If you played games with any regularity on the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, odds are that you had at least one experience with one of Sony’s mascot characters. You probably owned and loved at least one game with Jak, Daxter, Ratchet, Clank, Crash or Sly. You, more than likely, grew up with these games, and you miss them.
It’s great that Ratchet and Clank had a new adventure in the Future series, but those games felt more like reinventions than trips through nostalgia. I love the Future games, don’t get me wrong; however, I’d never say that they played like hanging out with an old friend.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, though, feels classic. It feels like a game from the glory days of Sony’s mascot characters, and its charm arrives thanks to Sanzaru Games, the folks that built this project.
Passing the Torch
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is the first game in the main line to be developed by a team other than Sucker Punch. Sucker Punch created this series, they made three major games for it. Then they moved on to projects like inFamous for the PlayStation 3.
Sanzaru Games got a shot at the brand when they created the HD collection that launched for the PlayStation 3 more than two years ago. They did a good enough job that they received Sucker Punch’s blessing and scored a chance with a brand new Sly title from Sony. Thus, Thieves in Time, the fourth Sly Cooper game, was born.
The first story Sanzaru brings to the experience is a heist that spans centuries and millennia. Thieves in Time is a game that places hilarious time travel at the forefront of its plot. Players jump all over time to unravel a mystery and meet up with Sly’s ancestors. Without breaking my personal rules of spoiler-free reviews, I’ll say that this game introduces both new and classic characters while exploring an original, though corny, story.
It’s a little goofy and cheesy at times, but the plot, the voice work, the art style, the cut scenes and the characters all add up to a really fun experience. It’s like playing a Saturday morning cartoon, and that rings true to the classic vibe that Sucker Punch built with their foray into this series.
In fact, that light-hearted cartoon style is probably the biggest compliment I can pay this new game. I loved Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for being an unassuming, easy to ingest experience. If that’s the type of thing you’re looking for, know that Sanzaru delivered.
A Game Built on Classic Mechanics
Sly Cooper games present a very easy to ingest, typically third person, objective-based formula. Acquire target, gain intel, platform, sneak and make your way to a plot-centric theft. That’s how these games have always worked.
The beauty, though, comes from the mix of play that stems out of having multiple characters in Sly’s gang. Players will sneak with Sly, romp through piles of bad guys with The Murray, toss bombs and hack tech with Bentley, play target practice with Carmelita and use the special abilities that each Cooper ancestor brings to the table. The result, if you haven’t already figured it out, is a massively varied gameplay experience.
That, aside from the aforementioned Saturday morning cartoon vibe and nostalgia, is what makes Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time such a winner of a game. It never really overstays its welcome because it’s constantly throwing new mechanics at the player. They aren’t always fun, but they change so often that they never grow tiring.
Except for the stupid motion controls. Here’s a feature I could do without when I’m trying to enjoy a rocking trip through old school heaven: tilt, twist and balance. I don’t want to do these things in games that used to work just fine without them. I’m not sure whether Sony requires them in these games, but they seem to pop up far more often than they should. If it wasn’t for the motion mechanics, we’d have an almost perfectly controlled experience.
Place an emphasis on “almost,” though. Platforming, jumping and running can get a little wonky in tight spaces. It doesn’t happen often, but hopping into an invisible wall while trying to collect something under a time limit or tail an unknowing opponent is really, really annoying. Couple that with the fact that all of the gameplay is so incredibly basic and you’ve got a game that can be both too easy and too frustrating.
The Loading Screens Can Be a Real Killer
You know what I don’t miss about the heyday of gaming? Lengthy loading screens. I know they’re not a problem that’s been entirely dismissed, but they’ve become a bit of a rarity by today’s standards. You see them before big level loads or at the start of an open world build, but they tend not to be too big of an issue.
With Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, however, loading screens are an obnoxious nuisance. Every time you start a mission, finish a mission, load a save or enter a new space, you’re hit with a loading screen that runs anywhere from 30 seconds to a full minute in length.
So, sure, this game is really pretty; but, that beauty comes at the expense of gamers looking to get a quick fix. Each mission tends to require at least a few loading screens, and they really bog down this otherwise flighty experience. It got to the point where I personally had problems settling down to play the game for fear of encountering the loading screens on a regular basis.
The Awesome Cross-Play Feature
When you buy a copy of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time on the PlayStation 3, you’ll get a code for the digital version of the game on the PS Vita for free. This is being sold as a budget title; so, $40 for the PS3 game nets you a PS Vita copy for absolutely nothing.
Why would Sony do this? Well, aside from the marketing benefits, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time was developed to be played on both systems. The games are almost identical across both platforms, and players can pick up the action on each at will.
You just upload your most recent save from one device, fire up the other device, download that save and then resume play right where you left off. The Cross-Play stuff works exceptionally well. If it weren’t for the lengthy loading screens, the time it takes to upload and download saves is almost entirely negligible.
Sanzaru and Sony nailed this feature for Thieves in Time, and it makes me want it available for all of Sony’s exclusive titles. That’s a genuine compliment.
A Great Game with Small Hang-Ups
This isn’t an experience that will rewrite the rulebook for adventure games or 3D platformers. It doesn’t bring a new sense of worth to stealth mechanics or character driven experiences.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is, however, a great nod to a once great series. Even though this is Sanzaru’s freshman outing with the Sly brand, they’ve absolutely nailed each and every facet of what made this franchise so lovable to begin with. The cheesy storyline meets an awesome set of characters that each bring along unique gameplay and fun plot beats.
Sly Cooper is the perfect escape from the brown and gray shooters that populate the gaming market today. It’s an old school tune played over the beauty of today’s tech, and I recommend it to both fans of the original mascot games and folks looking to enjoy something a bit more relaxed. Forgive it for its minor problems, and this is wonderful little game.