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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time
Graphics: 7.9
Gameplay: 8.1
Sound: 7.7
Control: 8.4
Replay Value: 8
Rating: 8

Sly Cooper has returned. His long-awaited reentrance is quiet, much like his stealthy approach to capers. He’s not about flash and pizzazz but at the same time, he isn’t without a singular charm and appeal, and armed with his capable cohorts, the original thievius raccoon embarks on a new, lengthy, and satisfying adventure. It’s a tad on the easy side, the combat can be problematic, and the story isn’t necessarily anything special but make no mistake: This is an old-school adventure platformer, through and through.

This presentation is rife with fantastic design specifically created to bring a nostalgic smile to your face. I say “nostalgic” because we don’t often see such colorful, carefree visual displays these days; this cel-shaded palette is rich with great exotic locales, humorous and well-drawn characters, and a dash of cartoon-y special effects (complete with the “Bam!” cloud puff upon smacking a hapless foe). It isn’t the most refined set of graphics you’ll ever see, but it certainly qualifies as one of the most universally attractive. There aren’t any glaring flaws – besides some occasional blurriness – and all in all, Thieves in Time is a pleasure to behold.

Combining effective voice performances with sharp, pleasing effects and a fitting score, the audio excels. There are a few more minor drawbacks in this category, simply because a few of the voice actors aren’t especially impressive. But the balancing is just about right, as the voices, music, and effects all gel together quite well. And you gotta love that soundtrack, which always seems to reflect and enhance the on-screen situation, whether it be Sly’s sneaking or Murray’s boisterous brawling. Technically, the game won’t win any awards, but it’s a cohesive, rock solid presentation that allows us to appreciate this vibrant world.

When history goes awry, there’s only one thing to do: Go back in time and change things. The Thievius Raccoonus once held all the venerable exploits of a legendary line of thieves but for some reason, those stories have started to evaporate. The words are literally streaming off the page! What’s going on? That’s where the genius turtle, Bentley, comes up with the idea of time travel on the fly, and then brings Sly and Murray into the fray; one is sneaky and tricky while the other has a heavy tread and likes to hit things. But that’s just the beginning; more lively and colorful characters will become part of this historical adventure.

You will travel through time, restoring the not-so-good name of your ancestors, and this means you’ll visit all sorts of interesting locales. No matter where you go, there will be plenty of goodies to find, ranging from treasure chests to special masks (used to unlock more collectibles), and a whole lot of coins. Those coins are used to purchase new abilities for each of the available characters, thereby adding some appreciated depth to an otherwise straightforward quest. If you want to grab everything that awaits your probing eye, you’ll have to be both clever and deft. You may also have to revisit certain jobs in order to grab all the loot, as new skills may be required… The hardcore collectors will definitely have a blast.

For the most part, the control is great. Even though we have multiple characters to control, the interface is always easy to grasp and reliable. I think they did an especially good job with Sly, who can dexterously leap to wires, cables, pipes, and other objects that allow him to silently traverse a complex environment. You simply hit the Circle button to attach to these objects; a small, subtle blue glow will tell you if “attaching” is possible. The best part is that this sticky gameplay mechanic isn’t too sticky, in that you still have to be pretty accurate. Some will claim this makes the platforming too easy, but I say it’s just a well constructed system.

Let me go back to that difficulty issue for a minute. While it’s true that the game is surprisingly easy, there are plenty of challenges. For instance, taking on certain enemies can be rough, especially if you’re not yet outfitted with better abilities and equipment, and it requires attention and reflexes to nab all the available treasures. On the other hand, dying doesn’t really mean anything. If you’re detected in a stealth-only zone, for instance, you just try again. The punishment for your health disappearing is the same. But again, if you dive into the nuts and bolts of this game, and you play through to the end sections, you’ll find stiffer challenges than you might expect.

Besides, is this game not supposed to be oodles of lighthearted fun? I have no desire to see a difficulty level found in most action games like God of War or Ninja Gaiden. Sly’s style is completely different, anyway, and I have no problem with an accessible, entertaining game that most anyone can play. This allows just about everyone to appreciate Sanzaru’s good effort, and we can relax and enjoy the genuine humor, intriguing locations, great design, and overall enticing gameplay. However, all this being said, there are a few mechanical issues and the combat has its fair share of problems.

There’s just too much in the way of random button-mashing for my liking. You can certainly be precise if you choose to be, but there’s no real reason for being so disciplined. And I suppose that’s part of the game’s charm, in that the combat is carrying on the lighthearted theme and style of the overall product. However, because it’s kinda blasé, the fighting in Thieves in Time just falls flat and isn’t quite as entertaining as it should be. Plus, the camera can be problematic at times, and I didn’t like Murray’s movement, which seemed clumsy and loose. Still, most characters are easy to use; Sly and Carmelita are probably my favorites.

This brings me to one of the biggest highlights of the gameplay: The use of multiple playable characters. Developers can muff this up big time, just because you need to implement a series of slightly different mechanics for each character. But Sanzaru does a good job of making each ally feel distinct without falling prey to control snafus. In truth, I would’ve rather played more of the game as Sly but changing things up with your buddies adds a ton of flavor and diversity. On top of which, the patented humor that permeates every facet of this production works best when the team is poking fun at each other. And they all are fun to use, which is a significant accomplishment in and of itself.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is fun. That may be a somewhat anticlimactic summary of this review, but it’s undeniably the most accurate. The technical elements won’t blow you away, the combat can feel tedious, and the story isn’t exactly deep, but the entertainment value remains high throughout. Playing with multiple characters bolsters the game’s variety, the comedy relief is always appreciated, the levels are extremely well designed, and the general feel of the game is just plain warm. It’s goodhearted, lighthearted, warmhearted. And there’s plenty of longevity, too, so what’s stopping you?

The Good: Excellent and enjoyable presentation. Great level design. Multiple characters add variety. Good campaign stuffed with collectibles. Bosses are clever and fun to fight. Pacing is top-notch throughout the adventure.

The Bad: Combat feels uninspired and bland. Story isn’t really satisfying. Some may find it too easy.

The Ugly: “Sly, my man, you’re WAY too cool to be involved with anything even remotely ugly.”

2/7/2013   Ben Dutka