Review: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus (Playstation 2)

In this review, we steal away in the Playstation 2 game Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. We find out if this adventure game is worth playing.

This game was released in 2002. The game sparked a whole series.

There is a large storyline that brings you to this game. While Sly Cooper was young, the Cooper’s family heirloom was passed down to him. The book contains the stories as well as the thieving techniques of the Cooper clan. One night, the Fiendish Five broke into the Coopers residence, ransacked the place, and stole the Thievius Raccoonus.

Orphaned, Sly Cooper was left at an orphanage where he met his friends Bentley and Murray. When they grew up, the three decide to steal back the Thievius Raccoonus that was divided up by the fiendish five. Murray is a driver who can help the gang make a fast getaway from the scene of the crime. Bentley is a technical expert who also spots Sly in his various missions.

The first task Sly gets is to break into police headquarters in France and steal the case files about the Fiendish Five. On the way out, Inspector Carmelita Montoya Fox catches Sly trying to make his escape. With her stun weapon, she continuously fires a volley of electric shocks in order to make a capture. Unfortunately for her, Sly escapes when the player completes the first level.

Using the case files, Sly and his group sets out to track down the Fiendish Five and steal back the Thievius Raccoonus.

Sly has a number of different techniques he can utilize. The basics of jump and run are all there. The circle also enables the player to utilize certain context sensitive locations. These locations are highlighted by the purple aura’s that indicate a thieving opportunity. An exception is the vault which Sly can open as long as he obtains the three digit code.

Meanwhile, the triangle is the button the player can use to execute a special move. Some require Sly to be in the air, but others can be activated at almost any time. These moves are unlocked with the help of recovered pages, but they can be toggled with the L2/R2 buttons.

Finally, the L/R buttons activate the binoculars. While they are mostly used to look around in a specific area, there are upgrades found throughout the game that make them far more useful.

Along the way, there are a number of collectibles available to the player. The most common collectible is the gold coin. Like countless other adventure games like Super Mario World, collecting 100 of these coins can earn a free life. There is one exception to this rule.

When you pick up your first horse shoe lucky charm, picking up 100 coins can refill your limited supply of health. You need to pick one up in order to obtain this feature, but this item pops up very early in the game. There are three states: none, blue/silver, and gold. None means that any hit will kill you. Blue/silver means that Sly can take one hit. Finally, gold is the maximum amount of health you can get in the entire game and it indicates that Sly can take two hits. If you have anything other than gold, horseshoes will appear in the level and this will bump you up one health grade.

The next item of note is the clue. These clues are indicated by a piece of paper in a bottle. Either smash them with your cane or touch them to cause them to explode. Either way, this counts as collected. There is a varied number of clues in each level ranging from 10 to 40. The lobby areas and special levels do not have clues. The good news is that once you collect a clue, you never have to re-collect it on an additional attempt on a level. The bad news is that you must collect every single clue to unlock the safe.

Once you collect every clue, you need to find the safe. Bentley will pass along the code he is able to crack in order to give you the three digit number. Spin the dials to enter the combination and you’ll be able to unlock the safe. With the exception of the intro level, every safe contains a page from the Thievius Raccoonus. In each world, one level contains the area blueprints. This is arguably one of the most useful upgrades in the entire game as it upgrades your binoculars for the world.

With the blueprints, using the binoculars will mean you are able to detect every breakable (indicated by the orange target) and clue (indicated by the green target). These indicators can be seen through numerous walls. While it won’t show absolutely every breakable and clue in the game, it will show plenty to make you life significantly easier.

The remaining pages unlock special moves for Sly. Some are moves that is saved in your Triangle move list. Other moves are automatic such as the ability to have coins move towards you within a limited range. The moves value varies wildly, though it does depend on your style of play. For example, one piece of advice I got was that the explosive hat is borderline useless unless you are directly above an enemy. I ended up using this in patrol areas as well. Just place the mine in the path of the enemy, step back, and nail the enemy without setting off alarms. It wound up being very useful for clearing out whole fields of enemies working as a team.

The final item pickup is the ever useful free life. The spawn points for free life are fairly rare, but they regenerate every time you re-enter an area. This can make farming free lives a bit easier, though farming more than 40 free lives starts becoming a borderline waste of time.

Along the way, you’ll encounter a number of obstacles and enemies. Sly can’t swim very well, so deep water can be just as deadly as pits in this game (depending on how far you get through the game of course). There are also a number of general obstacles such as moving platforms and ledges as well.

Also along the way, there are hooks and lines. Sly can use his cane to latch onto a hook. This enables him to safely navigate tall gates and wide gaps.

In addition to this, there are security beams and spotlights. Security beams and spotlights are yellow initially which means the security in the area hasn’t detect you. However, if a spotlight sees you or if you break a yellow beam, you set off an alarm. That’s when spotlights and beams turn red. If you are seen by a red spotlight or break a red beam, Sly will be lit on fire. In order to deactivate the security in the area, you need to destroy the alarm at the end of the area. Destroy the alarm, and the beams and spotlights in the area will disappear (whether they are yellow or red).

There are also a number of enemies you can encounter. While different enemies have their distinct features, there are two different kinds of normal enemies in the game: enemies that detect you entering the area and enemies that depend on lights to find you. For enemies that use a light, you can evade the light and dispatch them when you get close. Most enemies will detect you when you reach striking distance, but as long as they aren’t in a team, the whistle will mean nothing once they are knocked out. As for other normal enemies, simply dispatch them in the way you see fit.

At the end of most levels is a key. Keys are used to unlock new areas in the game. Once you collect a key, the end of the level becomes a green orb to indicate the level exit.

If you obtain the missing page and the key in the level, you get one last objective to complete: the Master Thief Sprint. When you start the level, you can touch the floating hourglass to start the sprint. You don’t have much time before the hourglass disappears, so you can’t simply take out every enemy, then hike back to the start. However, there is the odd level here and there where you can take out the first enemy to make the first step slightly easier. Complete the level within the very tight time limit to complete the level. If you complete every Master Thief Sprint, then you unlock a feature at the end of the game (it doesn’t affect gameplay though).

Each world is divided into two areas. The first area features the first few levels. Collect a certain number of treasure keys to get access to the next area. Once you collect the required treasure keys, you need to get to the pad to unlock the next part of the world. This unlocks the other area in the lobby where you can finish completing the remaining levels. The things is, you must complete every level in the world in order to unlock the boss fight. Beat the world boss (a member of the Fiendish Five) in order to gain access to the next world. Not only do you get a bonus move, but you also unlock the next world and the ability to revisit the previous world at any time.

As mentioned, each world has a certain number of “special” levels. Sometimes there is two special worlds. Other times, there is three special worlds. Each special world has only one major thing to collect: the treasure key. Sometimes you need to collect a certain number of items. Other times, you need to simply make it to the end of an area on a special device. Another possibility is that you need to provide covering fire for Murray. Finally, there is the often frustrating races. Regardless of the minigame, you need to beat it to move on sooner or later.

Throughout the missions, you’ll get a number of cutscenes. The in-between worlds generally offer added storyline. Meanwhile, the in-game scenes offer hints and instructions. This is found through Sly’s binoculars and dialogue between the different characters. The initial cut scene is automatic, but can be replayed at any time by using the binoculars in the designated area (Bentley’s icon will appear if you are in the correct location).

For me, I don’t exactly expect a whole lot out of adventure games on the Playstation. This is thanks to the less then stellar performance I got from some of the games I played on the Playstation 1. Crash Bandicoot comes to mind as an example. Up to now, I figure Nintendo reigns supreme in this category of gaming through N64 titles such as Super Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, and Donkey Kong 64. While Spyro the Dragon held promise, I have yet to see an adventure game on the Playstation systems impress me.

This game impressed me. As such, it is the first Playstation based adventure game I can definitely approve of. That is not to say this is a perfect game by any means as it does have its flaws.

For one, it is definitely a simplification of adventure games in the past. It’s largely a simplified version of Super Mario 64 with a splash of Conkers Bad Fur Day in my view. Instead of collecting multiple key items, you only collect one key item in each level. Your health is also greatly reduced, though the level difficulty is dialed down to match. Even the level complexity is greatly simplified to match this.

Another problem I see with this is the spikes in difficulty. The first race match, for instance, is probably one of the hardest levels in the entire game and it is found in world 2. There are other frustrating levels found throughout the game as well, but that first race in particularly wound up grinding my gears the most. It’s not just that it is difficult, but the controls are brutal with the constant camera angle changes (which affects your steering). I would be temped to say if it was a top down racer similar to that of Super Off road, it might have been easier and less painful. I would expect games to have a smoother difficulty curve than this, so this is a flaw in the gameplay.

One more flaw of note is the Master Thief Sprints. I can see offering an additional challenge, but the time requirements are so low that it requires near speed run level of play just to complete it. As such, after several attempts on multiple levels, I wrote those all off. At least you don’t need to complete them to beat the game, though.

Still, the game does have a number of positives. It has a low learning curve and the level design is pretty good – even if a bit more simple than most games I’ve played in the past. The different thieving moves and the way dialogue and story were written also gets a thumbs up from me. Normal controls are quite reasonable as well and the variety in the overall game does work.

Generally speaking, this game offers some very solid gameplay. The controls in normal play are very well done and the progression scheme is pretty solid. The learning curve is well thought out and the writing is pretty strong here. This game isn’t a flawless game by any means, though. The Sprints are way too difficult and the difficulty spikes leave a lot to be desired at times. The controls on the racing games are terrible. Also, it ends up being a pretty simplified game as well in the grand scheme of things. Still, this is a very solid game.

The graphics are well done as well. The cartoon style in the cut scenes and overall art work very well. The variety in the different levels and worlds are nicely done and the level detailing is pretty impressive. The animation sequences work quit well – especially with Sly’s movements. The style reminds me of Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Raymond 2 – The Great Escape. This is a good thing. The special effects aren’t exactly amazing, but they are OK. So, an overall solid performance.

The audio is probably the weaker parts of the game and it still is a pretty strong element. The music does set the mood pretty well throughout the game. Minigame levels do break things up nicely on the musical front. Still, music can be a bit on the repetitive side. Still, the dialogue and sound effects do pick up the slack quite a bit. The subtle guitar for sneaking works pretty well. So, a solid job here.

Overall, this is definitely the first Playstation console based adventure game I can definitely recommend. It has solid gameplay and good regular controls. The writing is nicely done and the progression and learning curve works quite well. The controls on some minigames such as races leave a lot to be desired and there are difficulty spikes to be had thanks in part to this. The gameplay is fairly simplified compared to a lot of last generation titles out there. The graphics are great, though the special effects aren’t anything groundbreaking. The music can be a bit repetitive, but it sets the mood nicely and the voice acting and effects are nicely done. An overall great game

Furthest point in game: Beat the game and recovered every page. Was able to see the exit on two sprints, but never completed any.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 4/5

Overall rating: 80%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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