The Sly Cooper games are stealth-based platformers where the player takes the titular raccoon and friends through a number of daring heists. Sly may have been overshadowed slightly by Playstation’s other big platforming mascot Crash Bandicoot, but he always maintained a unique appeal.
Although Sly was the protagonist of the series, it may be difficult to call him a hero most of the time. Our lead comes from an ancient line of thieves and initially takes up the role to avenge his father. But, on many occasions, Sly and his crew steal simply for profit. This unique morality among platformer leads may have been part of the appeal; Sly always had a good heart and looked after his friends, but he was decidedly a criminal. It is a testament to the game’s writers that Sly never seemed sinister or an advocate for poor morals as the games explored his backstory and ethical code in impressive detail for a platformer.
While Mario games have rarely deviated from “rescue the princess” and Sonic’s adventures are often overblown and gimmicky (a Werehog, really?); the anthropomorphised world that Sly inhabits involves tales of murder, treachery and romance. While the aforementioned mascots have a timeless appeal to them, Sly evolves as a character over the series, becoming less selfish and more appreciative of his friends. Ultimately, the maturity with which the games treated their audience in both the challenging stealth gameplay and the relatively complex story themes make them absolutely worth reliving.
For some, memories were made in Mega Man 9’s Dr Wiley Stage 3, for others Super Mario Galaxy’s Luigi’s Purple Coins For me it was Sly 3’s Canal Chase. Often, a strong and lasting connection with a game can emerge from one of its most challenging moments and I have family and friends who can attest to just how testing this particular mission was.
This first act sequence marked a shift from sneaking over rooftops and pickpocketing guards to racing along a Venice-inspired canal in a gunboat to stop hired goons from hurting Sly’s friends. The level’s change of pace and gameplay style instantly threw me off-guard, resulting in many early restarts. Even once I had become used to controlling the boat, the addition of falling debris, a timer and enemy boats resulted in increasing frustration. Luckily I had a friend over at the time, and I enlisted them and two largely willing parents to help me finish the level, losing only a small amount of pride in the process. Having had a habit for a leaving games once the difficulty resulted in frustration, it is again a testament to the developers for creating a world that sucked me in enough to recruit a team in order to continue playing.
Recommending a game or a series based on nostalgia can often be dangerous; there’s no guarantee that you will find the same experience that I did with Sly Cooper after all. But the fact that my parents had paid enough attention to the game that they already knew what the stakes and characters involved in the canal chase were before they started playing shows that Sly is something special even without the rose-tinted goggles.