Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time – PlayStation Vita
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Release Date: Feb 5, 2013
Genre: Action, Adventure
Reviewed by Jason Flick

Review Score: 4 of 5

If you’re the proud owner of a PS3 then you’ve probably already become familiar with the inFamous franchise by developer Sucker Punch. What you may not know is that Sucker Punch first created one of Sony’s lesser known but certainly not forgotten mascots, Sly Cooper. The “infamous” raccoon master thief was my personal favorite during the PS2 generation and I’ve been dying to play a next-gen version for some time now. Developer Sanzaru Games has taken up the mantle where Sucker Punch left off giving us at least one more grand heist with the Ringtail, with the release of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for the PlayStation Vita.

Now I’m no stranger to Sanzaru’s work as I’ve already burned countless hours into their HD treatment of the Sly Cooper franchise in “The Sly Collection” so I was very interested to see their take on my favorite masked thief, with or without his really bad Italian accent. In this new tale, Sly has “given” up his criminal ways to spend time with his series long love interest, Inspector Carmelita Montoya Fox. Accomplishing this by feigning amnesia, the “former’ master thief still itches to pull off another heist while romancing the Interpol agent he so loves. But once a thief always a thief and Sly comes from a long line of the best thieves history has ever seen.

Only Sly is dragged into a mess that involves his ancestors as pages of the Thievius Raccoonus start to lose their knowledge. Sly and his long time friends, Bentley the genius turtle in the wheelchair and Murray, the big pink hippo that can put away food like he does his enemies, by the fistful. The Sly franchise has always had some very interesting locales across the world, but this time the Cooper Gang has to go back in time to find and fix what’s causing the disappearing knowledge from Sly’s family book. The first stop via their time traveling Del…um van is Feudal Japan where they encounter Rioichi, Sushi master and master ninja in prison.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time takes a lot of cues from Sly 2 in both game design and level progression. Once you get past the tutorial in Paris, you enter a new hub world where you start out gaining recon info and completing missions utilizing each member of the Cooper Gang. The difference this time around is that in each world, be it the Wild West or Medieval England, contains one of Sly’s ancestors. This time you actually get to play as one of the fabled Coopers, instead of just hearing about them. The unique thing about each Cooper is that they are not just another carbon copy clone of Sly. For instance Rioichi can Ninja Spire jump great distances while the Arabian Salim Al-Kupar can do the Climbing Cobra which allows him to quickly ascend poles after making a few Snake related jokes along the way.

Sly’s family tree isn’t the only ones that get unique abilities in Thieves in Time. Sly gains some unique abilities himself by gaining costumes in each time period via missions to not only blend in but help Sly through future and past time periods. Each costume has a very precise purpose in their given period but they have other uses. For instance the Archer costume gained late in the game can be used back in other time periods, Feudal Japan for instance, to gain access to some of the trickier collectibles hidden far outside of Sly’s natural capabilities and reach. There are even doors that will only open if you have the matching costume. The costumes could have easily become a cheap gimmick but Sanzaru really thought things through to a remarkable effect.

There is one drawback that I have to mention on the Vita version though. Switching back and forth from costumes is done by hitting a designated icon on the front touchscreen and sometimes I found that it doesn’t always trigger correctly if you’re even the slightest bit off. That coupled with some of the costumes’ delays, particularly the Samurai suit, could send Sly into an early grave quite easily. The suit’s horrible delay makes it almost but not impossible to not take damage from El Jefe in the first boss fight of the game. That’s a trophy by the way. That aside most of the others are quite effective when needed especially in the boss fights of their respected eras.

There are two other problems that have always plagued the Sly franchise over the years and sadly Thieves in Time is no exception. Those pachyderms in the room are none other than the camera angles and controls. For the most part Thieves in Time features fairly accurate and responsive controls but there are some mini games like the archery contest in England that does not function too well with the short nubs. I beat it after several attempts but it was frustrating to say the least. I also ran into a few bad camera angles that spelled Sly’s demise more than once much to my displeasure while on poles or in elevated positions. Compared to the PS3 version, Thieves in Time also suffers from really long load times even with the digital download version on the Vita.

The only explanation for the long load times that I can come up with is the complexity of each of the hub worlds. While at first glance these worlds might appear simple in nature that notion will hastily be dashed forthwith when you’re attempting to find your way back to the hideout under a time limit with a nicked treasure on your persons. It’s not easy at first until you learn the fastest routes as many of the treasures are within range of several strategic paths. There is a lot to take in when navigating these beautifully created worlds both in and out of the missions. You’ll see everything from waterfalls and desert canyons to a Big Top to end all Big Tops. Each is filled with their own traps and hidden secrets for the ever vigilant to avoid and seek out.

The Vita version does lack some of the polish of the PS3 version, as seen in some of the in-game cut scenes where the character models suffer some clipping issues. The locales featured in Thieves in Time however are no less stunning in the cel-shaded art style chosen for this release. The Sly series always did have a comic style presentation to it and Sanzaru did an amazing job capturing the visual essence of Sly and the Gang and the world they inhabit. The main cast also received a much needed visual upgrade. None is more noticeable than the fur textures on Sly, Carmelita and Sly’s ancestors. Gone is the sleek fur and smooth clothing, now replaced by multilayered fur and clothing that actually looks lived in.

The areas that never fail to entertain are the vocal and music departments of the Sly franchise. Returning to deliver an amazing score is Peter McConnell, composer for both Sly 2 and 3, who has once again created a soundtrack that I could listen to all day long. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time features the use of a wide variety of musical instruments and themes. You’ll hear everything from guitars and drums to trumpets and piano pieces as well as the faintest use of xylophones and harps. Sly’s character has always given off an air of sophistication, ala James Bond, which can be heard during the more spy/stealth moments in the Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. The soundtrack for Thieves in Time covers a wide range of time periods and for this it has an almost timeless quality that will survive long after players have finished the game.

A Sly Cooper game wouldn’t be complete without its stellar voice cast and comical conversations. Kevin Miller, Matt Olson and Chris Murphy return in this fourth adventure to reprise their respected roles as Sly, Bentley and Murray. While other recurring characters have had different voice actors over the years these three gentlemen have been the backbone of the Sly Cooper legacy since the beginning. They definitely brought their A-game once again to seal this game as probably my favorite Sly to date with plenty of humor and pop culture references.

As I briefly mentioned above there are treasures to collect to fatten Sly and the Gang’s pockets with coin but that’s not even the half of it. Besides being a cash source to spend on character abilities, like the very useful ability to sprint without enemies hearing you, some of the treasures actually provide you with permanent bonuses. Among these is the ability to not take damage when falling in water which really helps as it stops treasures from being reset in the middle of a mad dash back to base after a misstep. The elusive clue bottles make a return after being absent from Sly 3, as well as the vault safes that often contain more treasures like a certain piece that reveals the location of every bottle the hub map. In each chapter there are 30 of these things to find but that’s not near as bad as the added Sly Masks hidden both out in the hub worlds and inside missions. There are 60 of these that reward the player with cool unlocks at set intervals including a super special weapon that long time PlayStation owners will be sure to recognize if they make it that far.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time may suffer from a few problems on the Vita but this version does have a few tricks up its sleeves to make the purchase worthwhile. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time does make use of the motion sensor to complete several mini games to great effect unless you’re terrible at that sort of thing. They even incorporate it into firing arrows by allowing you to steer a fired arrow to mounted targets which was cool. One of the best things about Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is that it is part of Sony’s Cross-Buy program. While I’ve cared little for this in the past Sly is the first game to utilize the Cross-Buy feature to great benefit.

If you picked up a copy of Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for PS3, digital or retail, you instantly get the Vita version for the low price of…FREE. Sadly it doesn’t work the other way around. The reason I think Thieves in Time makes the best use of this program is due to the Cross-Save feature and the AR Treasures mode. If you don’t own both versions then this will be a bust for you but for those that do, you’re in for a treat. Players can start their game on the Vita and at anytime while under their local Wi-Fi network upload their current save file to cloud storage and pick up where they left off on their PS3 console after a quick download of the save file. This works both ways, however there are some noticeable tweaks in gameplay that I’ve ran into between the two versions, like in the archery event. Another nice touch is that all Trophies earned in either version are instantly unlocked if you use the Cross-Save feature. The AR Treasures Mode actually aids players while playing the PS3 version with a little setup required. By activating this mode and aiming your Vita at your TV screen you can see the approximate location of any treasures, mask or bottles that you’re having a hard time locating as long as you’re looking in the right direction with the press of a button.

As a long time and huge fan of the Sly Cooper franchise I couldn’t wait to get a next-gen version of Sly. After spending countless hours with Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for the Vita, I have to say that I’m glad the wait was actually worth it. The story is enjoyable, the switch of locales and characters keeps the game fresh and despite the long load times this game is 100% Cooper. The Vita has desperately needed another good release to its somewhat slim library and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time couldn’t have come at a better time. If you like Sly Cooper and own a Vita then you owe it to yourself to pickup Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time today.