These are my forefathers? – Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Review

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Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time (PS3, Vita)
Developer: Sanzaru Games
Publisher: SCEA
MSRP: $39.99

Bentley, Murray, and Sly Cooper’s exploits are reminiscent of those found within Saturday morning cartoons. Their cooperative thievery is like Yogi Bear schemes with the whimsical technology from Dexter’s Laboratory and a dash of the anthropomorphic sensibilities of classic Hannah Barbara toons. These vibes emanate from cel-shaded characters and chapter title sequences that mimic cartoon openings (you know, like this).

Murray, a plump pink hippo, has a bloated ego – he, and only he, calls himself “THE MURRAY” – and Bentley, a wheelchair bound turtle, with a hammy nerd-voice and a penchant for techno-babble pair strongly with Sly’s underwhelming personality. Jokes are more miss than hit, yet the trio’s dynamics are charming despite the repeated puns and embarrassing slapstick.

The dynamics are in constant flux as they travel through time to save Sly’s ancestors. Tennessee Kid, a Cooper from the Wild West, has an obsession with dingoes. “That laser is faster than a six-legged dingo!” or “That laser is scarier than a two-headed dingo!” are two painful examples. While he’s easily the most obnoxious of Sly’s family, they each lack personalities beyond lazy stereotypes. Did Sanzaru Games ever see the ‘We’re cultures, not costumes’ posters?’ Worse yet, they dabble in the same characteristics. Bob from the prehistoric tundra shares Murray’s love for food, as does Salim al Kupar, but he also whines about climbing because he’s retired. Two of them grow fond of Sly’s love interest, Carmelita Fox. And they’re all confused by Bentley’s technology. How original.

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The one instance where an ancestor had a compelling impact on the gang was during the prehistoric chapter. Murray makes it his duty to train Bob – resulting in a silly montage in the vein of Rocky where Bob clubs, wrestles, and flings many a squinshee penguin – and afterward Bob appears to be more valuable to the team than Murray. This personal defeat makes the hippo lose his appetite, to which he says, “That’s what that feels like” and walks away, head down in shame. It’s Thieves in Time’s only earned emotional moment and it shows the incredible potential the additional characters could have had on the cast.

When these talking animals aren’t making inconsistent jokes they’re usually sneaking around, hopping on platforms, and carefully balancing on tightropes. Sly is the most maneuverable, and doing so is simple. Lampposts, laundry wires, and tavern signs have a distinct blue glow that Sly and a few of his ancestor’s can latch on to. Timing your jumps is more crucial than properly landing, and much leeway is given.

Sly’s forerunners also have unique abilities that mix things up. Bob can climb up certain walls and Tennesse Kid can blast his six-shooter with standard third-person controls. Since stages usually have you in control of one character, it makes the levels very shallow. Other games would have one character gain all of the abilities that the ancestors possess, allowing for diverse stages that mix each of these elements together. Additionally, Sly acquires costumes that grant him special abilities, so many of the ancestor abilities could be replaced by more of these.

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There’s this reliance on variety that pervades Thieves in Time and it highlights how hollow the game is. Murray is only good at punching, and laying down the hurt is mindless: body slam, repeat. Because he can’t do much else interesting, turret sequences find their way into his levels. Bentley can only throws bombs and shoot darts from his binoculars, so he usually needs to hack a lot of computers (the three types of hacking mini-games are repeated ad nauseum). Non sequitor mini-games fill in the gaps, like an effortless rhythm game that outstays its welcome thrice (shaking my controller when Carmelita was swinging her hips for googley-eyed onlookers was uncomfortable) and generic shooting galleries. The perceived consensus is that there’s a lack of confidence in Sly’s abilities to carry on an entire game. If true, adding a bunch of shallow content isn’t how you fix this problem.

This incessant hodgepodge of tasks makes playing through Thieves in Time similar to bingeing out on Looney Tunes – for every episode with Bugs Bunny there’s another with Pepe le Pew. The difference is that I’d take le Pew over Tennessee Kid in a heartbeat.

C+

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