After years on the sideline without us hearing anything regarding the future of the Sly Cooper franchise, we were given The Sly Collection. Compiling all three original games in one helpful bundle, it re-acquainted fans to the crafty raccoon while introducing him to new fans of the series. Sucker Punch’s creation had finally popped his head onto the PlayStation 3, but many wondered if we would see a new fully fledged adventure involving Sly Cooper and the gang?

Fast forward to 2013 and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is now on PlayStation 3. Although it may not be created by Sucker Punch, the new developer has shown its great love for the franchise. Sanzaru Games has produced a Sly experience many believe is on-par with the original trilogy, but what do we think?

Today Robbie Key, Michael Troina and Jamie Briggs analyse Sly’s latest adventure. How does it compare to the original series? Does it feel like a Sly Cooper experience? Does it capture the charming characters the series is beloved for? We will be discussing all of that and much more.

Jamie Briggs: Having only now finished Sly: Thieves in Time, a.k.a. Sly 4, due to its late release in Australia, I am fairly happy with the product Sanzaru sent our way. I jumped into the Sly Cooper series fairly late – actually late last year after purchasing the Sly Cooper Collection – and ever since been in love with the series. Though I haven’t completed Sly 3, I plan to re-visit soon.

Sly 4 has changes from the original titles I loved. For instance, in the first two games the plot revolved around pulling off heists (GTA V?) and figuring out all the aspects of stealing your goal. However, in Sly 4, your plans revolve around stopping tyrants taking down Sly’s ancestors, so even though you’re still piecing together information to take them down, it felt different in comparison. With that being said, I was happy the game played like a Sly Cooper game. They didn’t try to re-envision the gameplay. They gave us what we would expect with slight variations, and that made me feel right at home. From the awkward first-person crawling sections to the cane swinging, Sly 4 felt like a true Sly Cooper adventure.

Robbie Key: As a fan of Sly who has been right there with the gang since before the release of Sly 2Sly 4 is a great addition to the series. Although Sly 4 was not developed by its father Sucker Punch, Sony had the dudes from Sanzaru Games in the spotlight this time around. These guys not only worked on the awesome Sly Collection, but they are also huge fans of the Sly Cooper series. In fact, they were making Sly 4 before it was dubbed official by Sony. They were simply fans of the series throwing in their ideas of what they believe should’ve happened post-Sly 3, and it truly shows throughout Sly 4.

Except for some new ideas, a key ingredient in any video game sequel, I never once felt like I was playing a game made by another developer. Sly 4 lives and breathes the charm, gameplay and hilarity of the series. And it’s something I’ve never thought about, but Jamie brings up a great point on how the game isn’t really about heists, but instead trying to fix the cryptic damage inflicted on Sly’s past and his ancestors. I mean, I never once grew bored of the heists in previous entries because they were all fantastic and hilarious to play through, but I agree with Jamie. It was definitely a refreshment.

Michael Troina: Sly Cooper, to myself, was always the “not Jak and Daxter” or the “not Ratchet and Clank” during my time with the PS2 and I admit it; I missed out at first. Thankfully with Sanzaru Games not only remastering, but remaking the original trilogy, I got to experience the joy of Sly Cooper and why he was a respected name in the gaming world.

Sly Cooper games are a unique experience, focusing more on stealth and using meticulous plans to get through levels unlike many games today when you just blow your way through. Looking at Sly 4, it developed just similarly from the original title – Thievius Raccoonus – to Sly 3, which focused on a greater emphasis on developing Sly’s skills, a better use for the “non-Sly” characters, and the fact there is more to the eye than the level originally seems. Compared to the original series, it fits like a glove and goes hand in hand with the PS2 trilogy. I accept Sly 4 as the next game after Sly 3′s ending.

I felt the main characters were true to their core. I think the best thing though was playing as Sly’s ancestors because I felt coming in they had to be these highly-regarded thieves you just saw glimpses of in Thievius Raccoonus. I mean when we played the old Sly Cooper games, we loved the stories about the Cooper family ancestors and their various thieving abilities. So to actually play with them and learn about them was great!

Jamie Briggs: The charm and hilarity of the original series was there in spades. I remember Robbie telling me this was the funniest in the series and I can definitely agree with that. There were many laugh out loud moments for a series some gamers might think is just a ‘kid’s game’.

This was done quite well due to the ancestor’s storyline, as Michael said. Being able to jump back in time and play these new Cooper characters was great. They all had their great aspects, some more likable then others, but they all brought some variety to gameplay which kept it fresh.

Though let’s be honest, the game isn’t without its flaws. Personally the biggest drawback was the tacked on motion functionality, which became ridiculous at points. I played mostly on Vita and the training montage (albeit hilarious) was a painful experience, and so was rolling the ball around during Bentley’s hack mini-games. I can understand them wanting to utilize Vita’s features, but I think most of these could have been avoided. I think if it wasn’t for Vita, these features wouldn’t have been included at all.

Robbie Key: It’s good to see you agree with me on the humour because there were so many hilarious moments in the game, I couldn’t keep up with them. Sly’s ancestors (Bob particularly), the villains and the ol’ gang were all great in that sense. I agree with Mike as well even though I thought Sir Galleth was the most cut and dry of them all in terms of gameplay.

It’s honestly not much different on the PS3′s end Jamie. The Six-Axis’ integration was poorly executed, especially when you have to use it during the hacking segments. Honestly, the best use of the Six-Axis involves manoeuvring Carmelita’s body in a… seductive and hilarious way, yet it required the least amount of control from the Six-Axis. The load times were probably the worst part of the game though. The game looks fantastic with cell-shaded visuals while running at 60 frames, but it is not graphically burdening at all, and why the game’s load times were as excessive as they were made no sense to me.

Michael: Troina: Sly has always been about clever jokes or one-liners that, like you say Jamie, may make people believe Sly is a “kid’s game”, but in turn, this is where the developers were able to stay true to Sucker’s Punch Sly and in turn make it more for “all audiences” rather than just kids. Look at games like Ratchet and Clank and the Banjo Kazooie series. They have always been about stories with serious implications, but always have the time to tell a joke or two.

I agree fully with Rob here that the Six-Axis wasn’t great. It felt more added on. In fact, the only game I remember using Six-Axis for was Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction (or the game Fl0w) and it wasn’t perfect there either. Six-Axis was one of those barely-used features for the PS3, but I felt that Sanzaru games added this element because of the cross-buy for PS3 and Vita owners to make it a worthwhile cross-play buy].

The graphics were marvellous, but I felt the music was even better. The themes matched every level perfectly and it gave you that vibe of an old-60′s film when you were sneaking around as Sly. Music in my opinion is especially important in a game like this because you are emphasizing the idea of your presence being hidden so in turn you aren’t making much noise. Sneaking around and pick-pocketing enemies is one thing, but to add some nice jazzy tunes while you did it is a bonus.

Jamie Briggs: Agreed Michael. Their use of the time periods to open up variety in music and design worked perfectly. I think the plot itself allowed for a lot of variation, which was appreciated.

Did anyone else get the impression they repeated tasks within each mission? For example, it would ask you to do a certain thing like steal one key, then turn into stealing 4-5 keys. It would happen constantly. I know this mechanic has been done in many games before, but I really found the repetitive nature of these tasks was something that stood out. I would have been fine with shorter missions instead of repeating tasks if they provided a larger amount.

Robbie Key: Yeah, the music was great, too, especially the jazzy style music while you’re brawling the guards, which is not uncommon in the Sly games. It matches the game’s quirkiness and theme perfectly: stealth, but there were some moments where the AI didn’t see me. I know there are supposed to be limitations in stealth games as to how much enemy AI can see you, but sometimes I literally found myself saying out loud, “How did you not see me?” It wasn’t too much of a bother though.

I honestly didn’t feel that at all Jamie, and I’m a guy who hates repetitive games. The Sly Cooper games – and as you said for many games – have always had something like this. Bentley would conjure a plan going from point A to point B, then have point C created after gathering whatever the materials were from the original two points. Except for the first game, which was a much more linear (but still incredibly fun) experience, the game’s missions are usually carried out in this manner and I personally think Sly 4 is no different.

Michael Troina: I have to go on Rob’s side for this as well Jamie. The Sly games have always been about following a well thought-out plan that cannot be completed unless all the previous steps were completed. While some missions do seem similar, I never felt like I was doing the same thing, different level. I think that’s where the level of difficulty for later levels versus earlier levels comes in.
In the earlier levels, the missions are brief and serve as guide. While missions may be similar later on in the game, they are more difficult with more guards, traps, etc. If you want to play repetitive missions, go turn on your DS and play Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days. Those missions were the exact same and all they did was change the location to try to fool the player and make it seem “different”.

Jamie Briggs: Maybe it was just me then, but it really stood out in my playthrough, especially around the middle portion of the game. Not to say I didn’t find the missions enjoyable, but it wasn’t something I noticed.

So overall with Sanzaru’s more than serviceable effort with Thieves in Time and from the game’s ending, would you be looking forward to more entries in the series from their studio? I know I am really interested to see what they can do a second time while hearing feedback on the motion controls and load times. If they were able to really expand the series on the PlayStation 4, it has a great chance to be given a fresh life that may be even more impressive than the originals.

Robbie Key: For sure Jamie. This was Sanzaru’s first game – their rough draft if you will – but it was fantastic. With more time, fatter budgets and feedback from fans, there is no telling what else they will be able to achieve with “Sly 5.” As long as they take out the pointless Six-Axis segments, reduce the ridiculous and unnecessarily long load times, and while we’re at it, put some meat on Carmelita (seriously, has she not heard of a sandwich?), the next title in this “awesomus thievius” series has potential to the best one yet, though it will take a lot to take dethrone Sly 2 from its number one spot in the series for me.

Michael Troina: Of course Jamie. Sanzaru did more than I expected and I hope they continue to build off what they started (continued?) with the Sly series. If there is a next Sly I would like them to add some new abilities to make it seem like the game is advancing and showing us Sanzaru games not only had a vision to continue the Sly series, but an idea and foundation they could build off.

I see cross-play becoming a bigger part in the future, maybe even giving benefits to those who have and use a Vita when playing the Sly games (Wind Waker GBA-GCN adapter anyone?). Any time a series gets to continue, I count that as a win in my book.

What are your thoughts on Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time? Did it live up to the original series and would you be excited for more Sly in the future? Let us know in the comments below and check out our official review here.