Version tested: PlayStation 3
What's that feeling that sets in after playing through this compilation of last-gen platformers? Worryingly, it's a feeling of freshness; The Sly Trilogy may take you back to a world that existed long before we had DLC, co-op campaigns and the endless grind of persistent XP ladders, but its range of stealthy pleasures often seem clear-headed and full of simple delights in comparison. The Sly Cooper games saw Sucker Punch at its witty and colourful best, sending a chummy gang of cartoon animals on a string of heists that stretched from Paris to Cairo and on to mysterious islands in the middle of rain-lashed oceans. It's good to finally have all that adventure in one place.
A warning, though: it can be bizarre to play Sly Cooper for the first time if your introduction to Sucker Punch was inFamous. While the PS3 open-worlder remains a stoically satisfactory comic-book caper and there's plenty of shared DNA to be found in the slick rooftop-hopping, the Sly games are often sharper in their execution, and more elegant in their staging. Even before being spruced up for HD televisions, the series' fondness for bold cartoon lines and colourful, sagging cityscapes was more stylish and personable than the soupy dereliction of Empire City, and its characters remain far more likeable and interesting than the biff-faced Cole and that moronic friend of his with the sunglasses.
Actually, the ambience of Sly Cooper can be hard to pin down precisely. At times, the games come on like Looney Tunes at its slapstick best, while elsewhere playing them is like finding yourself in a Pink Panther flick, without the unpleasant business of discovering that Peter Sellers is a gaping shell of a man when the cameras aren't rolling. (I know this because I saw a film about him once.) Very occasionally, when the slinky, strings-heavy soundtrack clicks together just so with the game's nocturnal preoccupations, the whole thing comes close to exhibiting the poised class of an old Bogart movie. Not bad, considering you're playing as a talking raccoon who's best friends with a turtle.
So anyway, before you get to the new stuff the mini-games, the 3D support, and the Easter-egg teaser you should know this: The Sly Trilogy is worth owning just for the chance to get these brilliant games together on one disk.
The HD updating has been handled magnificently, which is a pleasant surprise after the faintly botched Prince Of Persia collection. The colours are bright and rich, the frame-rate is super smooth (this is a technical term), and the edges and textures are as sharp as you'd expect for something running in 720p. It doesn't look like a PS2 game as much as it looks like your most nostalgic, wayward memory of a PS2 game, and there's probably an important distinction to be had there.
Vibrant, uncluttered, and filled with great character models and animation, adventures that once rubbed up against the outer limits of their hardware now have a welcome bit of room to breathe, and on the rare occasion that you'll come across a lo-res cinematic that has slipped past unaltered, it merely gives you a chance to see what beautiful restoration work Sanzaru Games has done with the majority of the porting.
While it's brilliant fun to compare textures all day, with an entire trilogy to hand, you'll also have the rare chance to turn curator, poking through the full sweep of a series and watching the ways in which it evolves over time. Sly Cooper was born in pretty good shape, as it happens, but there are still plenty of opportunities to catch of glimpse of Sucker Punch behind the scenes, zeroing in on the aspects that seem worthy of greater focus, and fiddling with the bits that aren't up to scratch.
Sly Raccoon is the oldest game of the bunch, and it shows. Its story of a charming master-thief and his orphanage buddies gathering together the pages of an ancient book sets out the basic framework of gymnastic traversal mixed with rather forgiving stealth, but remains cautious in its world-building, offering a series of relatively linear obstacle courses spread across a range of small hubs, all busily riddled with laser beams, air vents, and collectibles.
The only truly irritating thing about the first game is its fondness for one-hit kills, and that was all gone by the time Band of Thieves was released. A roomier adventure with much more intricate environments, the sequel sent Sly and his friends off on a far greater range of missions in a race to stop Clockwerk, the mechanical villain of the original title, from being reassembled again. Here, the penchant for antic variety that Sly Raccoon hinted at blooms into a game that never wants to dump you into the same novelty twice.
That said, while the vehicle mini-challenges and shooting gallery gimmicks run thick it's particularly imaginative whenever bosses are involved what's really wonderful about Band of Thieves is the effortless way it refines the trickier elements of the context-based platforming controls, and creates a genuinely rich cartoon noir world of rooftops and moonbeams in which to get into scrapes.
Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves cranks up the set-pieces and the variety, but otherwise feels like a refinement of the second game's framework as an expanded cast seeks out a mysterious treasure. It's a rarity along with the Oddworld games in that it has the requisite charm to include a playable character in a wheelchair without the whole thing feeling patronising or forced.
Among Thieves provides a wonderful end to the trilogy, and whether you're sneaking through the sewers of Venice with each movement accompanied by the thwack of a double-bass string, or leaping from one chimney to the next in a perfect display of lithe skill, there's a welcome sense of assurance, and of a developer truly understanding the world it's created.
So what's new? From this perspective, The Sly Trilogy is a bit of a vehicle for Sony's current preoccupations. Beyond the HD refresh, you can play all three games in 3D if you've got the right kind of telly; it's a decent stab at giving the games extra depth without going overboard, although you can't turn on the 3D until the game gets started, which is a bit clunky. Or you can indulge in a handful of Move-enabled mini-games revolving around treasure-snagging, remote-controlled-chopper-racing, and two flavours of target practice. I enjoyed them in a limited kind of way for a half-hour or so, and now I will never, ever play them again.
But ultimately you won't need to worry too much about any of that stuff. Why should you? You've got three of the most endearing platformers ever created to pick over instead, and an unlockable teaser trailer hinting that a fourth instalment is on the way. Sly 4, finally! That's something to think about. However that turns out and I'm guessing DLC, a co-op campaign, and a nice persistent XP system Sucker Punch has already ensured it will have a lot to live up to.
9 / 10