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Sony’s attempts to include PS2 compatibility with the PS3 might have been an unmitigated disaster, but at least the company knows how to knock out a fine last-gen compilation disc. First it struck gold with 720p updates of God of War I and II, and now the company is breathing new life into another classic with The Sly Collection. When it comes to jazzing up former glories, it’s clear Sony is leagues ahead of SEGA and Nintendo.
It’s particularly jarring, however, to see the words “Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Presents” at the head of each game. It’s purely bureaucratic, of course, but Sony’s European publishing arm has been unceremoniously sending Sly Cooper to die at retail since 2003, and writing this with the hindsight of knowing The Sly Collection’s first week UK sales chart performance – it failed to make the UK Top 40, for crying out loud – shows this miserable trend continuing. Still, it’s not all Sony’s fault, and anyone that’s ever complained about modern gaming being composed of too many bland shooters should be utterly ashamed.
What’s particularly noteworthy is how well Sly holds up in 2010 – my first feelings of this jazzed up compilation were of bouncy spring freshness rather than dusty nostalgia. The Sly series isn’t just a trio of excellent games: these are still some of the best, and most original, platforming games ever produced. It’s also prominent developer Sucker Punch at its best, and the racoon protagonist’s lithe sneaking, nimble movement and punning script combine to keep the game and its varied environments perpetually entertaining. All of Sly’s lovable qualities more than make up for the series’ notable lack of difficulty.
Let’s not forget just how deft Sucker Punch is at creating its bold, thick-lined and saturated strings of landmark excursions. This is, for instance, a series which can put one of its supporting cast members in a wheelchair without making it hammy or condescending. The fact that the character in question is a talking, bespectacled turtle only serves to make the feat even more impressive.
It’s hard to pluck out one specific area which makes these multicoloured jaunts so charming, exactly, but it’s a shame to see such an abundance of tangible character lost in the sickeningly po-faced inFamous, the developer’s most recent (and more successful) jaunt. Just compare the bouncing enthusiasm, unwavering companionship and unwitting comedy of Sly’s sidekick Murray to the forgettable everything of that dude who was friends with Cole MacGrath and looked a bit like Elvis.
But many of inFamous’ best qualities can be traced back to the thieving racoon. Sly’s supple, sticky dexterity was clearly a major source of inspiration in Cole, and the ever-increasing usage of hub worlds showed a fondness for open-world environments which Sucker Punch would later go on to employ. But where inFamous was stuck with the vacant Empire City, Sly could happily jaunt around a glistening, moonstruck Paris with a coy smile, some 1920’s panache and a feline love interest trying to arrest him at every turn. And the sound of a double bass in the background when he’s sneaking, which is still one of gaming’s best ever sound effects.
Sly Cooper is the most ancient of the games, but we can already see Sucker Punch understanding the basics of the series, most of which would be expanded and bettered down the line. The original sets the series’ affable mise-en-scène, and has the orphaned hero blazing around the globe to collect the stolen pages of a prized family book. Each recovered wad of paper unlocks new skills, such as the ability to slow down time or stealthily perch on even the tiniest objects jutting out of the scenery. Ultimately, though, it’s a charming but simplistic obstacle course of lasers, alarm bells and henchmen to tip-toe around.
Expanding on Sly Cooper’s diminutive hub worlds was clearly Sucker Punch’s main priority when developing Sly 2: Band of Thieves. Here the zones linking levels are much larger; expansive to the point that players will likely be baffled on the first approach. Levels and mini-games are stuffed into an abundance of cubbyholes, and the whole game smacks of a developer insisting on never showing the player the same trick twice.
Where the sequel really managed to succeed, though, was in widening out the scope of the game and ridding it of the former’s penchant for squiffy one-hit kills. The mini-game diversions were more entertaining, the platforming sequences increasingly chiselled and focused and the script funnier and more charming – the whole thing coming across like a Pixar movie crossed with the Pink Panther.
Sucker Punch had clearly perfected their art by the time Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves rolled around in 2005, and while the game didn’t really offer anything new it was a generous new chunk of the same pitch-perfect execution.
Honour Among Thieves also rounded off the storyline and swelled the supporting cast to include some of the best bosses from the former games, neatly capping off the series instead of leaving it in desperate need for a sequel. Stumbling upon the enigmatic Sly 4 teaser in the Sly Collection, then, manages to both excite me and leave me pondering about where they could possibly take the series from this point.
Elsewhere in the package there’s support for the PlayStation Move in a collection of bonus mini-games, which come complete with their own resplendent set of Trophies and are fun for all of fifteen minutes, after which you’ll quickly decide to never look at them ever again.
And if you’ve got a 3DTV then you can also play the games in 3D, but you probably won’t because nobody has a 3DTV.
These new features might be superfluous, but there’s no shame in playing second fiddle to Sanzaru Games’ triumph of squeezing 720p versions of all three Sly games on one disc. The processing power of the PS3 also lets the games play out at a rock-solid framerate which the PS2 could never properly accommodate.
The Sly Collection is a top-notch compilation of some of the most beautiful platformers ever made. Would somebody in the UK please buy it this time around?