While most of the world spent last week freaking out about Black Ops, Sony quietly dropped one of the year’s best deals in our laps and failed to tell a single soul. The Sly Collection, an HD upgrade of three amazing PS2 platformers, was released with practically zero fanfare yet all three titles remain some of the strongest run-and-jumpers of the past decade. For $40 you get Sly Cooper, Band of Thieves and Honor Among Thieves, each magnificently remastered in 720p, and totaling something like 30 hours of consistently solid gameplay. All for $20 less than a typical new game.
Above: As his name implies, Sly is a master thief all about stealth
What made the Sly series so fun? Sneaking. Stealing. Dashing across tightropes as security cameras blanket the area. A healthy camaraderie among its ever-growing cast of anthropomorphized animals. While Ratchet was busy blasting things head on and Jak descended into angst overdose, Sly kept his Clooney-like cool while arranging elaborate heists with Bentley (a genius turtle) and Murray (a hulking hippo with a heart of gold), while the disturbingly sexy Carmelita Fox tries to lock ‘em up for good.
Once you get past each game’s tutorial-heavy beginning, they gradually unfold in a way that combines the best parts of Prince of Persia (acrobatic leaps from one handhold to the next) and Uncharted (fast action scenes broken up by ledge-climbing and snappy banter), punctuated by unique boss battles that play with typical platformer conventions. We’re definitely not saying Sly is on the same action level as Uncharted, but for what is ostensibly an easy kids’ game, Sly sneaks in its fair share of intense set pieces.
Above: Sly 3 introduces (not sneaky) planes, several new playable characters and more
Even though each game’s structure is essentially the same – complete a series of goals in each themed world – the complexity of the levels grows with each sequel. As a compiled trilogy, they work exceptionally well and change things up enough that you don’t mind when they dip into typical “collect X things to progress” pitfalls. For the most part, missions are constantly throwing you into new situations, like a Robotron/Geometry Wars-style shooter, an offroad race and, as seen above, a World War I-esque flight level. It does sometimes seem scattershot and too broad, but surprisingly none of these minigame missions feel like detestable padding.
As far as the Collection goes, there are some oddities that managed to slip through. For example, if you want to stop playing one Sly and fire up another, you must exit the entire disc, all the way back to the XMB, and re-load the game. Why can’t we just go to the Sly Collection title screen? And while 99% of the game is brilliantly up-ressed to 720p, there are certain movie clips that are in their original (i.e. blurry as hell) PS2 format. What happened there?
On the next page we’ll run through each game on the disc, just in case you’re wondering how each stacks up.
The first Sly Cooper holds up remarkably well. As we mentioned before, the focus isn’t beating up enemies – it’s sneaking into enemy strongholds and stealing shit. Usually that boils down to nabbing keys that unlock deeper sections of that criminal’s hideout, but the fetching level design and mission variation prevent this otherwise rote task from becoming boring. You’ll be avoiding lasers, scrambling across rooftops and perching on awnings like a raccoon Batman, all while ripping off other hardened thugs and staying one step ahead of copper Carmelita Fox.
By why all the thievery? Sly is the latest in a long line of expert thieves that target other robbers – after all, thieving a thief has got to be harder than ripping off some nobody, right? Problem is, Sly’s family was killed long ago and their Thievius Raccoonus, which contains all the family secrets, has been stolen and scattered among various evildoers. Now that Sly’s had a lifetime to train, it’s time to take his family heirloom back, and with each new page comes a new stealthy ability.
Best of all, Sly doesn’t have a lot of platformer bloat – the collectibles (clue bottles) actually award you new moves and abilities instead of just sitting there, and the various themed worlds, while structured roughly the same, have just enough going on in them to be meaty without dragging on. And just as it’s becoming too repetitive, the game’s over, complete with a lovely ending that ties things up nicely. That may not sound like a big deal, but part of great game design is knowing when to call it quits, and not keep piling shit on because you have the time.
There are a few control issues with the first game, namely your swing/hook grab move that occasionally misses its mark, and it’s extremely easy to walk right off the level into one-hit-kill pits or water hazards. Later abilities cancel these deaths out, but the first half of the game is filled with “oh what the hell” moments. We also noticed some lip synch issues that make the otherwise clever and charming dialog seem dethatched from the in-game scenario.
Like every platformer sequel, Sly 2 adds more of everything. In this case though, the excess is mostly welcome, as the animal-run world hinted at in the first game is fleshed out beyond a few scattered hideouts. Now Sly, Bentley and Murray team up in bases around the world (including highly stylized versions of Paris, India and Canada) and orchestrate much more demanding heists. The first game was Sly on his own, gathering keys until he was ready to fight a boss – now, all three members work towards a final mission that feels right out of Ocean’s 11, complete with a slideshow breakdown that gives reason and context to all this pilfering.
Above: Plus you get to dance with Carmelita, so that’s pretty cool, right?
You still slink around Sly most of the time, but Bentley and Murray have frequent outings. Bentley is equipped with sleeping darts and mines, and usually handles demolitions or tech-related stuff, while Murray, as the muscle, opts for more fightin’ than talking. But, as with the first game, each mission changes slightly from the last, so in the midst of sneaking you’ll also snap photos or pickpocket items of interest from guards. Again, this helps mask the tedium of repeating missions that usually choke platformers to death.
We’d say Sly 2 is the best of the bunch, even though it does drag on for just a tad too long. Everything is as enjoyable and varied as it could be, but there’s just so much going on in each world now that you start noticing how much time is spent running around the same map. Luckily, the enhanced presentation makes it feel like a fuller, richer world.
Sly 3 is the biggest, prettiest and lengthiest game of the trio, but after a hefty dose of Sly 2, the idea of even bigger levels with even more playable characters is a little intimidating. Make no mistake, the thieving is in full effect and the scale grows yet again, it’s just harder to bury yourself in another dense platformer. If you spread them out, say play through Sly 1, then Sly 2 a little later, then save Sly 3 for a month or so, it’s bound to be a better experience.
Sly 3 begins with a futile assault against a mandrill madman who’s trying to break into the Cooper family vault. When things look hopeless, the game punts you into flashback mode and you see how Sly and Bentley recruit a fresh new team of expert thieves, plus bring Murray back, who’s since left after the traumatic ending of Sly 2 (no spoilers, but uh, you can see Bentley in a wheelchair on the box).
The enlarging cast of characters and Sly’s dependency on them suggest the recently teased Sly 4 could be a co-op heavy affair, putting you and a team of friends in control of an entire team of huggable thieves. If the series does move that way, we hope it’s an optional mode and not the focus – Sly works great on his own, and we’d love to see his PS3 debut bring things back down a notch.
As a collection, this is both a great deal and a much-deserved reintroduction to a fantastic set of seemingly forgotten games. If you’ve never experienced the Sly world before, this is the best possible way to see and play it - all in one place with copious Trophies for each title. The Move-enabled minigames, in our opinion, aren’t going to sway anyone one way or the other. They’re superfluous and quite uninteresting, but hey, you don’t have to play ‘em if you don’t want to.
Side note: We’re not sure why Sly was targeted for an HD remake over the Jak and Ratchet trilogies, but we’re happy to have him back. We just hope enough people check it out despite Sony’s lack of promotion – if this tanks, further HD remakes may be locked up for good.
Nov 15, 2010