Hands On With Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time
* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature. As this is a Preview Build of the game, screens may not be indicative of the final product.
So my new favorite developer, Sanzaru Games, has been hard at work on the next installment of the Sly Cooper Franchise, Thieves In Time and we’ve been fortunate enough to be included in the preview build of the game. The PS3 version required the debug to play and since Glenn has that, I’ve been playing through the PS Vita version of the game. Both include the Prologue/Tutorial Paris level and the entire first chapter set in Feudal Japan. I’ve been going at it over and over again for nearly a week and I desperately want more. Yes people, it’s that good.
The folks at Sanzaru are huge fans of the Sly Cooper franchise and it shows. They originally approached Sony several years ago asking to make this game but were offered the HD remake of the Sly Collection instead. Anyone who’s played that can attest to the fact that Sanzaru did a fantastic job. All three games came out looking sharper than ever and the addition of 3D and a few new Move based mini games rounded out the package nicely. Our community obviously agreed, giving the game top honors in the Best PS3 Remake category in the 2010 Golden Minecart Awards. If you have any interest in the upcoming game and haven’t played the originals yet, I urge you to do so. Each game builds on the last and there’s a nice, continuous storyline that weaves its way through all three leading directly into the upcoming Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time.
Even if you’ve never played any of the Sly Cooper games, Sanzaru’s got your back. When the game starts up you have a choice of jumping right in or getting the full back story. The back story will give you a sweet motion comic type presentation explaining who Sly Cooper and the Gang are along with how we got to this point, particularly the events at the end of Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. One early surprise was Bentley’s girlfriend Penelope, who I almost didn’t recognize. She’s definitely grown up a bit and doesn’t look like the geeky, grease monkey type of girl that she once was. It makes sense but it was still a bit of a jolt when seeing her for the first time, even if it was only in the motion comic sequence.
Finding it difficult to stay on the straight and narrow while feigning amnesia to be with his one time adversary, Carmelita, Sly has once again gotten the itch to pull of a heist. As a Master Thief (who only steals from other thieves), living directly across from a new Art Gallery under obviously shady management proves to be too much temptation. Around the same time, Bentley (the brains of the Cooper Gang), starts to see pages of the Thievius Raccoonus disappear right before his eyes. This book is a compendium of knowledge, added to and handed down by members of the Cooper Clan throughout history, everything a Master Thief needs to be successful. Since the end of Sly 3, Bentley has been secretly working on a Time Machine, but now it appears he’s not alone in that endeavor. To get to a specific point in history, Bentley’s machine requires an object from that time period. Fortunately, the first object they need, a dagger from Feudal Japan, just happens to be in the museum that Sly has been watching.
The Prologue level of the Museum Heist in Paris serves as a tutorial for newcomers and a refresher course for veterans of the series. Everything feels familiar if you’ve played a Sly Cooper game before and you’ll be back up to speed in no time. All the voice actors are back and the game looks just as good as the HD remakes but with that little bit of extra flash. Grabbing coins is much more showy and shiny now and the lighting has been improved over the remakes as well along with some fun idle animations for each of the characters. While it already looks fantastic, I’m still hoping to see an extra layer of polish put on before the game releases in a few months.
You will of course also be playing as the other members of the Cooper Gang, Bentley first. He’s got all the special modifications that he’s made on his wheelchair, giving him the ability to throw sticky bombs, jump across greater distances and more. You’ll also be using Bentley to hack computer terminals as in previous games and the three different hacks I played are just as fun and imaginative as any other in the series. There’s also a mini fishing mission and the requisite RC mission where you can disguise your car as a chicken, yes, that’s awesome too.
The first is the familiar tank on the grid, a sweetly detailed turtle tank in fact. Another one takes advantage of the motion sensors in the Vita requiring you to tilt the screen to move your spark to the end of the level before time runs out. I’m guessing this will require the Sixaxis functionality when playing on the PS3. The other hack turned out to be a really cool side scrolling shmup!
Murray controls much the same as before. The muscle of the gang, his sections are more about power than stealth but he can certainly sneak with the best of them. Murray does get a killer geisha outfit as part of the plan in Feudal Japan and immediately has to put it to use in a fun, Rock Band-like mini game. Speaking of mini games, your Hideout now includes table tennis and an arcade game. Murray was working on the arcade game so I wasn’t able to try it out but the table tennis, while a bit simplistic, was actually a nice diversion between missions.
Controls have been built around the Vita’s unique features as well. To use Sly’s Binocucom, you simply touch the icon in the lower left of the screen. While looking at the mini map, you can swipe your finger to pan across the map and pinch to zoom in and out. Tapping on the Rear Touchpad will bring up your Compass and Collectibles and as you gain costumes and items they can quickly be changed by tapping the inventory icon in the lower right. Holding your finger down on the icon brings up a mini menu allowing you to select a specific item. It’s all very intuitive and unobtrusive and rather than feeling tacked on, it all makes sense and works as a normal and comfortable part of the control scheme.
Costumes play an important role in the game and the first you’ll acquire is a Samurai outfit which will allow you to pass guards unnoticed. It’s an appropriately bulky and goofy costume with Sly’s tail sticking out the back. When you have it on you won’t have access to any of Sly’s special moves which factors in to gameplay. The Samurai outfit will also make Sly impervious to fire and the shield can be used to reflect projectiles back to their source. On some missions, you may need to rapidly switch back and forth depending on where you are and how quickly you need to get elsewhere.
The costumes and the ancestors may end up being the highlight of the game. You’ll find areas that are inaccessible to Sly with some sort of a clue as to what you’ll need to get to them. For instance, on the Feudal Japan level I noticed the red and white targets we’ve seen in other previews. I’ll definitely need to come back to this level with a new outfit to get to these other areas. It’s a great way to add new moves and open up new areas while maintaining the fun, quirky atmosphere that is Sly Cooper.
While putting a costume on Sly will allow him to use special moves and access areas that he couldn’t before, the Ancestors each have a unique look and personality along with their own special moves. After freeing Rioichi Cooper, he becomes available as a playable character and a fun one at that. One of his more useful skills as a Ninja and Master Thief is the ability to leap much greater distances than Sly. You simply hold down R1 while aiming with the Left Stick, then press X to jump.
Playing as Rioichi is a really nice change of pace in the game and I think all of the Ancestors are going to be a lot of fun to mess around with. Since they’re all part of the Cooper line, they should all have the same basic move set augmented with their own specialties allowing you to have the familiar and the new all in one character. Either way, it’ll allow for some good comedy as Sly actually meets his Ancestors and cultures clash.
The big boss in Feudal Japan is of course El Jefe. Voiced by Nolan North, though you’d probably never know it, you’ll be fighting the boss battle originally seen at E3 when the character was first unveiled. It’s classic Sly Cooper at that point, learning patterns and using all your moves and it comes with a nice surprise at the end setting up the rest of the game, but I’ll let you discover that for yourself.
There are plenty of collectibles to be found and you likely won’t be able to get all of them without returning to previously played levels with newly unlocked outfits. Clue Bottles, Treasures, Safes and Masks will all factor into your quest for a Platinum in this game. ThiefNet returns, allowing you to purchase upgrades for each of your characters with coins collected in each level. Finding the masks will unlock some fun customizations, the first being a Sanzaru monkey face replacing Sly on the glider.
Along with the aforementioned mini games available in your Hideout, you’ll have dedicated areas for the costumes you acquire along the way as well as a place to show off the Treasures you’ve accumulated. You’ll also have access to the Van which will let you replay any Jobs and jump to any Time Periods you’ve already visited. It’s a nice, solid hub with access to pretty much anything you need.
Saving your game on the Vita then picking it up and continuing on the PS3 is handled with a Cloud Save feature much like Sound Shapes and MLB 12: The Show. I wasn’t able to try this out since Glenn has the debug, but the documentation points to a relatively easy and straightforward process. Same with the AR functionality unfortunately. You need to be running the PS3 version on the same local network as the Vita version to see any of this functionality.
The humor, the tight storyline, the voice acting and the wonderful cel-shaded look of Sly Cooper are all here in the first two levels. Sanzaru has shown that the Sly Cooper franchise is in good hands. If the Mayans are right then at least I’ll die happy in the knowledge that Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time is shaping up to be a worthy addition to the franchise. In reality though, I can’t wait to get my hands on the final product when it releases on February 5, 2013, and remember, this is a Cross-Buy title, so when you purchase the PS3 version, you’ll be getting the Vita version for free. I feel like a Master Thief already =)