Checking out clockwork moat monsters and open hubs in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

Sly Cooper has come a long way since we first met him in 2002. In Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, Sucker Punch Productions delivered a third-person stealth-platformer with a uniquely flavored cel-shaded art style and an instantly memorable cast of colorful, anthropomorphized animal characters. Subsequent releases in 2004 and 2005 dove deeper into Sly’s wonderful universe, though Sucker Punch went silent after that, to work on what we later learned was 2009’s PlayStation 3 hit, Infamous.

Now the Cooper family is set to return under the capable direction of Sanzaru Games, the developer behind the recent HD update of the original Sly trilogy. I brought you a hands-on look at the game earlier this year, but I couldn’t resist taking another crack when the opportunity arose. Before we even look at the actual game, I’d like to take a moment to fill you in on some more information about the PlayStation Vita release of Thieves in Time.

The PS Vita version is confirmed as a content-complete port of the console game. In other words, every bit of content included in the PlayStation 3 release can also be found in the portable version. As you might expect based on this, the two Thieves in Time release will support cross-platform saves. Store your save on the console side in the cloud and then download it to your Vita to continue wherever it was you left off when it came time to leave the house. Plans relating to how this will work for consumers are still being ironed out. Any number of possibilities are being entertained, from a price-reduced bundle to a download code for the Vita game packaged inside the PS3 release. Expect to hear more soon, most likely at around the same time that Sony announces the final 2012 release date.

The hands-on portion of my demo first focused on Sly ancestor Sir Galleth. For those who don’t remember: Thieves in Time sends players on a time-traveling trip through the various eras of the Cooper family, in an effort to find out why pages are disappearing from the Thievius Raccoonus. In our previous hands-on you learned about Rioichi, the inventor of sushi and Sly’s ninja ancestor from feudal Japan. Sir Galleth Cooper is the Medieval ancestor; he’s more of a lumbering oaf than his Japanese ancestor, but he’s fitted with plate armor and a hooked lance that doubles as both a weapon and a tool for leaping up to hard-to-reach locations.

That hook-jump ability proves to be useful during Sir Galleth’s playable level in the demo, an area which included a lot of timed upward jumps using the lance. I follow the path up until I reach a large, flat platform facing the entrance to a castle. A moat and a closed drawbridge is only a small part of the problem here; the much bigger concern is the three-headed, flame-spewing clockwork dragon that quickly swallows the foolhardy Sir Galleth whole when he rushes to do battle.

It’s here that we get our first look at Carmelita as a playable character. She shows up to get Sly’s ancestor out of trouble, and a relatively simple boss fight ensues. The pattern quickly become clear: avoid flame breath until dragon head settles onto platform, shoot into dragon head’s open moth with gun, run up to shoot out its eye in a QTE, repeat until dead. With the battle concluded and the clockwork dragon in its death throes, Sir Galleth comes flying out of the construct’s posterior, covered head-to-toe in a black, sludgy substance.

It’s oil, folks. Let’s not forget, this is a clockwork dragon.

The next chunk of the demo offers up a first look at one of the hubs in Thieves in Time. Each time period that Sly explores is built around a central hub, each filled with its own collectibles and hidden secrets. There are 30 bottles tucked away in each one, for example, and finding all in a given hub grants players access to boosts that can aid all playable characters. There are other items of interest as well. In Sir Galleth’s hub, a large space built around a Medieval town, you can clearly see a lone tower on an island in the middle of the water. It’s not clear yet how you’ll get there, but it’s definitely an eye-catching landmark that demands exploration. There was a lot of this sort of thing going on in the demo’s hub.

The final portion of the demo showed off one of the unlockable minigames that you’ll find in Thieves in Time. Alter Ego is a twin-stick shooter that is similar in a lot of ways to the Hackathon minigame from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves. There’s a little bit of a Life Force/Gradius feel to it as well; you fly through a forced-scrolling 2D landscape, destroying enemies and obstacles as you go while snatching weapon power-ups and smart bombs. One analog stick handles movement, the other handles shooting. It’s as straightforward as an arcade-style minigame can get, but it’s also a fun diversion that offers something decidedly different from the core third-person platforming gameplay.

I continue to see plenty of promise in Sanzaru Games’ efforts on the return of Sly Cooper. Even with at least another month or two before the game hits stores, Thieves in Time is, by all appearances, going to be a polished and fun to play title. The addition of a PlayStation Vita version to Sony’s holiday lineup is a seriously sweet bonus too, especially since both games will support cross-platform saves. Stay tuned for more information on Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time in the coming weeks.

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