Developed by: Sucker Punch
Platform: Playstation 2
Genre: Action Platformer
Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is a Playstation 2 video game released in 2002. The game is essentially a 3D platformer, but with a twist.
Sly Cooper is the name of the main character of the game. He is a raccoon and a descendent of the Cooper dynasty of master thieves. Each member of the Cooper family has achieved some special status and developed unparalleled thieving skills in the past, and the Cooper family maintained the secrets to their techniques in a book. The families most prized heirloom, the Thievius Raccoonus.
Of course, this book is an instruction manual for master thievery, which makes it a very desirable commodity for the thugs and lowly scum of the crime world. So the book has been stolen. A mysterious criminal mastermind has stolen the book and torn it into pieces, scattering them around the world.
As you play the game, your goal is to regain the pieces to the Thievius Raccoonus and reassemble Sly's family heritage.
Graphically, the game is astounding. The use of cell-shaded graphics, as pioneered by games like Jet Grind Radio and popularized by games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, makes for cartoonish and dramatic scenes. The characters have a personality that is very difficult to appreciate in the polygonal wire frames of similar platformers like Jak and Daxter, or Rayman.
Watching Sly's facial expressions change as he goes through the complex movements involved in master thievery adds a nice touch.
The animation of the non-player characters in the game is also masterful. The casino mobster dogs walk with an Al Capone swagger. The kung-fu cats move with grace and strike with surgical precision. The voodoo crocodile shakes her mojo. The attention to detail is there, and how.
The music of the game is good. I won't rave about it because, honestly, I never take note of it. It does what I believe to be it's job; to add a non-distracting musical backdrop to the game.
The sounds made by the characters are amusing and funny. The different grunts and mumbles add to the comical undertones and generally are pretty great and terrific. Or maybe I'm just looking for more reasons to praise the game. I won't deny the possibility.
Ahh, the play. What can I say about the play? Well, I love this game! Let me see if I can describe it to you in some detail.
First of all, this game is pretty much an action platformer. The term "platformer" comes from the old-school games like Super Mario Bros. where your saw the game world from a profile perspective and played by jumping from one platform to another.
So playing this game consists of a lot of jumping, climbing, ducking and the like. This genre of game lends itself perfectly to the back-story, because Sly is a thief. He sneaks, he avoids detection, he climbs buildings, jumps through windows, slides down tree branches. That is what thieves do, right?
The Thievius Raccoonus is broken into five main parts. Each part has been taken by a crime boss and hidden in a secret place. This means that Sly will have five levels to get through in order to reassemble his beloved book.
Each level is designed similarly. A standard Sly Cooper level is a large area that can be thought of as a hub, with doorways leading into other sub levels. Each sublevel contains a key. One of the sublevels will be protected by a bunch of locks, which require all of the keys to unlock. So you spend your time going through each sublevel, sneaking around trying to steal the key, and finally you unlock all of the locks and proceed on to the final sublevel, and finally the boss for the overall level. Once you beat the boss, you can get thier piece of the book and move on to the next area.
The levels and sublevels are complex enough to be beautiful, but they are also designed in a linear fashion, so you never find yourself lost or wondering what to do next. This simplicity is what keeps you moving. You always feel like you're just one step away from something significant. You never want to stop playing.
Each level, or area, has an overall theme. One is a swamp, the other an urban city, another a mountain range in China, etc. The differences in theme are drastic and keep things interesting. The artists for this game have really set a standard, in my opinion. I usually go back through a level after I finish it, just to look at each detail and see what I missed in the hectic action of trying to make it through.
Throughout each sublevel, Sly is able to gather coins and what are called "clues". The coins (of course) offer second chances for mistakes once you have 100 of them standard video game affair.
The clues are a little bit more interesting. Each sublevel has a known number of clues, and each sublevel also has a safe somewhere toward the end. If Sly has gathered all of the sublevel's clues, he is able to open the safe. Each safe contains a single page from the Thievius Raccoonus, and each page details a new trick that Sly is able to learn to help him in his quest.
The new skills Sly is able to gain through the game are very handy, invisibility, swimming, super-balance, etc. By the later levels, if you have put the effort into finding all of the clues, Sly will be an unstoppable powerhouse of theft.
But wait, there's more!
I said the game was "pretty much" an action platformer. But there are other aspects to the game play. Certain levels in the game are different. Each main area will contain one or more special levels that offer a break from the "same old thing", with odd and sometimes hilarious pretense. Some levels will have you racing Sly's van. Some levels will have you chasing chickens in a farmhouse. Some levels will have you driving a speedboat. Whatever it takes to get that key!
I guess no review is fair without a list of complaints. So as you read this, bear in mind that these complaints are here solely for the purpose of balance, and are so small in comparison to the praise, that they had might as well not even be here.
First, as you enter the bosses' areas, they always have something to say. They come on some unseen intercom and address their minions, telling them of a rumor that some so-and-so is trying to sneak around and everyone should be on the lookout. The announcements seem to drag on sometimes, and when I'm anxious to get on with the game, I don't always want to sit and listen to it.
I've read on web reviews that the game is too easy. I've never been a master gamer, so I don't find it to be too easy, but I've read lots of reports of people finishing the game in 7 or 8 hours total. So far I'm up to 13 hours and I just started the final level, so I'm not upset. It's nice to actually feel like I'm going to possibly see the end of a video game for a change.
Along the vein of "too easy" I will say that now that I'm in the last level, it is slightly annoying that I've attained so many of these skills. It's basically impossible for me to end a game by choice. Sly's super balance means it is impossible for him to fall off of any high-up places, so climbing is no challenge. Sly can swim now, so falling into rivers and lakes has no effect. The only danger to Sly at this point is being hit by bad guys. So it's much less challenging. But bare in mind I haven't seen all of the final level yet. So that may be a bad omen.
Finally, I don't like the cover of the game case. It is a weird picture of Sly's mask. I think they could have come up with a more compelling image.
Sly Cooper is totally child friendly. The violence is silly, cartoon-style violence and nobody actually dies. When you defeat the bosses, they just fall down and seem really sleepy, then the cops come and arrest them.
Some parents might be uncomfortable with the voodoo-themed swamp level, but those parents probably don't let their kids play video games anyway, so it's probably not an issue.
Even though Sly Cooper is a thief, the dialog establishes (many times) that Sly is a special thief who only steals from bad guys. He's no common street urchin. He has honor and morals. He's a good guy in mask.
In summary, Sly Cooper is my hero. I have enjoyed the game thoroughly thus far and I can't wait to see what's in store for me in the final stages. If you have a PS2, go buy the game. Buy it for yourself, for your kids, for your parents. I can't imagine any gamer not being able to find a reason to enjoy Sly Cooper's quest to regain his heritage.
Update (Dec 15, 2002): OK, just finished the game. Nothing big to report. The last stage is about the same as the others. It is shorter, but it compensates by being considerably more difficult. I don't want to give anything away, so I won't go into details, but I will say that it is quite enjoyable. I finished the whole final area in about 2 and a half hours. I had to retry several scenes a couple of dozen times before I made it through. So if you are a very skillful gamer, then you could probably do it in under an hour.
The final cutscene is upbeat and funny and draws the plot to a nice closing.