Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Retrospective

Take a look back on the final entry in the Sly Cooper series, and the only one not developed by Sucker Punch Productions. See where this iconic PlayStation series ended, and why so many fans are still clamoring for a fifth game, even after Sly and the gang missed the PlayStation 4's entire lifespan.

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Retrospective

Any list of games that need sequels is incomplete without Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Aside from the odd nomenclature of not naming the game “Sly 4: Thieves in Time,” which makes it seem like a slasher series that has way more than a respectable amount of sequels, new development team Sanzaru Games began a new chapter for the rogue raccoon and left it unfinished. There were always plans in place to make a fourth Sly Cooper game at some point, and the credits for Sly 3 imply time travel was always going to be involved, though I doubt they saw it ending like this.

The final installment in the series turned ten years old earlier this year and, aside from a teaser trailer for a movie that never happened, the franchise has laid completely dormant. That’s not to say everything in this game is terrible, as most people tend to assume when the reigns pass to a new developer. There’s actually a lot to enjoy here, it’s just that there are two major flaws that tend to drown everything else out.

Having to continue a story that was, for the most part, finished, is not an easy task. The Star Wars sequels and Toy Story 4 are proof positive of this. Divisive at best, actively detrimental to prior entries at worst. However, I’d say they did a pretty great job with it. Sly seemed content with his retirement at the end of Sly 3, and they created a threat important enough to justify him breaking that retirement. 

Fans had to wait nearly 8 years to reconnect with their favorite raccoon (Guardians of the Galaxy hadn’t come out yet, so there was less competition), so let’s finish this series retrospective and see if the wait was worth it. 

Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time™ Launch Trailer

Story – It’s About Time

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is all about time travel, as the name implies. Bentley finds out that pages of the Thievius Raccoonus are being erased, and plans to use the time machine he conveniently invented already to solve the problem. He reconnects with Sly, still with Carmelita in Paris after faking amnesia, and gets him to pick up the cane one last time to save his ancestors. After they get Murray, of course.

The gang eventually discovers that Sly’s ancestors are being targeted by one Cyrille Le Paradox. He hired different international criminals to rule over different places throughout time. So the gang has to take down El Jefe, Toothpick, The Grizz, The Black Knight, and Ms. Decibel to save the Cooper bloodline and stop Le Paradox. That journey takes them through Feudal Japan, the Wild West, the Ice Age, Medieval England, and Ancient Arabia respectively. 

Feudal Japan & Rioichi Cooper

Feudal Japan & Riochi Cooper

The gang also has to rescue each era’s respective Cooper: Rioichi, Tennessee Kid, Bob, Sir Galleth, and Salim al-Kupar. Also, Carmelita eventually crosses paths with them, and Sly has to try to mend his relationship with her. The story relies on a lot of coincidences, but it’s tolerable. All of the gang’s efforts fall apart at the end of each chapter, as few things get payoffs before the conclusion.  

The game also only really has one plot twist. And it’s not even good. Sly 2 had the Nyssa betrayal; and Sly 3 had the Black Baron reveal, recruiting The Panda King and Dimitri, and Sly being set up from the beginning. Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time only has the Black Knight reveal. It’s not a clever twist, nor does it make any sense. Another thing in this game’s story that can not be forgiven is the ending. It ends on a complete downer cliffhanger, even though there weren’t – and still aren’t – any plans for a sequel.

Episode 4: A Very Obvious Clue

Episode 4: A Very Obvious Clue

Gameplay – Timeless Collection

The core Sly Cooper gameplay players know and love is intact here. Sly, Bentley, and Murray all play as they did when Sucker Punch was at the helm. However, there have been some upgrades. In a literal sense, there are a lot more upgrades and abilities for each character. Along with that, they overhauled the hacking minigame. The classic minigame remains with updates, but it’s only one of three hacking minigames. There’s a great shoot-em-up minigame, and an admittedly less good motion-controlled one. 

Sly also gets access to a different costume each episode, with its own ability. Like a fireproof suit of armor, or archer garb with accompanying bow and arrow. Most of them are also used in that episode’s boss fight. Unfortunately, the fights are nothing to write home about. The El Jefe and Ms. Decibel fights are more about traversing the environment then following a simple pattern. The Toothpick and Grizz fights are about repeating monotonous cycles to damage them. And the Le Paradox fight at the end is just Quick Time Events. The Black Knight fight is the only one that holds a candle to the best fights from prior installments. And even that one is incredibly easy.

Carmelita and The Moat Monster mini-boss

Carmelita and The Moat Monster mini-boss

However, one of the biggest negatives about this game is its load times. Going from the safe house to the hub world, you could be sitting on a load screen for up to and over a minute. It wouldn’t be as big a problem if there was anything interesting on the load screen, but it’s just a collectible tracker, a pulsing Sly Cooper logo, and one of about eight fun facts. 

All About Family

However, the real stars of the show here are the playable Cooper ancestors in each chapter, and how their abilities change the game. Literally. The first mission in each episode will usually involve freeing Sly’s relative from captivity, unlocking them as a playable character for the rest of the episode. They all play very similarly to Sly, except for Bob, given his prehistoric nature. On top of that, they each have one main ability that Sly does not.

Riochi Cooper’s Leaping Dragon allows him to leap long distances. Tennessee Kid’s Crackshot allows him to shoot multiple targets in very quick succession. Bob can scale ice walls. Sir Galleth’s Catapult Crash allows him to launch from wall hooks and smash barriers above him. And Salim’s Climbing Cobra lets him climb poles and ladders in a flash. They’re all traversal-based, and rarely ever used outside of that, but it’s still a fun change of pace.

Sir Galleth Cooper after a Catapult Crash

Sir Galleth Cooper after a Catapult Crash

Aside from that, they don’t play as differently as I would like. Bob of course still being the outlier here. You get to play as a Ninja, Outlaw, and a Knight, but they often feel like more costumes for Sly, given how similar they play. I wish their gameplay more closely reflected their personalities. Like Rioichi being a calm Mr. Miyagi-esque figure preferring to stay in the shadows. Or Sir Galleth being a bold and brash knight ready to rush into any challenge. 

It Belongs in a Museum

Speaking of challenge, hello collectibles. Sly 3 didn’t have any collectibles, and Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time decided to make up for lost time. Pun intended.

The Clue Bottles make their return here. As in Sly 2, there are 30 in each episode’s hub world that open a safe containing an upgrade. These are very helpful upgrades like a coin magnet or revealing collectible locations. On top of that, there are once again treasures in the hub world. However, now they’re ALL timed. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, there are also 60 collectible Sly Masks. Even though they’re clearly calling cards, not masks.

One of the many treasures

One of the many treasures

Unlike the bottles and the treasures, the Sly Masks are primarily found during missions. They’re well-hidden, and have no auditory indicator you’re near them. So, if you didn’t find all the Masks in a level, have fun playing it again. However, they do have special cosmetic unlockables at specific counts. Mainly “Ultimate” costumes for the main cast. Sly’s makes him look like a mix of Batman and The Noid. Bentley’s makes him look like Judge Dredd. Murray’s is just from a mission. And Carmelita’s is a reference to Catwoman from Batman Arkham City, as the two share a voice actress. The final two rewards, at 50 & 60 masks respectively, replace Sly’s cane with Ratchet’s Wrench from Ratchet & Clank and Cole’s Amp from inFAMOUS 2

The sheer amount of collectibles can easily be overwhelming and annoying, especially for completionists, but there are some worthwhile rewards for those who put in the time. If you want some advice, I recommend collecting all the bottles in the prehistoric episode first. The reward for doing so reveals the locations of clue bottles, making the other collections much easier. Or just pull up a YouTube video. I don’t judge.

Graphics & Sound – 16 Times the Fur

Sanzaru Games preserved all the classic sounds from the original trilogy, which is very appreciated. Sound design is as integral to a video game’s identity as anything else, which some people don’t seem to understand. Would Mario games be the same without that iconic music, or the sound of the power ups? All of the core voice actors return as well, though Carmelita goes 4-for-4 on having a different voice actress and accent in every game. There are also great performances from new characters, like Yuri Lowenthal as Sir Galleth Cooper, and Nolan North as Le Paradox (and El Jefe). I guess Nolan wasn’t content being in only one PlayStation staple revolving around a lovable thief.

As for the graphics, well, that’s where things change. Sanzaru dropped the cel-shaded art style that made the original trilogy – especially Sly 2 and Sly 3 – stand out. The new art style goes for a more realistic look while still remaining cartoony, and I feel it looks very muddled at times. The fur on characters like Sly and Carmelita looks incredibly thick, and loses some of their iconic silhouette, but Murray definitely got the short end of the stick here. Though, on the complete opposite side of the spectrum, Penelope had the glow up of the century.

The Redesigned Cooper Gang

The Redesigned Cooper Gang

On a more positive note, I love the art style in the animated cutscenes, and wish they stuck closer to that than what they went with. The character silhouettes stand out, and they capture a wide range of emotion and action with limited movement. Also, the hub worlds all look great and feel different. My personal favorites are the grimy streets of Medieval England and the bright exuberance of Ancient Arabia. 

Sly 4's superior art style

Sly 4’s superior art style

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is definitely not the greatest game in the series, that’s Sly 2, and it has its fair share of problems, but it’s still a very solid game. The story is fun and engaging, the hub worlds and characters are varied, and the amount of ridiculous one-off gameplay sections has been reduced. Though, you do dance quite a lot. The game came out at a time when most people were convinced that games needed to look realistic to be good, and suffered for it. However, as more and more people begin to realize how wrong that is, they might look back on this game more fondly.

Maybe it will convince Sanzaru Games or even Sucker Punch to get to work on a fifth installment. At the very least, the success of the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, Spyro Reignited Trilogy, and Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time should show them there’s a market for these old mascot platformers on next gen consoles.

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