Developed by Sucker Punch, Sony's outstanding Sly Cooper and the Theivious Racoonus is an excellent mascot platform title that mixes stealth action with traditional jumping. The excellent balance and its unique gameplay system makes it one of the most original PS2 games to date. Sly Cooper recalls the best in the genre while adding unique elements to make it a thoroughly original game. Spectacular cel-shaded graphics, silky animation and colorful environments give it a 3D cartoon quality. Add non-linear level designs, addictive mini-games and an almost perfect flow and you have Sly Cooper which could be this year's definitive PS2 title.
As a youngster, the master thief Sly Cooper witnessed some horrible events that took place with his parents, and an evil group known as the Fiendish Five stole his family's heirloom book, the Theivious Racoonus. It's your job to redeem your family name and steal back the pages of the book from the real criminals who took it from them. The first level sets up the plot and introduces the basic gameplay mechanics, which makes it much easier to get into. Even though the mission is yours alone, you're not going it completely alone. While you're on a mission, you can communicate with your friend Bentley, who will give you hints and advice. This can either be quite helpful or annoying, depending on the situation. However, the members of the Fiendish Five and the police are constantly on his tail, so players need to be careful.
It's immediately apparent that this raccoon is quite a devious character with a lot of tricks up his sleeve. Even though he lacks the family book, Sly has the thieving gene down pat, and is quite a talented thief in his own right. He has multiple abilities to help him on his quest which the player will gradually learn to how and when to use. The most important of these is his cane, which he can use for a variety of purposes. He can grab things with it and use it to hook onto other devices and glide across open areas. Sly can also use his trademark stealth goggles to zoom in and look around on the levels. Along the way, he'll face a variety of enemies who are looking to do him in, but he has the jumping and dodging skills to beat them. There are several areas that look impassable, but there are blue lights that appear, and pressing the circle button will allow him to perform a stealth move. These include sneaking around corners, walking on ledges and climbing over ropes. This sounds like an incredibly complicated task, but its surprisingly intuitive thanks to the excellent control system.
Some areas also include spotlights, which Sly has to avoid, since getting caught causes the alarm to go off, and getting caught a second time means getting zapped by lasers. There are many items which Sly can collect which can include extra lives or horseshoes. Horseshoes allow you to take one hit without having to restart the level. While many of the areas are accessible, some need some skill to unlock, and portions of the levels don't open up until you have completed another stage. Sly will also find gold pieces and map portions which he can collect to unlock more areas or earn extra lives scattered throughout the levels. You should also look out for obstacles and be sure not to fall too far to the ground or into water or fire, since these will lead to his immediate demise. Each level is divided up into several different smaller stages, which can be reached through a central hub. You can complete these sub-levels in any order, and these involve either platforming through a level or playing one of many mini-games. The mini-games are all pretty cool and make a nice break in the action. Each level ends with a boss battle which is more difficult than the rest of the game yet still fits in nicely with Sly Cooper's overall flow.
Sly Cooper can easily be dismissed as another me-too title, but players who overlook it in the glut of mascot games are going to miss out on something special. The outstanding level designs are quite ingenious and are some of the most original and fun seen in a platform game in some time. There's a lot more variety than you'd ordinarily expect, which is excellent. Some of these resemble Crash Bandicoot, but the addition of sneaky stealth techniques gives the game a unique feel all its own. Some areas require you to make huge jumps while other rely more on stealth as you avoid traps. This gives the game an excellent balance, yet the approach and controls stay remarkably consistent throughout. The best thing about this is that it gives the game an excellent flow since skills in one area are applicable in another. Sly Cooper's one problem area in this regard comes in it's length, which is fairly short for the genre, though there are loads of secrets and hidden areas to unlock. This adds to the longevity, but the replay value is fairly low.
Helping to make the gameplay even better are the game's superb controls. Sly is quite dexterous and has a lot of moves up his sleeve, but this is thankfully not an issue, since the interface is so intuitive. Simple operations such as jumping, running and hitting are well-done, and the tight controls means the game responds to your inputs quickly and smoothly. The more complex stealth moves are brilliantly implemented and only require you to push the circle button which allows you to concentrate on the task at hand. Most other actions are simple While many other games suffer from poor camera placement, Sly Cooper's default viewpoints are excellent which means you won't have to spend a lot of time fiddling with the camera controls. More importantly the camera system is smooth enough that the game's viewpoints consistently give you the best viewpoint, which keeps those frustrating deaths to a minimum. Even when you do reach one of the rare difficult areas, an abundance of auto-save points designated by a hologram means you'll rarely find yourself penalized excessively.
With such an excellent, and well-designed interface, it should come as no surprise that the game's visuals and graphics are excellent as well. While many PS2 titles suffer from too many jaggies and rough spots, the visuals here are incredibly smooth. The game resembles an animated movie in it's overall design and cinematic approach. Sucker Punch has worked overtime to make sure that Sly Cooper's overall production values reveal a highly polished title. The attention to detail shows in the richly designed environments, which come alive with detail. An abundance of cool characters makes for a seamless world that feels like a cartoon come vividly to life with bright primary colors and creative environments. The excellent cel-shaded graphics look spectacular and set a new high-water mark on the console. Everything from the water effects to the silky-smooth animation looks spectacular. Sly Cooper's design and animation is spectacular, as the movement and reactions are perfect for this type of game. The voice-acting is also excellent and gives each character in the game a unique personality with helps to further immerse the player into this world.
Even though there are loads of platform titles coming out this fall, Sly Cooper looks like one of the best. The tight control system is familiar and solidly designed yet there's quite a lot of innovation in the stealth elements. While sneaking and stealth has been done in other games, few have delivered it in such as seamless manner. It's most impressive because it's integrated into the general controls flawlessly, making each action feel natural. Players should have little difficulty playing through the game's levels. It's been designed in a way that it's non-linear, yet it gradually adds more abilities to your arsenal without ever becoming overwhelming. Sly Cooper wraps this up with some incredibly sharp visuals, a cool plot with appealing characters for a completely enjoyable experience. There are very few problems with the game, and its focused gameplay is what makes it so appealing. This title is incredibly polished and is an absolute must-purchase for any fan of platform games. It's got an excellent balance of fun and challenge which makes Sly Cooper and the Thievious Racoonus one of the best action titles for the PS2 to date.