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Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PlayStation 2) artwork

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PlayStation 2) review

"Hangin' with Mr. Cooper"

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PlayStation 2) image

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is a cartoony platformer. It's also a stealth game where you play an antiheroic, anthropomorphic raccoon. Those two genres should come together like oil and water, but somehow they mesh terrifically. The developers at Sucker Punch balanced a laundry list of well worn elements and developed an adventure that's worth experiencing, even fifteen-plus years after its initial release.

Honestly, Sly Cooper has no right to be as wonderful as it is. It sports cel-shaded visuals and boasts a cast of lively characters, as well as cutscenes that act as previews for a weekday afternoon cartoon series (a la DuckTales or Goof Troop). The beginning of each block of stages delivers narration from Sly himself, as he dishes the details on his next scheme to recover a piece of the titular Thievius Raccoonus, a family heirloom that imparts ancient thieving knowledge. You can't help but feel that you've rushed home from a long day of fourth grade, thrown your backpack down and tuned in to 3:30 PM Fox Kids.

However, Sly Cooper is not cartoony in an entirely childish way. Granted, it utilizes plenty of clean, wholesome humor, but it's not so family friendly as to be cringe-worthy. Exchanges between Sly and his rival Carmelita Fox play out in subtly adult ways, for instance. The game dances the line between childish and mature perfectly, without crossing it too much or too often.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PlayStation 2) image

Sadly, Sly Cooper's visuals may have stylistic appeal, but they also get in the way. This is especially so if you're playing on an HD television, as the game's blurring and ghosting effects are more pronounced and bothersome. At times, you wonder if Sly Cooper wasn't originally a Tiger title. I'm not the type of person to get motion sick, but there were a few instances where I had to rest my eyes after watching Sly's afterimage trail him all over the screen. Acclimation thankfully sets in after a few minutes, but the beginning of each session is brutal.

Thankfully, once you're adjusted you can enjoy a finely built platformer. Sly and his buddies Bentley and Murray travel the globe and break into the fortresses of various supervillain-like baddies. Our hero tiptoes past lantern-toting guards, leaps over security lasers and clings onto pipes and poles to climb to frightening heights. You'll find yourself shimmying along tight ledges to avoid detection, ducking whenever lights shine in your direction or vanishing with the use of a special invisibility technique gained later in the campaign.

The best parts, though, involve obstacle courses full of tricky maneuvers and perils aplenty. Carmelita appears now and then to nail Sly with a paralyzing blast from her high tech handgun. Meanwhile, Sly attempts to give her the slip while whole set pieces crumble. You'll leap from dilapidated platforms and swing from hooks in the ceiling to avoid shots. Bullets collide with unstable structures, causing them to shatter and plummet into the darkness below. Eventually, you elude her by sliding down a rail and leaping just before you slip off and fall to your death.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PlayStation 2) image

For the most part, these thrilling segments work out magnificently, even when you're not under the pressure of dodging bullets or evading lava. "For the most part," sadly, is the operant piece of that last statement. As with many late '90s and early 2000s 3D platformers, one of your fiercest opponents is the camera. Although you can toggle between two camera styles, the lens tends to leave out useful bits of the stage. You might outrun Carmelita's projectiles, blissfully unaware that a pitfall or a deadly trap looms on the horizon, out of the camera's view. You could rotate it to catch a glimpse of the coming hazard, but often the game automatically sets the camera back to its initial position. Worse than that, you can only rotate the camera left to right, and can't move it upward or downward. That would've been helpful for rail grinding scenes, as Sly's body sometimes blocks your view of the next obstacle. You may not realize there's a roadblock until you've lost a life.

However, the picky camera worth tolerating, if only to experience Sly Cooper's wild variety of tasks. When Sly isn't stalking in the dark, he's bludgeoning chickens to appease a ghost, while avoiding suicidal, bomb-donning roosters. When he's not Jet Set Radioing his way down a rail, he's blasting specters, crabs and kung-fu monkeys in twin stick shooter levels. Or providing his pal Murray much needed cover using a high-powered turret, in the hopes of allowing the hippo to swipe a much needed key.

Sure, you'll spend some time screaming at some of Sly Cooper's required mini-games, especially racing segments. They wouldn't be so bad if your vehicle weren't sluggish and clunky, but trying to zip around the track when you're the clear underdog (especially if you're not a fan of racing titles) is infuriating. This is not to say that Sly Cooper whopping two racing events are impossible, but they aren't necessary and frankly feel tacked on.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (PlayStation 2) image

Above all, Sly Cooper is a fairly simplistic platformer that happens to be tough. Granted, you accomplish some pretty elaborate tasks when running through gauntlets of traps and dangers, but most of the action consists of pressing two to three buttons. One of those automatically sends you to the nearest pipe, rail or landing point. Even though you witness Sly performing smooth moves and daring stunts, the game is not so complex that it bogs you down with a tremendous learning curve and complex mechanics. However, its segments are not so simple that you end up sleeping walking your way through its campaign. One wrong move could get you killed, and you'll have to begin the course from the last checkpoint. Thankfully, Sly Cooper presents a fair enough mixture of challenge and excitement that it's also addictive, so even failure is not so disheartening that you'll toss your controller out the window and seek anger management classes.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus delicately balances a variety of content and concepts and succeeds way more often than it fails. You can tell as you advance through the campaign that it was somewhat experimental, but thankfully it was a test that paid off. Though certain portions haven't aged well, Sucker Punch should be proud of the adventure they crafted. It's charming, entertaining, challenging and varied. Those are qualities that any platformer should include on its resume.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (April 24, 2018)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Germ posted April 27, 2018:

I loved this era of PS2 platformers. When I played Sly Cooper back in the day and unlocked all of those level commentary tracks I was blown away, and I was sure that subsequent games would all start including them just like DVDs threw in director commentary tracks. A shame things never really went that way. Fun review!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted April 28, 2018:

I never did go through and unlock all of the commentary, but I did get some of it. I should probably do that in the future. I'm replaying Sly 2 right now and also digging it. Thanks for reading!

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