Saturday, October 10, 2015

Game Review: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Good ol' fashioned Cops and Robbers
Only a particular few video game franchises carry a certain significance with me in the sense that when I'm just a few minutes into playing a game, I can almost tell right away that it's going to not only be good, but an unforgettable experience. Not every video game that I play can do that for me, and with a previous example in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, that game represented my official introduction into playing video games, the beginning of Steven Vitte as a gamer.

Now what does the Sly Cooper franchise represent to me as a gamer? To be honest, I have held off writing this game review for a while as I was waiting for the right time to submit this. Since I really don't have anything else on my plate to discuss at the moment, I figured this was the right time. The Sly Cooper series represents an important transition period for me as a gamer. In the past I was strictly a Nintendo gamer, and by all means I have enjoyed a fair share of Nintendo games, but in recent years I wanted to venture away from Nintendo and explore what other companies were doing. I have invested in Sony Playstation content for the PS2 and the PS4 (not yet on the PS3... that will take time), and some of the first games I had my eyes on were the original Sly trilogy on the PS2.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, also known as simply Sly 1, was actually not the first Sly game I bought. That honor goes to Sly 2: Band of Thieves which I will also review at a later time, but for Sly 1, I could immediately tell that I had something unique to play and I could understand why it grabbed the attention of gamers back when it was released on September 23, 2002. Shall we sneak up on this review and pickpocket all the wonderful details? Let's do that with style!

Controls - 20 out of 20 Points

While this is the oldest game of the series, and though some gameplay aspects of this have since been discarded in favor of newer things, Sly 1 works exceptionally well in its controls. When you move Sly around in levels, you don't get any resistance whatsoever. There's a proper flow to all the controls. When pressing buttons to perform actions, everything just seems to make sense.

Perhaps one big reason why everything seems to make sense is the emphasis that is put on... the Circle button. Many times Bentley, an intelligent turtle who is one of Sly's best friends in the Cooper Gang, will tell Sly to press the Circle button to perform an action, and this alone is easy enough to follow that you will feel motivated to immerse yourself with the levels of the game. Press the Circle button? Okay! Here I go! I'll jump onto that hook and swing with the Cooper Cane! Easy to remember and execute, and that is a big plus in my book.

It also helps that from time to time Sly will be awarded abilities for finding all the Clue Bottles that are in a level. Once he unlocks a safe to collect a new ability, Sly will be able to try that new ability out, and for the gamer, it helps him or her to progress further into the game because of the new dimension the new ability brings to the table. Abilities range from attack moves to stealthy defensive moves, and even moves in between. I certainly found the abilities helpful when venturing through Sly 1's levels.

Don't get dizzy watching this...

Graphics - 20 out of 20 Points

To put it in a nutshell, what's not to like about Sly 1's graphics? Considering the standards of the PS2, these graphics were simply amazing for its time. The delicate details that were implemented in this game clearly showed what a game development team could do if they put their skills to the test and played their cards right. Sucker Punch pulled off the Saturday morning cartoon look in spades with this game as well as the other Sly games, and just by embracing the artwork that was done not only in the levels but also in the cutscenes has left a lasting impression on gamer's minds even to this day. All the colors, bright and dark, complement each other very well and the character designs are obviously on point.

Story - 15 out of 20 Points

For the most part I enjoyed the core concepts of Sly 1's story. I was definitely intrigued by the introduction to the Thievius Raccoonus, the timeless strategy guide for all Cooper family members to use, and it was awesome how this single book was tied in with the heart of the story. Sly Cooper is part of a long line of master thieves who spent their whole lives perfecting their craft of pulling off calculated heists, plundering about across the globe. Of course, when you have a thief on the loose, you will always need an opposing force...

...and what better way to add a twist to the Cops and Robbers game than to include a romantic dynamic? The interaction between Sly Cooper and Inspector Carmelita Montoya Fox of Interpol is basically the straw that stirs the drink of coffee that this series provides. Sly is always on the run here in Sly 1 from Carmelita while performing his tasks of taking down the Fiendish Five, the group of bad guys who were responsible for the death of his parents, which is explained in the opening scene of the story. I also find it to be slick how Sucker Punch suddenly allows the player to help both Sly and Carmelita in the last level of the game.

However, the reason why the Story Mode of Sly 1 doesn't get a perfect score of 20 from me is simply because of one level I had a genuine distaste for in its entirety. I shake my head at Episode 3... Everything else was spot on and solid story-wise, though.

Music - 20 out of 20 Points

Another main factor for bringing the Sly series to life and jumping out to gamers was the great music it had. How can we forget the catchy jazz beats of these soundtracks? The music helps define what Sly's world is and it's a staple that you simply can't replace. Yeah, don't even think about replacing Sly's signature jazz music with typical punk rock noise. Sly isn't Sonic the Hedgehog, you know! (#ShotsFired@Sega)

When playing a game that involves Sly Cooper, I can't help but go along with these kinds of beats. They are not only catchy but they are memorable and they help me to better visualize Sly's world in a variety of ways. I also like how the soundtracks blend in with the different locations of the levels to complement them. These soundtracks are appropriate for the feeling of these levels. Sucker Punch did a great job here in Sly 1.

Replayability Factor - 17 out of 20 Points

For the most part, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus carries the kind of Replayability Factor that you would want, with the only glaring exception (and this is only my opinion) being Episode 3. You have levels that are easy to access and navigate through and you have more than enough activities to do once you dig into a level. When you are given a task to complete, you know what to do after some practice. You never feel lost when exploring and at some point you are taken back to where you need to be when completing a task.

Overall Score - 93 out of 100 Points (1 Bonus Point)

It is very easy for me to recommend this game as a starting point if you want to get acquainted with the world of Sly Cooper. Considering that this is the game that started the Sly franchise, it's definitely worth taking the nostalgia trip. This game introduces you to everything you need to know about the beloved characters, such as Sly himself, the previously mentioned Bentley, Murray, a big hippo who specializes in driving the Cooper Van in Sly 1, Carmelita, the Fiendish Five and Clockwerk, the infamous villain who hates everything about the Cooper family.

I am simply impressed by how this story was originally built by the creative mind of Mat Kraemer. It takes a lot of planning to come up with a story as extensive as this one, and Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus left enough of a mark on gaming communities everywhere in its time. Why I didn't get around to playing this game in the 2000's is beyond me, but I'm glad I finally got around to it in recent years. It certainly helped me in my recovery process to "re-appreciating" how video games are made and how they function.

Another note that probably doesn't need to be mentioned is that the voice acting was splendid as well. A cast of no-names that were able to carry a story with enjoyable depth like Sly 1 is always a plus for any game development team. The voice actors and actresses played their roles accordingly and you can tell that they were invested in making the gaming experience fun through their dialogue deliveries.

In closing, if you somehow haven't played this game yet, you probably should set aside a time to do that as soon as you can. Off to the next heist!

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