- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A crafty raccoon and his pals pilfer through the eons to save a family’s legacy in the third-person game Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (Sony Computer Entertainment America and Sanzaru Games, reviewed for Playstation 3 Rated E10+, $39.99).

The latest adventure tied to the decade-old franchise once again plunges a single player into a rich cartoon world where he controls and interacts with a collection of anthropomorphic animals.

When text from the legendary tome tied to the historical lineage of the Cooper clan, the Thievus Raccoonus, begins mysteriously dissolving, it’s up to Sly and mainly his famed cohorts — the braniac turtle Bentley, pink hippopotamus Murray and a special foxy female friend — to travel across time and stop a genealogical meltdown.

Within a stunning hand-painted look and cell-shaded, eye-popping design (even without the 3D turned on) Sanzaru Games maintains previous developer Sucker Punch Productions quality and presents familiar, humorous action mixing stealth, platforming around environmental obstacles, boss battles, mini-games, collecting and liberal amounts of thievery.

One can imagine the colorful canvas now painted for the younger player as he works through five extended cartoon episodes, played out upon large, free-roaming environments loaded with a variety of jobs tied to helping Sly’s ancestors.

Specifically, after a jaunt in modern-day Paris, the gang travels back to the Wild West to break Tennessee Kid Cooper out of jail and medieval England to save Sir Galleth Cooper from the Black Tyrant’s clutches along with other visits to legendary time periods.

For example, while exploring 17th century feudal Japan, have Sly take recon photographs to scout out a fortress holding his relative. He uses the versatile Binocucom that zooms into snapshots as he quietly moves about rooftops.

Or, while in Japan, go fishing to help restock ninja restaurateur Rioichi Cooper’s Sushi bar. Manipulate a pole and magnetic line with the motion sensing Sixaxis controller.

And, even more outrageous, while helping Rioichi, Murray has to dress up as a Geisha girl while a player taps away on controller buttons to a rhythm-based music game to distract the guards.

Of course, enemies abound, always looking for intruders, in each area. Be it large steers packing heat, storks ready to clobber, cyborg wolves with flashlights, fire-breathing bats and really large spiders, Sly, Bentley and Murray have plenty of skills to survive and fight.

Our furry friend remains as fluid and acrobatic as ever. High-wire balancing and scaling, paragliding, traversing rooftops, crawling through tunnels, swinging, springing and climbing on poles and piping (with help from his hooked cane), he can silently infiltrate almost any structure. That cane also works well to smack a foe into submission or pickpocket him.

Bentley remains in a rocket-powered wheelchair, now with a pair of extending robotic arms, but packs a mean punch with a collection of bombs and darts.

He also hacks into computer system that turns a players screen into a retro mini-game arcade to blast away at virus and firewalls or manipulate an electron ball around mazes (use the Sixaxis motion controls again).

Bentley’s side-scrolling and over-the-top, mini-game contributions certainly break up some of the more standard third-person fare.

Now Murray continues to be the muscle of the gang. He prefers fists to attack, can carry and throw items, and even lifts bad guys above his head to shake out their loot.

In addition, each of Sly’s relatives are playable characters for certain jobs. It’s definitely fun to watch Rioichi spin his double canes or zip across traps with blinding speed.

Although, I wasn’t thrilled with the Tennessee Kid using a cane-shaped rifle and having to shoot his way out of a trouble. The target practice to open massive safe doors was different but blasting away at coyotes (albeit armed coyotes) slightly detracted from the Cooper’s stealthy myth.

As stated, a player has lots to do. He’ll spend probably four to six hours completing each episode and revisit each location for more hours to finish out collections of bottles, masks and treasures and cracking safes.

He can hang at the gang’s hideout and spend coins to upgrade character’s powers (at the online shop ThiefNet), play a game of table tennis or eventually replay Bentley’s hacking mini-game and admire treasures collected and costumes unlocked.

While talking costumes, Sly gets one for each episode that he can reuse while on the jobs. Take the clunky Samurai outfit that causes Sly to be slow moving but he can withstand flames and deflect fireballs or a prison uniform complete with chain and a giant ball for crushing objects and rolling on.

For a player to simply complete all of an episode’s jobs, take out a boss and move on to the next adventure is a great disservice to the hard work developers put into the title.

Please, take the time to admire the environments, often far more impressive than some of the puzzles, and, for example, meditate in the Japanese gardens with ponds and frogs while enjoying ornate stonework, tapestries and woodwork and bamboo.

Also, appreciate finding treasure pieces. The stuff not only looks great in the trophy room but also unlocks that arcade machine.

However, all is not perfect in Cooper’s world.

Since this is a game about reveling through time, I wonder why the load times for many of the areas are so painfully long. It could be a breaking point for an impatient child.

It was also difficult to remember all of the powers each character uses. They really accumulate toward the later part of the game and easily accessible cheat sheets would help.

Also, epic boss battles (reference the mercenary tiger El Jefe for starters) often relies on memorizing attack sequences from the mighty foes as well as trial and error and that plays well to younger children but will get a bit tedious to more skilled gamers.

Additionally, a player spends plenty of time breaking stuff and beating on defenseless creatures such as chickens, lizards, rats and piggies to collect extra coins.

Those rampages compounded with the warnings on dangerous traps about “instant death,” plenty of shooting and accidental electrocutions (that Wile E. Coyote would not fondly remember) and this is a game that might be a bit too aggressive for some parental unit’s liking.

Still, those points aside, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time does deliver a well-crafted and affordable world for the 11-year-old to interact within and will satisfy fans of the legendary raccoon.

Note: Owners of the console version of the game get a free download of the entire Sly adventure to Sony’s mighty entertainment handheld, the PlayStation Vita. Better yet, a player can continue the action by uploading and downloading saves between each system.

Also, while playing the console version of the game, point the PS Vita at the television and, with help from its rear camera, it offers an overlay on the handheld that acts as sort of an X-ray radar to quickly identify more of the items hidden in the environments.

Although it’s a cool but slightly confusing gimmick, it’s certainly not enough to justify running out and buying a PlayStation Vita for $250.

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