bit lackluster on the PS3, less so on the Vita. As for voice work and audio, it's all good here, as there are actually a surprising number of speaking roles throughout the eras. The script is actually often quite clever and the voice cast handles it well.

Overall

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

Image © Sony
My response to "Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time" is clearly mixed. It depends on the target audience. For kids, it's a home run. It's a game that could introduce them to the history of this franchise and other Sony PS3 exclusive games (check out this list for the essentials). For older players, it will remind them a bit too much that we are in the final days of the PS3. It feels like an older game that does not use the machine or the nostalgia for its character to appeal to a new generation as much as it could have. It works best if you embrace the kid within and just appreciate it as a great family game and don't ask why it couldn't have been something a bit more.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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