Together with wired controllers, memory cards and Linux, Sly Cooper was thought lost to the PlayStation's past. Six years on from the raccoonís last outing and the world seemed to have moved on.
Sucker Punch certainly seemed to, and with the inFamous games the developer has taken the sticky traversal it created last generation and given it a darker, more serious edge, moving away from the matinee charm of Sly to something best digested after the watershed.
That doesn't dim the surprise when, at the announcement of a new Sly game, six years after the raccoon was last sighted, that thereís not a member of the original team in sight. "Now I know what youíre all thinking," says Glen Egan, a man whoís struggling to keep back an enormous grin, "who the hell are you, and whereís Sucker Punch?"
They, it turns out, are Sanzaru games, and that grin's there because Egan's got his hands a franchise that the developer has been coveting for years. The Californian outfitís hardly a known name - unless you're on first name terms with games such as the Wiiís Ninja Reflex or the PlayStation 2 port of Secret Agent Clank - but itís one thatís been working towards a full-blown Sly game for some time.
It was while Sanzaru was working on one of Sony's bigger mascots, Clank, that it turned its eyes to another. "With inFamous going on we didnít think that Sucker Punch would have the time to make another Sly Cooper game," says Egan, "and I really want to play another Sly Cooper game."
Heís not alone in that sentiment, and Sanzaru was in a unique position to capitalise on that desire. Having bought a PlayStation 3 development kit, the studio set about creating a proof of concept, imagining what Sly would look like in the HD age, before pitching it to Sony.
Sony was impressed, but before it would hand over the keys it sent Sanzaru off to study and study hard. The studio was tasked with bringing Sucker Punchís three Sly Racoon games to the PlayStation 3 in the form of The Sly Trilogy.
Sanzaru's developers were bright, attentive pupils, and that much is clear when first laying eyes on Sly 4, or, to give its name proper, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time. Sanzaruís original Sly is just as faithful to the originals as its HD remakes, and for admirers of the PlayStation 2 trilogy that can only be a good thing.
Everything's intact, from the voice talents of Kevin Miller et al blowing some breezy charm over the leading trio of Sly, Murray and Bentley to the bold, thickly inked artwork. It's never looked better, of course, but it's maintained the simplicity of the originals, which is a commendable thing; you can chide Sanzaru for playing it safe, but equally you've got to respect it for acknowledging the brilliance of the first Sly trilogy, and for resisting the urge to tinker too much with Sucker Punchís charming recipe.
The same can be said of the game itself. Following swiftly on the heels of Sly 3's story, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time takes up the tale as Bentley's time machine whirs into life and the pages of the Thievius Racoonus are scattered throughout history; a neat excuse for some diverse dioramas, with feudal Japan playing host to the demo.
It's the same as before, but oh-so-slightly different. Murray and Sly, the two playable characters in the brief platforming section shown, have been subject to subtle and affectionate redesigns, Murray's generous figure being rounded out and Sly gaining a film starís jawline.
Likewise, the gameplay has that warming aura of familiarity, though it's underpinned by some thoughtful tweaks. At its heart it's the same light blend of platforming, stealth and puzzles; Murray and Sly are split apart at the beginning of the demo, and the player must switch between the hulking, muscular Murray and the more agile Sly in order to progress through a level that's abuzz with devious and deadly contraptions.
One of Sanzaru's own additions to the Sly Cooper mix spices things up a little. Costumes, previously used to serve the stealth elements of the series as disguises, now harbour special powers. Two are on show: one, a thieves outfit, slows down time, its powers exploited in a gentle temporal puzzle, while the other, a suit of armour, slows Sly down but makes him immune to fire.
That suit is exploited in a boss battle, a show-stopping duel that again sees Sanzaru playing it close to the original script. Sly faces off against El Heffe, a cigar-chomping tiger voiced by a Nolan North in a particularly campy turn, the multi-tiered scuffle showing an impressive level of scale.
The one-on-one encounter starts atop a burning tower - here's where that suit of armour comes in handy - with El Heffe coming at Sly with waves of attacks, as well a barrage of quips which show that Sanzaru has also mimicked the series' comic patter well. A swift platforming section segues to a second encounter with Heffe, with the tower crumbling all the while, before it's finished off with some close-quarters melee.
As a spectacle, it doesnít have the oomph of many of its Sony stablemates, but it does show a wise respect for a series that's still held in high regard. Christian, in his review of Sly Trilogy late last year, said that Sly 4 would have a lot to live up to. Sanzaruís Sly is living up to its heritage well, and while the developer's reluctance to tamper suggests that this will be a retread, after six years' absence, it will be a very welcome one.