“There are two different kinds of thieves in this world: those who steal to enrich their lives, and those who steal to define their lives.”
For those of you who haven’t heard this, than clearly you have not watched The Italian Job and you are missing out. However, if there was a video game character that best personified this philosophy, it would be none other than Sly Cooper, master thief and hero of the short lived yet much loved Sly trilogy on the PS2. I have spoken briefly on Sly in the past, recognizing him as one of the 10 underdogs that defined the gaming industry in the last decade, but to be honest, until recently, I myself had only played one of the games in his series. Having been busy with both the Jak, and Ratchet and Clank series back when I had my PS2, Sly just kind of slipped by me.
But since then, Sony was so kind as to release The Sly Collection for the PS3, and now that I’ve gotten the chance to play through the series in it’s entirety, I can say with high audacity that all three installments of the Sly Cooper franchise are definitely games everyone should have played.
Sly comes to us from Sucker Punch (Not to be confused with Sucker Punch the movie, of which I reviewed last week), a western based development team who first entered the gaming industry in 1999 with a scarcely known platformer, Rocket: Robot on Wheels for the N64, and are now famous for the PS3’s open sandbox superhero title, InFamous (of which the sequel is set to release this June). The Sly Cooper Series is a part of what I like to call the Post Golden Age of 3D platformers. It took all that was fun about previous games like Banjoo Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, and Spyro the Dragon, and went a step further by creating even sharper controls, crisper animations, more richly detailed environments, and better engaging storylines with colorful writing and stellar characters, (or is it the other way around).
As for himself, Sly comes from a long family of professional thieves that go back as far as history can remember. Said history of the Cooper’s theatrics, their secrets, and all the skills they have culminated over time, have been recorded in a special journal, The Thievious Raccoonus. Tragically, at the age of eight, Sly watched, hidden in a closet, as a rival gang known as the Fiendish Five broke into his home, killed his parents, and stole his family heirloom. (You know, for kids.) The now orphaned Sly was moved to Happy Camper Orphanage, where he met his two best friends, Bentley the turtle, and Murray the hippopotamus. Why? Because trios are badass, that’s why.
The story begins in Sly Cooper and the Thievious Raccoonus, with our trio, now all grown up, on a mission to recover all the lost pages of the Cooper’s family heirloom, and put a stop to the Fiendish Five and their infamous leader Clockwerk from ever hunting down the Cooper legacy ever again.
The story continues in Sly 2 Band of Thieves, when the mechanical remains of Sly’s nemesis are snatched up by yet another group of baddies, this time known as the Klaww Gang. Sly, Bentley, and Murray once again must scour the globe to snatch up the Clockwerk parts and destroy them before this evil can once again resurface.
But the adventures don’t end just yet. In Sly 3 Honor Among Thieves, Sly discovers the location of the Cooper Family Vault on an island occupied by the maniacal monkey mastermind, Mojo Jo—I mean Dr. M. To get to it, he must gather a team of world-class thieves to pull off the biggest heist of his life.
But so what if the plots are interesting, the writing is a breath of fresh air, and the characters bleed gallons of personality and charisma onto the screen? What good are any of these elements without a game to back it up? Well it’s a good thing that Sucker Punch has found a way to combine platforming, stealth, and combat and make them all equally fun. Sly is incredibly agile, and the controls are so intuitive and easy to learn- climbing up buildings, running across wires, shimmying along narrow crevices- that it all feels like second nature. His signature cane is a multipurpose tool that allows him to swing across hooks and pickpocket guards, plus it acts as his ever-so-trusty whack ’em tool.
The first game is easily the most linear of the series, with a set of hub worlds containing a group of themed platforming levels with a key at the end (and other collectables along the way), a slightly advanced version of the classic Crash Bandicoot series. The second and third games, however, had much more variety to the missions, spreading them out through vast open world stages, much of which shows where a huge amount of inspiration for InFamous came from.
It’s also very important to note that while these games carried on the spirit of a single franchise quite consistently, they were always developing the gameplay appropriately with the characters, creating more and more variety. While you are playing Sly for the majority of each game, in Sly 2, there are several missions where you play as Bentley and Murray. Playing as Bentley lets you use an arsenal of gadgets to avoid guards, like sleeping gas and proximity mines, while playing as Murray lets you go berserk and pummel through just about anyone. In Sly 3, you get to play as all seven of the characters above, plus an eighth character that I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned yet.
Throughout the entire franchise, there is this consistent B Plot involving Carmelita, a Spanish-American detective that plays a foil to Sly, constantly chasing him and his entourage across the globe to bring them to justice. She has her own back-story involving her father that leads to her extreme black & white outlook on crime. What’s funny is that in the process of chasing them down, she ends up arresting nearly every single crime boss the Cooper Gang defeats along the way. There are moments in each game where she, never knowing what the gang is really getting themselves into, gets captured herself, leading Sly to save her, causing her to return the favor in each final confrontation. To get the elephant out of the room, yes, she and Sly have an ambiguous romantic relationship. Does he use it to get away in the end? Yes, in some of the most sneaky and almost cruel ways possible, leaving Carmelita to easily be the more sympathetic of the two.
And that, in a nutshell, is the reason why I love the Sly Cooper series as much as I do. There is depth here in the story and characters that you don’t often see in many cartoon style platforming games. Yet at the same time, the gameplay itself is so fluid, coexisting with the story almost perfectly. Is it challenging? Not really. Sure, you’ll die a couple times, but no more than you would in any other platformer.
So, for all you fans of platforming, adventuring, and just plain fun who have yet to give this paragon of quality from the last generation a proper play through, don’t miss out another minute. The Sly Collection, consisting of all three games, optional move support and 3D, plus a sneak peak at Sucker Punch’s next project, is currently available for a PS3 near you. You will not find a better deal or time better spent. At least for a while.
Want more games you should have played? How about these: