Hands-On Preview: Checking a criminal background was obviously not one of the priorities for becoming the mascot of this game!
So much software was shown at E3 this year that some titles remained overlooked and practically untested. Those in attendance might have been aware of a game called Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus and though it received a good deal of attention, not everyone was able to experience the great amount it holds depth within. Unfortunately, this is the same problem that beset its developer, Sucker Punch, even when its first creation released into stores on N64. Nevertheless, by the time September rolls around the magic of Sucker Punch will shine along with the strong influence of SCEA, releasing one of the most original, creative and clever platform games, exclusively for PlayStation 2.
The only other game developed by Sucker Punch is Rocket: Robot on Wheels, which released in 1999 under publisher Ubi Soft. I remember it being cleverly referred to as Sprocket during development, just before the company was forced to change the copyrighted name. It remains one of the most innovative games within N64's library by presenting a variety of aspects from platform to puzzle. Despite all this, Rocket never really found the spotlight that other N64 titles often received. Going somewhat unnoticed, Rocket: Robot on Wheels became nothing short of a sleeper hit fallen between the cracks. To quote IGN's Matt Casamassina in his last line following a raving review for Sucker Punch's Rocket: Robot on Wheels: ?And Nintendo, make sure Sucker Punch is developing games for your next-generation hardware.? With the company now working alongside Sony on one of the finest platform games I've seen yet, I just find that strangely ironic and frankly quite funny if I may say so myself.
Today, Sucker Punch unintentionally remains a low profile developer in not releasing anything since Rocket quietly entered the gaming scene. However, judging from my hours of hands on experience with Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, truth be told, the team at Sucker Punch remains just as innovate today as it was three years ago.
In the game, players take the role of Sly Cooper who is bent on reclaiming what is known as the Thievius Raccoonus. This is an ancient guide full of secret thievery techniques that has been passed from generation to generation among Sly's family. On his eighth birthday, Sly was given the Theivus Raccoonus only to have it split up and stolen by ruthless villains that broke into his family's house. Our adventure is set ten years later as Sly, assisted by his brainy tortoise buddy named Bentley, plans to steal back the Thievius Raccoonus which is hidden throughout a place called Raleigh's Hideout.
The demo of Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus surrounds Raleigh's Hideout. It contains three level areas as well as a central world connecting them all called Raleigh's Retreat. Unlike so many other platform titles, Sly Cooper starts off in the first area just outside of Raleigh's Hideout. From here, he must proceed to the central world and complete the remaining two levels. The game begins with what looks like the Scooby-Doo Mystery Mobile, combined with the gadgetry of any news van, as it pulls up onto a bridge under the cover of the rainy night. Bentley is supposedly stationed here where he communicates and deciphers clues for Sly. Dialogue between the two offers help explaining tasks that need to be accomplished and moves that can be performed. Bentley speaks with that congested nerdy type voice, takes a cautious and pessimistic attitude towards everything. Sly on the other hand remains a calm, collected, and overall suave talker.
After the van stops, Sly springs from the back doors completely decked out as a hand-drawn character using the cel-shading technique. Though some label cel-shading as nothing more than a fad, all I can say is that it's looking fad-bulous. While Sly, his enemies, and various objects and structures are drawn in, the environment remains totally 3D. Most games these days utilize the right analog stick to take control full 360-degree camera. Conversely, Sly Cooper only rotates around right and left rather than enabling the up and down motion as well. This causes the function to simply handle with ease in a less confusing manner and there to be little chance of getting lost in maneuvering it. To me, the usage of the full camera operation only seems complicated, unnecessary, and disjointed in comparison. For times when you need to see something above or beyond, players can shift into a first person perspective with L1 or R1. With some high-tech binoculars, Sly can zoom in, out, and rotate at a full 360-degree from a stationary viewpoint.
Sly boasts the stereotypical qualities of a raccoon in being nothing more than a sneaky animal who always appears outside of our trashcans (or at least from what's depicted in cartoons). With the raccoon eyes and ?mask,? as well as a jimmy cap and crowbar, Sly combines the elements of a raccoon and occupation of a master thief. Being hunched over or straight up like a tulip, Sly is always looking around and ready for action. Playing as a raccoon presents a brand new theme that has yet to be touched on in gaming. Sly uses the stealth aspects of Metal Gear Solid in avoiding searchlights and remaining under the cover of dark dreary night in the first level. At the same time, he also has the freedom of any other mascot character along the lines of Jak & Daxter. This combination serves well for an incredible imaginative concept.
Thugs run a tight shift and range from purple walruses, to pink squid, to whatever other Seaworld mammals end up in the final game. Among these types is a varying slow-witted thug personality from hammer smashing, fire spewing, star tossing, flashlight carrying, and belly flopping. While Sly Cooper offers many types of enemies and should have more to come, all of them appear consistent with ?cartoon-ugly? features. A single hit from one of these enemies spells doom for Sly and ends the game. Like old school 2D platform titles, taking one hit results in starting from the beginning of the level or at least from a checkpoint where a mysterious and giggly girl likes to snap your picture then hide in her treasure chest. While unexplainable now, we'll have to see if Sucker Punch sheds any light on her premise in the game. An obtainable item within the game is a lucky horseshoe. In collecting one of these, players benefit from an extra hit point by bouncing back from either an enemy's strike or falling into bodies of water. Collecting two of these horseshoes will double that effect, however in seeming somewhat rare to find, players must adhere to old school rules and avoid the wrath of enemies at all costs.
Unlike horseshoes, coins are sprawled among levels and scatter from defeated enemies as well as breakable signs and statues. When coins are uncovered though, players will only have a limited amount of time to pick them up, and we mean limited! As in other platform titles, collecting 100 coins or picking up an item shaped like Sly's head will earn the raccoon an extra life. In addition to coins, players will need to obtain a set number of message bottles per level. In collecting the full amount, Bentley will crack the code from them and give you the combination to a safe. Here you can reclaim part of Theivus Raccoonus and learn a new move. Standard moves include the traditional jump and double jump as well as swinging the crowbar to defeat enemies. In addition, the crowbar can also be used to latch onto ropes and other ringed objects found throughout the game. Like we've seen in various titles starting with Zelda on N64, Sly Cooper uses an action button to perform different moves during certain situations. Taping the circle button allows Sly to climb ladders, scale ropes, and sneak around with his back against pillars or walls.
To apply one of the Theivus Raccoonus, players shift through the acquired moves with L2 or R2 and perform one using the triangle button. They range from a dive attack that pitches the twirling crowbar, a ball wrap that enables Sly curls up for a fast paced and continuous roll, and a slow motion matrix-type fall, which causes everything to move at a slow rate while dropping to the ground. Obviously there will be more of these in the game, as it's the key objective or the story and we've seen them in every level thus far. At the end of the first level lies a key like each area after it. The first one opens a door to the Raleigh's Retreat, which is almost like a central world. It contains the two remaining areas, each highlighted with holographic markers emitting dollar signs.
In the second level called Mullah's Museum, players must overcome tight security that should be found throughout our airports by the year's end. Besides the searchlights, new dangers lurk like lasers guided alarms panning the hallways and rays that follow in pursuit of Sly. To avoid searchlights here, players learn yet another innovative technique in pressing up against the pillars. Using the circle button around blue sparkling auras, Sly can rotate around right and left of the analog avoiding the lights that are just inches away. During this time, the sneaky burglar music ceases and a bump-bump rhythm picks up sounding with every tiptoeing step.
The Readin' Room is the final level of the demo and as you might expect, it's surrounded with books and bookshelves. The latest booby trap includes dart guns that fire upon Sly when stepping onto the blue carpet. Hopping into conveniently placed barrel for protection seems risky and unsanitary according to Bentley, however we're talking about a raccoon here. The whole concept is extremely innovative and once again is accompanied by the sneaky rhythm as Sly tiptoes around and ducks for cover when stopped. This reminds me of so many cartoons that pit a perverted guy hiding in bush and advances next to a girl on the beach that contains no plant life. Not only does the barrel protect Sly by collecting pegged darts, but also prevents the alarming of guards and searchlights when staying still. In coming into contact with fire, the gameplay ties into the graphics causing the barrel appear charred with an ash color, but not ruined.
With the three keys, players will be able to unlock a power generator and mash it to pieces. This disables an electric current blocking the adjacent tunnel where players are treated to a trailer of the game upon entering. From it, we see more adventurous footage and variety among levels like jumping off awnings as trampolines above city streets and scaling neon letters that are part of a huge sign.
As the lead character, Sly Cooper is both suave and crafty. As the developer, Sucker Punch boasts all the same qualities in its design. However, the only thing Sucker Punch is out to steal is the limelight away from its competition. With an innovative gameplay package, outfitted with a clever mascot, Sly Cooper delivers the goods to do just that. Aside from its artistically impressive cel-shaded characters and 3D environments, the game clearly lifts the quality elements from more primitive platform titles and instills them into the modern generation. In utilizing a simple and trouble-free camera, Sucker Punch has done what most games in its class couldn't. And, since we've only seen a small portion of what the developer has to offer, I look forward to seeing the rest in September. When that time comes, like I said, Sucker Punch will be able to steal the limelight away from its competition ? and that, is something the developer truly deserves.