Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
A new racoon from Sucker Punch - but this time, he's the hero.
Sony has two big bullets in its gun for the holiday season - and both of them are games that can be labelled under the now too generic word "Platform". But sincerely, it's difficult to imagine two more different approaches to the genre. Ratchet & Clank takes the lesson of Naughty Dog's Jak & Daxter and delivers an experience made of enormous environments, saying goodbye to the old rules of the genre while Sly Cooper remains into the Platform genre, including at the same time absolutely innovative elements.
"Sly Cooper and The Thievius Raccoonus" has been developed by Sucker Punch; if we go back in the past, we find out that this is same company behind the good Rocket: Robot on Wheels for Nintendo 64, one of the best platforms of the latest years. Three years later, Sucker Punch is back with another platform.
Actually, there are many similarities between Sly Cooper and Rocket. Both games are platforms based on an apparently classic approach to the genre; I said apparently, and not by chance. Behind the surface, Rocket hid a revolutionary physics engine, and an eclectic attitude that went from the possibility of driving vehicles and flying on magic carpets to the presence of good and enjoyable puzzles. Sly Cooper has the same eclecticism, and it blends magnificently different genres into the form of a platform.
There is also another point in common with Rocket. In both games, Sucker Punch gave primary roles to a raccoon. I don't know, maybe they have a passion for this cute animal. But while in Rocket the raccoon was the bad guy, here the raccoon is the hero.
Sly Cooper is a raccoon with a mission. Heir of a family of master thieves, Sly should have inherited the Thievius Raccoonus, a book containing extraordinary thieving secrets passed down from generation to generation by his family. But one day, when Sly was just a child, a gang of villains known as the Fiendish Five stole the Thievius Raccoonus, overpowering Sly's father and tearing the precious manual into five pieces. Each of them took one of these pieces, and escaped to a different part of the world committing any sort of evil crimes.
But now Sly is ready. With the help of Bentley, the genial turtle that gives Sly constant mission support via "codec", and Murray, the purple hippopotamus that drives Sly's high-tech Van, he has to track down and defeat the Fiendish Five, stealthy entering their dangerous hideouts, and finally regaining the Thievius Raccoonus.
All the classic platform elements are here, intact from the era of Super Mario Bros, and they make of Sly Cooper a less forgiving game than Jak & Daxter or other similar games. There is no health bar here: one hit of the enemy instantly kills you, but also one of your hits can kill almost every opponent you encounter. In order to gain an extra life you must collect 100 gold coins. In the same way, while Sly can perform a lot of different moves, the Jump button is the one you'll be pressing more often.
But as I said, the classic approach to the platform elements is just a side of Sly Cooper. In fact, the overall experience offered by the game is extraordinarily fresh and amusing. As I wrote in my hands-on preview, Sly Cooper is a platform game with a good dose of stealth action. The game constantly looks at Metal Gear Solid, and ironically takes many elements from Solid Snake's adventure. If Sly is Solid Snake, Bentley is a caricature of Otacon, and in fact he provides mission support to Sly via "codec".
The developers managed to seamlessly include all the stealth elements into the platform structure of the game, and the result is absolutely brilliant. From the very beginning of the first levels, you'll have to make good use of Sly's stealth abilities to circumvent deadly alarm systems of all kinds. For example, some places are illuminated by searchlights that incessantly move to spot a possible intruder. As Sly, you have to steer clear of their cone of light, learning the pattern of their movements, and running silently in the shadows. The classic laser-beams alarm systems present in any good spy story are here too, but the beams are in constant movement and you have to jump from one platform to the other while avoiding them. And if Solid Snake was proud of his cardboard boxes, Sly Cooper is proud of using barrels as a disguise. You can move through levels filled with dangerous enemies entering into a barrel: walk while the enemy is not looking at you, stop immediately when he turns his head in your direction. Barrels are also a way to avoid dangerous traps, like cannons firing poisoned darts at everybody passing in front of them. The barrel will work as a 360° shield, and you'll see all the darts sticking into it without killing you. Cool stuff.
Controlling Sly is a pleasure, also thanks to the excellent physics engine developed for the game. The left stick moves the raccoon, while X is the Jump button, and Square is the attack button. The cane that Sly uses to attack his enemies can be also used to swing from objects like rings and suspended ropes by pressing the Circle button. The Circle button is also used to climb ladders, pipes and ropes. L1 and R1 activate the first person view; Sly Cooper has an ultra cool pair of binoculars to take a look at the surroundings; while in first person view, the right stick lets you zoom in and out and the left stick is used to look around.
But Sly Cooper can do much more than this. First of all, he can use basic Thief Skills over spots highlighted by a blue light; when you approach one of this "blue zones", press the circle button, and Sly will automatically perform a thief skill useful in that moment, like flattening against a wall to look around the corner. But there are also Master Thief Skills that Sly can learn reading the page of the Thievius Raccoonus hidden into the vault within each level; in order to open the vault you have to collect a variable number of so-called clue bottles scattered throughout the level. It's not always easy to find all the bottles, since many of them are located in places that at first may seem unreachable. Anyhow, the special moves you'll learn from the vault are worth the effort. They vary from a matrix-like slow motion movement to special attacks, and once learned they can be selected by pressing the L2 button and used with the Triangle button. What's great is that these moves can actually change the way you play through a certain level; in fact, while linear, the levels can be completed in many different ways, and this adds replay value.
A couple of secondary but amusing mini games for each level add even more variety. In one of these games, you have to protect your friend Murray with covering fire as he escapes from the hands of angry enemies; in another, you have to collect 50 chickens in just two minutes in order to find a treasure key.
At the end of each level - there are five of them, divided in many sub-sections - you have to fight one of the Fiendish Five, the band of evil plunderers that stole The Thievius Racoonus. I loved these boss battles; each of them is completely different from the others, and you always have to figure out a different strategy to win. But don't worry, Bentley will throw some useful hint via codec to help you.