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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (Vita) artwork

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (Vita) review

"Small issues notwithstanding, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a fun title and a nice addition to the Vita's library."

Sly Cooper is a black sheep in the PlayStation family. In the PS2 era, the series never enjoyed the same level of attention as the Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank franchises, despite often matching (and in some cases exceeding) the quality offered by those other titles. Then, long after the apparent death of the Jak series and the absolute exhaustion of Ratchet and Clank, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time arrived on the PS3 and Vita as a latecomer. With the further announcement that a major motion picture starring the raccoon thief is in the works, it seems Sony discovered a newfound faith in the series.

And if Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is an attempt to prove that faith is well placed, it succeeds.

For this fourth outing, Sly and the gang are time traveling to various historical periods and locations to put a stop to villains whose shenanigans are changing Cooper family history. As in previous games, every area will involve a lot of sneaking around, with Sly and the other player characters completing various jobs leading up to a final mission that involves multiple steps completed by the different members of the team. In addition to the stealthy Sly, the musclebound hippo Murray, and the wheelchair-bound tech turtle Bentley, Sly's ancestors are available, each with their own unique abilities needed to traverse the stages in which they appear.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (Vita) image

The hub world in which the jobs are available is filled with secrets and extras. Every area is different enough to maintain the player's interest, and the special abilities of the various characters keep gameplay varied. Adding to the mix, Sly receives a new costume in every area that confers another unique ability on Sly whenever it is equipped. For example, in the medieval world, Sly receives a Robin Hood costume that gives him the ability to shoot arrows with ropes attached to certain targets, opening up new routes to explore. Returning to a previous area, the player will find targets there that open up new areas to that world. The cumulative effect of these possibilities ensures adult players will find a stimulating challenge lost on the game's younger demographic. However, this game is primarily aimed toward that audience.

The main quest is as straightforward as can be, and the challenges offered in it are mostly minimal. Most of the game finds players completing simple goal after simple goal, and while that busy work remains interesting thanks to the colorful graphics and enjoyable atmosphere, most players will need frequent breaks. Throughout the game, I either took the time to go after extras or just dropped the Vita into sleep mode and did something else. I consider myself a fan of cartoons and the kind of worlds in which Sly and the gang reside, so the fact that the story failed to hold my attention is perhaps more telling than it seems.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (Vita) image

There are other issues, as well. The first is that a series of hacking mini-games are placed into many of the jobs, and these feel like tedious cell phone-quality experiences. If I want that, I'll use my phone. From my Vita, I expect something better. The most baffling issue, however, since it seems like it could be so easily fixed, is that the cartoon cutscenes are of extremely low video quality. It's a lot like streaming a beautiful, HD cartoon through a low quality Internet connection. The quality is there, but something is wrong with the compression. My best guess is that the Vita card could not hold the video files in a proper size so Sanzaru Games elected to use extreme compression. That choice does a disservice to the game, which takes such care to otherwise portray its world and characters beautifully.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (Vita) image

Thieves in Time is otherwise a fun title, and a nice addition to the Vita's library. On the occasions in which it does excite, it can even fill jaded gamers like myself with childlike joy. The Wild West level, for example, offers a series of challenges that make use of Sly's cowboy ancestor's gun shooting ability for some really fun platforming involving the timed targeting of switches. And the simplistic humor can still elicit at least a smile from Sly's original fans. Bentley's descriptions of multi-stage heist plans are as absurd as ever, and delivered in the most over-the-top nerd voice imaginable. By the time Sly's enemy/lover Carmelita Fox dons a belly-dancing outfit to distract a group of guards and proceeds to berate the gang while the player takes control for a rhythm based mini-game, you're either belly laughing at the absurdity or shaking your head at the lack of political correctness (but still with a smile on your face). It's these moments that keep players coming back to Sly Cooper, both this game and the series in general.

Anyone who feels nostalgia for the PS2 era, or who discovered the charm of the series through the PS3 HD collection, would do well to give it a play. And anyone with little ones old enough for a pricey handheld and looking for a game to play should also hunt down a copy of Sly's latest adventure. They might also look into the recently released HD collection of the earlier games for the Vita. I'm sure that was Sony's plan for the raccoon all along, and although a team of analysts somewhere will ultimately determine whether or not that strategy succeeded, we can all enjoy this solid revival of a series that could have so easily been forgotten completely. A carefully crafted 3D platformer, regardless of intended audience, is a welcome sight wherever it pops up in this generation of games.

Germ's avatar
Staff review by Jeremy Davis (September 11, 2014)

Jeremy plays video games, sometimes.

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