The Sly Collection – Review

Developer(s): Sucker Punch Productions, Sanzaru Games
Platform: PS3
Release Date: Dec 2010

Click Here for The Sly Collection trailer

Not so long ago, while discussing the Hercules TV series and half-woman/half-spider hybrid creatures, the topic of the Sly Raccoon games came up in conversation. I nonchalantly confessed that I had never played them. The reply to aforementioned confession was “Dude! You’re totally missing out. Like, dude. Totally……dude. Dude!”

Despite the questionable use of 90s slang, I decided that, seeing as good platformer games are hard to come by these days, I should probably give it a shot. Just to see if it would live up to my high Jak-and-Daxter, Spyro-the-Dragon standards.
Well, it isn’t quite up there with those classics. However, the cel-shaded adventures of this looting raccoon are the perfect remedy for those longing for some retro platforming action and simple fun.

The Set-Up:
The Sly Collection takes the trilogy of Sly Raccoon games that were released on the PS2, and gives them a sweet HD polish. Despite the similar aesthetic, each game is very distinctive, changing big gameplay elements with each installment. A platformer at heart, the saga will see you battling giant metal owls, looting from comical villains and doing all you can to restore the Cooper legacy.

Brown and Grey. How many modern games do you come across that boast these colours over all else in an attempt to be ‘realistic’? Whatever happened to the days of disoriented plumbers fighting dinosaurs, or mutated blue hedgehogs that blatantly refused to obey the laws of gravity? When did games become so serious? Now sure, there are games that really benefit from the po-faced demeanor. The Call of Duty games spring to mind. But after a long days chopping wood/mending ships/being a blacksmith, it’s good to unwind in front of a game that is simple, shamefully cartoonish and, most of all, mindlessly fun!

Am I striking a chord here, fans of Crash Bandicoot? 

The Sly Collection may be the answer to your woes if you have been longing for such an innocent thrill. Two button combos are about the most intricate moves you will perform. Each game is littered with (semi-) pointless items for you to collect. Your main character is a talking raccoon that spends his time thieving and flirting with a (literal) foxy police officer! It’s a screwy game that will delight kids and kids-at-heart with its Saturday-morning cartoon vibe. Despite everything, it comes together very well.

As mentioned, each game is quite different and, as such, they each have their own individual flaws.

Sly Raccoon:
The first game is the most honest example of a simple platformer you could ask for. It is a copy and paste job from any Crash Bandicoot or Spyro the Dragon game. Clear levels, unlock boss battle, wallow in emotional satisfaction, next chapter. It couldn’t be more straight forward with a sat-nav. You play as Sly Cooper who, as a child, had his family killed and legacy stolen by the Fiendish Five. He must find each gang member, defeat them, and steal back the pages of the Thievius Raccoonus (his legacy). Along the way, he will be helped by genius tortoise Bentley and good-natured hippo Murray.

What makes it stand out from other platformer games is the stealth/thievery aspect. Enemies can be snuck up on and knocked out without major confrontation. And like a Nickelodeon version of Assassin’s Creed, you can climb on rooftops, scale walls and swing from hooks to make life easier. It might not be as complex as AC, but it handles particularly well and is a lot of fun to play.

The main issue with the first game is that it’s just a little too simple. Most adult players won’t have any problems up until the last few levels….the dancing voodoo crocodile may confuse you, but it won’t really stop you. Enemies can be beaten quite easily and many traps are easily avoidable. There is still a great sense of fun in avoiding everything, despite its simplicity, but the whole game will be over in just a few short hours. They developers try to lengthen the experience by including ‘hint bottles’ in each level (collect them all to unlock a new move), but again, these are very easy to find and won’t keep you long.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves:
Making a timeless mistake, Sly 2 does what just about every platformer game does eventually and lets you play as some different characters. While there are exceptions to the rule, this generally doesn’t work too well. In what world would a player choose to play as a cumbersome tortoise over a nimble raccoon thief? When it’s so much fun hopping off cliffs and landing perfectly on a creaky flag pole, why would we instead opt to play as a hippo whose signature move is the belly flop? These characters can be upgraded to make them more bearable to play as, and many of their missions are in fact mini games. Still, turtles and hippos suck.

To give it credit, at least Sly 2 solves many of the other problems that plagued the first game. It is now nearly twice as long and the difficulty is amped up considerably. Remember when you used to hurl the controller at the wall in a fit of frustration? Yeah, those moments will be coming back to you…..invest in rubber walls. In particular, the ‘hint bottles’ make a return. While there are far less of them in the game, they are also much harder to find and actually serve to infuriate more than anything else.

The fact that the gang are thieves actually figures into the game a lot more this time around. You will be dropped into a hub level and be forced to conceive a plan to steal from whichever Klaww gang member is around. You will be asked to take surveillance photos, lower your enemies defenses and unlock certain doors. Once all your missions are complete, you begin the Operation, a Mission Impossible style manoeuvre that is the highlight of each chapter. In a particularly good chapter, you are required to tango with Inspector Fox to distract an entire ballroom, while your teammates steal a pair of mechanical wings in the background.

Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves:

Taking the innovations from the second game even further, the third game expands your roster from 3 characters to 7. Platforming only makes up about half the game at this point, whereas the rest is just an avalanche of mini-games. Surprisingly, this actually turns out to be a good thing, as these mini games are enormous fun, albeit a bit divorced from the main game. It feels like a Mario Party game at times. You’re aware what the developers are doing, it’s just variety for the sake of variety and it feels a long way off from the first game. But then, using a crane to fling enemies into electricity is just so much fun!

This time around, Sly is going for his biggest heist ever: unlocking the Cooper family vault. Naturally, the team aren’t quite up to the task, so they are forced to go out and acquire some new recruits. (Only one girl in the whole team. Blatant sexism right there!). It’s a bit slow to build momentum, the game rarely feels as urgent as the previous entries. For the first portion of the game, it’s more of spin-off title than anything else, what with the amount of mini-games. It builds up to a nice finish though, and it really does feel like an epic conclusion, considering the scale of the final heist.

The hint bottles take a hike (thankfully) and the game increases its longevity with a new Mission mode. This basically allows you to replay missions, but with an added handicap (i.e. time limit, halved health etc). While you don’t gain anything from completing these missions, other than 100% completion, they are wonderful fun to play, and a welcome addition. Coin collecting is also made considerable more enjoyable with a pirate siege mini-game. And on a side note, while the previous games were quirky in their own way, Sly 3 is the first game to be genuinely funny, with some actual laugh out loud moments.

The Package:
So to sum up:
Sly 1 = good but too short.
Sly 2 = longer and tougher but with annoying side characters.
Sly 3 = A general improvement overall but with a slight spin-off entry feel to it.

The collection also includes 4 mini games, which can be unlocked quite easily. They aren’t a massive addition to the package, but they are good solid fun. Clearly meant to be played in Multiplayer, and with the Playstation Move, you can still play on your own and with the controller if you wish. Admirably, it still feels quite natural to do this, meaning you won’t have to run out and buy the Wii remote clone just yet.

Despite each games flaws, they all remain a joy to play. The first games graphics are a little basic, but you can see how this improves over the course of the three games. As well as this, many of the special moves that you can learn in the game feel fairly pointless. They are fun to play around with, but it is rare enough that you will employ any of them in a fight when you can just finish anyone off by repeatedly hitting the square button. The only addition that really feels worthwhile is Sly’s paraglide move, which really opens the levels up.

The thing that holds the entire package back more than anything though is its lack of charm. It has it’s moments. Sly’s flirty banter with Inspector Fox is a real highlight. However, the rest of the characters are just a little boring and don’t really engage the player at all. This may be difficult to swallow from someone who keeps hyping up games like Crash Bandicoot. After all, he doesn’t even talk.

But Crash Bandicoot knows what it is, it’s a simple platformer so it doesn’t force you to sit through cut scenes to tell a story. Sly Raccoon does and all the player really wants to do is get on with the game. It doesn’t have the futuristic setting of Ratchet and Clank, or the fantasy world of Jak and Daxter. It’s just a normal world…..with animals instead of people. Pretty and fun, sure, but not too original.

Now I feel bad…after all, I really enjoyed these games!

Overall:
It won’t win gamers over the same way other platformers did, but The Sly Collection is an absolute bargain. Boasting tight controls and really excellent gameplay, it’s finally clear to me why this franchise is so popular. For anyone looking for a good platforming fix (and really miss the likes of Spyro and Crash), this will ease the pain. The fact that it’s 3 games in 1 is also pretty sweet!

Best bit:
Rooftop chase sequences and casual flirting with Inspector Fox.
Worst bit:
Collecting hint bottles.

Rating: 8/10

Boy, when we try to tick someone off, we really do the job.” – Sly Cooper

Shamelessly Awful Stuff:

  • With such an obvious cliff-hanger at the end of the third game, it’s clear that this collection was released to get players excited for the newest entry, Sly Raccoon: Thieves in Time. At the time of writing, this game is due to be released in late 2012. Trust me though, it won’t.

  • The voice actor for Inspector Fox changes in each of the three games. Just like Dr. Who with each new series.
  • Sly Cooper has made cameo appearances in other games as well. He appeared in Playstation Move Heroes, a game that looked dismal and doomed to fail. He was also one of the first revealed characters in Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, essentially a Super Smash Brothers clone.

This game is kind of like:

  • Assassins Creed/Metal Gear Solid for kids

or

  • Rescue Rangers (remember them?)
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