When a much beloved series takes a long hiatus before the next installment, it can be worrisome. When a game is coming out that’s part of a declining genre, there’s reason to be cautious. When a prominent developer is taken away from its series, and it’s handed off to a novice studio, most hope is lost. Luckily for fans of 3D platformers, developer Sanzaru Games knows what the fans want, and for better or worse, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is near identical to the past Sly Cooper games.
The first few hours of Thieves in Time were the best time I’ve had with a game in recent memory. There was a rush of nostalgia that hit when I stepped out of the hideout into Sly’s stealthy shoes and starting prowling around a village in Feudal Japan. Sly and his gang have arrived in this time period to investigate the reason behind the disappearance of the pages of the Thievius Racoonus, a book holding records of the Cooper family history. This time traveling plot moves the gang to different five different eras, each with an interesting and well-sized world to go along with it.
What time travel tale is complete without interaction with the protagonists’ ancestors? Sly needs to recruit some extra help to unravel the mystery behind the twisted times he lands in, and he calls on his distant family members, most of whom are in their own predicaments. More often than not, these Coopers are fun characters that bring their own helpful abilities to the group.
Not much has changed from Sly 3, and only one big gameplay device has been added: disguises. These not-so-aptly named suits are less of disguises and more of special abilities, with only the first one actually disguising Sly from the guards that roam the various levels. When Sly steps into these new duds, he has access to an ability that can be used at specific points to reach new and hidden locations that he couldn’t normally access. For instance, in the old west, Sly can don a prisoner’s outfit complete with a ball and chain. By throwing this ball he can break walls, and by running on top of it he can cross hazardous floors.
Apart from the disguises, Thieves in Time is exactly what you remember from the Sly Cooper series, which isn’t always great. As I said before, I loved the first few hours of Thieves in Time, because it does exactly what the old Sly games did and it does it fantastically, but Sanzaru Games tries to mimic the original games so much so that the Thieves falls into a rhythmic pattern in its mission structure, and rarely strays from it. The few times that the pattern is broken, it’s fun, but can quickly stretch to becoming tedious. The missions I had the least fun with were the ones that involved the six-axis motion control, purely because they felt unnecessary and out of place, and the rhythm minigames, which never become challenging enough to evoke any sense of accomplishment or fun.
As the fun to be had in the missions slows, so does the fun in the world around them. The first four worlds are enjoyable, and running through them in an attempt to collect all the hidden collectibles is very entertaining and addictive, but the last era that you visit is laid out sloppily, and the framerate will dip dramatically for seemingly no reason at all. The redeeming quality of all of these worlds is the music that is their backdrop. Each is tonally different from the other, using a soundtrack that you associate with that time and place in an effective way.
The biggest divide that I came across between the PS3 and Vita versions is the look of the game. While the PS3 version holds true to the cell-shaded, comic book look of the past games, the Vita version abandons the exaggerated outlines and goes for a more standard polygonal aesthetic. It doesn’t look bad necessarily, but when put up against the great looking PS3 version, it is a noticeable step down.
The humor expected of a game with the Sly Cooper name is there, and younger players will find much more to enjoy than the older ones in terms of the dialogue (though there were a few moments I got a good chuckle out of during the latter half of the game). For the most part, the voice acting is done well and the cutscenes are produced better than in previous games. With certain characters there are some exaggerated accents and stereotypes that I found annoying, but it never crosses the line to offensive. The story leaves itself room for another installment, setting up a villain quite nicely, and it will be interesting to see where the plot goes from here, even if it isn’t the most eloquent of stories.
There’s not much to say about Thieves in Time other than that it is most definitely a Sly Cooper game, albeit a short one. Sanzaru Games made the Sly game that they and fans both wanted, but didn’t implement anything new to make this a stand out title, and after more than 7 years, that just won’t cut it anymore. The best thing I can wish for now is that moving forward they will take more chances and make the next Sly Cooper game not only a game that fans of the Sly series want to play, but something that brings enough innovation to attract people who may not have been interested before.
The Cross-Buy Functionality:
If purchased new for the PS3, Thieves in Time comes with a disc benefit that allows the free download of the Vita version of the game. By uploading and downloading my saves to and from the cloud, I was able to play the game on both systems at a surprisingly similar level of quality. The Vita version has slightly more technical issues, but nothing too pervasive to the experience. I preferred to play it on the PS3, as the luxury of a bigger screen and not having to fight with some of the touch screen controls is nicer when it is an option, but the game is just as enjoyable on the Vita.