Welcome to a new segment we call Games of our Lives.
In this weekly series, one of our writers will give you an overview of a game series and how it’s changed over the years of its existence, with a glimpse at each game.
The Sly Cooper series was one of the flagship series of the PS2, next to Jak and Daxter and Ratchet and Clank.
Belonging to the stealth genre, but with a healthy dose of action-adventure and a comedic edge, the gameplay in each entry revolves around sneaking around large, quirky environments while avoiding guards and pickpocketing henchmen for important keys and messages.
You play as three characters (as well as numerous ‘guest’ characters depending on the game). Sly himself, a charming raccoon thief; Bentley, the snarky turtle tech-master; and Murray, their hippo driver and future wrestling champ. They’re also chased by a female Spanish fox, Carmelita.
This is an unusual series to say the least, and to explain how it got so popular, we need to start at the beginning.
Sly Cooper and the Thevious Raccoonus (PS2)
This is the first game in the franchise, with one of the stranger names in gaming history.
The story here is that Sly Cooper is the latest in a long line of master raccoon thieves, their tricks and techniques handed down from fathers to sons, mothers to daughters, and so on. All their secrets are contained in a massive book called the Thievious Raccoonus. One thing interesting about them is their targets: other thieves and criminals. After all, stealing from Average Joe isn’t unusual, but if you rob Public Enemy Number One blind? That’s something to brag about.
On the night Sly himself was supposed to inherit the butchered Latin tome and begin learning the tricks of his trade, their home received some visitors. The Fiendish Five (a blatant play on Marvel Comics’ Sinister Six), a group of master criminals, breaks into their home and ransacks the place, killing Sly’s parents in the process and stealing the book.
Sly goes to an orphanage, meets Bentley and Murray, and the three team up to steal back Sly’s inheritance.
What follows is an entertaining and challenging romp across the world, dealing with each of the Fiendish Five and their minions. From Wales, where the team stop a pirate frog with a weather machine, to decimating the undead armies of a crocodile voodoo priestess in Haiti, each section of the game drips with personality.
Sly, in this iteration, can only take one hit before losing a life. As you play, you retrieve pages of the Thievious Raccoonus, giving you new abilities to help deal with stages, though none are required besides a small handful. You can eventually learn to slow down or speed up time, get a buff that lets you pick up coins from a distance, lets you see where coins and collectibles are in a level, and so on.
It’s a fun game, to be sure, and naturally there were sequels.
Sly 2: Band of Thieves (PS2)
The story of Sly 2 is fairly similar to the first, although the plot is a bit more cohesive throughout, through the use of recurring characters outside the Cooper Gang and Carmelita. Most notable is Constable Neyla, a tiger from Interpol who both helps and hinders you at multiple points throughout the game.
The gameplay, however, is drastically different. First, you can now play as characters other than Sly – Bentley and Murray have their own sections of gameplay, and each has their own particular style. Murray, as the bulkiest of the team, gets up and close with enemies and just brawls. Bentley, on the other hand, is the most fragile and doesn’t have the stealth abilities of Sly. What he does have is a wide variety of tech, including poisons, a crossbow, and other fun tricks to play with.
Additionally, how the stages are arranged is very different from the last instalment. Previously, each segment of the game had a hub area, and multiple individual levels (many of which were fairly linear). Here, however, there is a much larger hub area with many little missions arranged throughout said hub level, with each character getting their own share of the quests. It brings in a nice amount of variety – in Sly 1, most of the levels would eventually start to resemble one another, with only a couple changes from the Stealth and attack format from every other level.
This makes it feel far more like you’re actually infiltrating and sabotaging the particular villain’s plans, and it gives all of the characters more opportunities for depth and characterizations.
All in all, it’s a major improvement on Sly 1.
Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves (PS2)
Sly 3 doesn’t add much to the story or gameplay that Sly 2 didn’t. But personally, I consider this to be the best Sly Cooper game that’s been made.
Everything that was great about Sly 2 is perfected here. For example, the villains have a far greater presence in this game. This can range from the subtle to the dramatic – You can occasionally find said villain (and Carmelita, who by now displays Inspector Javert levels of obsession with Sly) just walking around the hub, and they cannot be beaten – ever – which is terrifying the first time. you run into it.
Additionally, many of the villains get smart and try to confront you far earlier in the stage, trying to nip this furry problem in the bud. It is shocking when, in the first stage, Bentley actually gets kidnapped and almost killed by the villain before you rescue him.
As for gameplay, this game further expands the cast of playable characters. You can play as a koala shaman to possess enemies, a mouse aviatrix to attack enemies from afar and affect the environment, and even Carmelita at times – and it’s awesome.
Sadly, though, this happiness couldn’t last.
Sly 4: Thieves in Time (PS3)
It’s not bad, I can say that. The gameplay is more or less the same as 3, but the levels are much larger and, thanks to time travel shenanigans, you can actually play as Sly’s ancestors, each with their own mechanics.
But something here feels wrong. The missions in 2 and 3 built up the individual storyline of each stage and the villain, and by the time you were ready to face the master criminal, you were totally psyched. But in 4, this doesn’t happen.
The intelligence that Sly 3 added to its villains is gone. Each boss here is reduced to little more than a generic supervillain, and it’s a real shame. And the ancestors aren’t much better, to be honest.
Carmelita’s outfit (yes, she’s still here) has gone from a very badass outfit that looks like an actual police uniform to short shorts, an unbuttoned jacket, and a bra. It’s not impressive or necessary, especially when this game’s intended audience is preteens.
That said, the graphics are much improved here, and the characters can now move their lips properly. Plus, the much larger levels give the game a very fun exploration aspect that wasn’t there in the others.
It’s not a bad game, but it has a rather distressing number of flaws. There’s potential here, but it’s not executed properly.
Sly Cooper is an excellent series for young and old, and a good introduction to both stealth and comedy games. Even Sly 4 has its moments. The first three games have recently been re-released in HD for the PS3, letting a new generation experience the wonders of being a raccoon burglar.
Want to know my favourite or most hated moments in the series? Think I’m a terrible writer who doesn’t know what he’s talking about? Got another game series you want to see looked over? Please leave a comment below!