Saturday, January 11, 2020

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

A Fiendish Experience

The original version of the Sucker Punch-developed Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus saw its release early in the PlayStation 2’s lifespan in 2002, spawning two sequels on the same system and one on the PlayStation 3, which would receive an high definition-remastered collection of the initial trilogy. HD rereleases on the PS3 would become commonplace among titles of various genres, giving a chance to ensure said videogames would at least age better graphically, with the rare gameplay improvements among other alterations. The original version of the game received acclaim upon release, but is it justified?

Sly 1 follows the eponymous protagonist, the raccoon thief Sly Cooper, who seeks his family’s birthright, the titular document known as the Thievius Raccoonus, which villains known as the Fiendish Five have divided and taken to their corners of the world. Sly and his two cohorts, the turtle Bentley and the hippopotamus Murray, aid him in his endeavor, with the plot actually being surprisingly well-developed, with the heroes and villains having good backstory, and Sly’s ancestors described at times, although there are occasional clichés such as familial revenge and occasional awkward dialogue.

As one would expect from a title with a purloiner protagonist, stealth at times is the name of the game, with Sly 1 containing a methodical structure where he must visit various areas to get keys to unlock plot points of interest, and a few boss battles, which require strategy and are manageable, with some exceptions. In levels where Sly must reach the end to obtain a key, he can collect coins, one hundred of which grant him a silver horseshoe that allows him to endure one attack before death, another hundred coins’ collection providing a golden horseshoe letting him be hit twice before dying.

Sly also has a certain number of lives that, when expired, make the player restart a certain stage at an earlier time, with this system being generally superfluous since the progress lost from such demise is scarcely significant. Mid-boss battle checkpoints, given the various phases of many boss fights, would have really helped soften the harshness of the OHKO conditions if Sly doesn’t have any horseshoes, since in these cases, the player has to start these battle from scratch, which can be daunting if the player has spent significant time on them.

The horseshoes can definitely help a little in areas with excruciating platforming, although a few levels, particularly one preceding the final boss battle, don’t feature collectible coins at all, and are devoid of checkpoints, which at many times feature inconsistent placement when they do exist. Also problematic are the mandatory minigames necessary to obtain certain keys, which have no checkpoints at all, and are oftentimes cheap and incredibly tricky. The endgame is also annoying, consisting of a pseudo-minigame followed by tough platforming, with the absence of mid-boss checkpoints again not helping.

Fortunately, not all the gameplay mechanics are below par. For one, unlike in a certain JRPG franchise whose name rhymes with “bring them arts,” Sly stays perfectly still when attacking enemies with his hook-cane (with attacks executable whilst he’s moving, although doing so doesn’t change direction). Moreover, collecting clues to unlock safes within which are supplements to the Thievius Raccoonus can be fun, and grant Sly additional abilities that can accomplish things like slow time while he’s jumping. Finally, the player retains the coins and clues he has collected even when getting a game over, and overall, while the game mechanics could have used work, they aren’t all bad.

Weaker, however, is the game’s control scheme. No minimaps, a feature which has existed even in titles from previous generations such as The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past? Check. No in-game measure of playtime? Check. Saving and quitting the game not preserving Sly’s current location and forcing some retracing of steps? Check. Unskippable text during voiced cutscenes that certainly won’t appeal to hearing-impaired players, a problem that seems prevalent in many Western games? Check. Irritating jumping and platforming? Check. The mandatory minigames that sometimes have awkward control? Check. The design issues number many.

Fortunately, as with the general game mechanics, not everything is below par, with the game, for one, being linear, having little opportunity to get stuck and reference a guide and/or the internet, although the lack of minimaps can hurt. Fast travel between areas Sly completes is also available, as is an overall percentage completion that shows how many clues he has left to finish the Thievius Raccoonus. The game is also pausable most of the time, and is generally short, which those who really like it may be a bad thing, but all in all, Sly 1 doesn’t interact with players as well as it could have.

More passable is the audio, with some decent music that fits the film noir atmosphere of the game, different stages having fitting themes, and even some unique riffs that play when Sly combats foes. However, there’s no central theme from which all the soundtrack derives, and the voicework’s quality is mixed, with Sly Cooper, Carmelita Fox, and a few of the Fiendish Five sounding fine, but some performances such as Bentley and Murray, especially the former, are irritating. Fortunately, though, things are too bad that the aurals wouldn’t drive players to mute the game and listen to other music.

The visual quality is also inconsistent, but the cel-shaded style is pleasing, and the animated cutscenes and art direction are easily the high point. However, quite a few of the character models are blocky, and while environments contain believable colors, there’s a fair bit of blurriness and pixilation regarding the textures, with the first game’s HD remaster still passable as a PlayStation 2 game, except in widescreen. The animation is generally fluid, though, there aren’t any framerate issues, and Sly has some adorable gestures when falling to his death, but otherwise, the graphics aren’t wholly eye candy.

Finally, a playthrough takes a little over six hours, much of which is unenjoyable repetition, with a consequential lack of significant lasting appeal aside from the PlayStation Trophies and completion percentage of the game.

In conclusion, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is at best a mixed start to the revered franchise, although it does have several things going for it such as various areas of its gameplay, most of all the surprisingly well-developed storyline, the fitting soundtrack, solid art direction, and smidgeon of lasting appeal to give players a bang out of their gaming buck. However, it does have issues regarding its mandatory minigames, irritating platforming, inconsistent aural and visual quality, and that many who play it might not be willing to come back for more. Regardless, I wouldn’t consider the first Sly game to be a complete waste of time, and I am willing to play its sequels to see if things improve.

The Good:
+Serviceable gameplay.
+Actually has a good storyline.
+Soundtrack fits game.
+Good art direction.
+Some lasting appeal.

The Bad:
-Irritating minigames.
-Annoying platforming.
-Bentley’s voice.
-Visuals lack polish.
-Not fun enough to replay.

The Bottom Line:
Not the best start to the series, but still has its redeeming aspects.

Score Breakdown:
Platform: PlayStation 3
Game Mechanics: 6.0/10
Controls: 4.5/10
Story: 7.5/10
Music/Sound: 6.5/10
Graphics: 6.5/10
Lasting Appeal: 5.0/10
Difficulty: Inconsistent
Playing Time: 6-12 Hours

Overall: 6.0/10

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