About the Game Series
Minor Story Spoilers
Thief. Sly Cooper as a whole is an overlooked series. Back in the Playstation 2 days, Sly stayed mainly in the shadows compared to likes of Ratchet and Clank and Jak and Dexter. I'm not just saying this either, as it took me around four years after getting my PS2 that I discovered about the first game's existence, and further time to try and track it down (It was quite rare in Europe)...
I’m so glad I did, as it's a gem of a game and a classic series too. Here is three reasons why the Sly Cooper Series is a classic...
Reason 1: Great cast of characters
Video games in the platforming genre generally have stronger gameplay, than characters. So when I say that the characters featured in the Sly Cooper series are just as strong as a TV show, they must be pretty good yes?
The main characters in the series are the three members of the Cooper gang. You have Sly Cooper, the master thief, Bentley – the brains behind most of the operations they perform and Murray – the muscle and get-away driver. The chemistry between the characters is one of the best aspects of the series and one of the reasons why its a real joy playing through the games – what will the gang get up too next?
Each of these characters have their own strengths and weaknesses, which adapts your gameplay style when your in a middle of a mission and exploring the hub worlds. Sly is good at sneaky stuff, Bentley can put guards to sleep with his sleep darts, but not very good at fighting. Murray on the other hand is extremely good in combat, but can't do any the sneaky stuff that Sly can perform.
Inspector Carmelita Fox is the other main character. She is a policewoman who is trying to arrest Sly and his gang, not understanding his focus on stealing from criminals. Although not playable in the first two games, she an excellent shooter, making her playable sections quite different to the other characters.
Reason 2: Excellent graphics, animation and story
If there's one thing I would mention with the Sly Cooper series, is the series has a lot more story and dialogue than a lot of other platformers. (I'm looking at you Mario!) The creators of Sly, Sucker Punch have gone to great lengths to create a whole back story for Sly and his family. It's not even in the intro to the first game and forgotten about, it's referenced to throughout the games.
All four games in the series have excellent stories, and probably the main reason why it's hard not to play all the games in succession – you care about the characters and where the story goes with all it's twists and turns.
Now you may think that's pretty good, but Sly has another sneaky trick in his arsenal – cell-shaded cartoon cutscenes. Yes, one of the best parts of the game are the incredibility well animated cutscenes which play throughout all four games. Simply put they look amazing. These cutscenes make the player more involved with the characters and the story, and are always great to watch.
So excellent story and the best animated cut-scenes I have ever seen, so what about the graphics for the core games themselves? Naturally, the graphics are pretty good on the original PS2 hardware, but it's the remastered versions for the PS3 that really show off the graphics.
Reason 3: Fantastic gameplay
Like some video game franchises, the first game feels almost completely different to the sequels. That is because it plays like the platformers from the widely considered to be the golden era of platformers - the PS1/N64 era. (Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Banjo Kazioo, Super Mario 64, the list goes on...) In simple terms, Sly Raccoon is really fun. Sure, it does have ideas used in similar games - collect 100 coins for a life, collect an object (a lucky horse shoe in this case) for immunity from one enemy hit etc, collect all the keys to move onto another world, but the way it's crafted together you will quickly forgive the game for it.
If you though the first Sly game was good, wait to you play the sequels. The gameplay for these games had a complete overhaul in it's er... gameplay. Instead of levels, the game is set into massive hub worlds, where the player can collect coins, find items and activate missions. These missions are set in the world itself or by entering into buildings to explore even more locations.
The missions within the game are nice and varied throughout the series. You do have your traditional Sly missions, where you have to pickpocket guards and steal something without alerting anyone to your presence. Because Bentley and Murray have missions too, you get up to all sort of things. Destroying a water pump station, escaping from Carmelita Fox's pistol, attacking helicopters, using costumes to gain entrance to secret lairs, blowing up bridges, racing around a dirt track with the team van, exploring an active volcano, flying RC helicopters, the list is endless. This is only scratching the surface on what you get up throughout the four games.
The other main gameplay mechanic is Bentley's hacking sections. These act like small mini-games, where Bentley has to hack into a computer to gain access to something. Instead of letting the character do it, the player takes control of Bentleys hacking character. You have various obstacles to avoid and things to shoot and are a good alternative from the normal gameplay. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time also have new shooter and ball sections, which makes these sections even more varied and more fun.
Collectables have been a staple of the series from the beginning – Sly certainly likes stealing from criminals. The main collectables in the series are the clue bottles. Break all these in a level or hub world and you gain access to the safe. These safes contain new powers for Sly to unlock, so worth to try and find them all.
Collectable treasures are also quite useful, as if you can get them back to the hideout in one piece, you will get a ton of coins to use on thief net, which is where you buy new powers for Sly, Bentley and Murray to use in the field. Sly masks are a new collectable in the forth game, Thieves in Time, which to make things just a little tougher, appear in the main hub and the missions, so you always have to keep an eye out for them all.
I'm just scratching the surface with these games. My second favourite platforming series behind Crash Bandicoot, the Sly Cooper series is a pleasure to play from start to finish. It very rarely puts a foot wrong, and with its excellent story, characters and gameplay, what more do you want from a cartoon series of video games like this? Just play it for yourself and I can guarantee you will agree with me.
My One Big Highlight
There's a number of moments I could pick for the series, but probably my favourite is from Sly 3, where Sly enters the cooper vault. Its a challenging level, but it is very atmospheric and interesting to learn a bit more about his family.
Elephant In the Room
If you have played any of the sequels (Band of Thieves, Honour Among Thieves and Thieves in Time) before playing the original game, then you might be a little disappointed. The reason for this is simple – the sequels improved on nearly every aspect. The gameplay had a major overhaul, which means that Sly Raccoon has a different feel. This doesn't mean it shouldn't be overlooked through.