I rediscovered the Sly Cooper franchise with the release of The Sly Collection after years away from the series.  While some of the gameplay mechanics had not aged well and included spoken dialog detailing which controller buttons to press, it proved impossible not to be sucked in by the Cooper Gang’s infectious characters and cel-shaded art style.  So I was overjoyed to hear that the series would be returning with Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time for both the PlayStation 3 and the PlayStation Vita later this year, developed by the team behind the collection, Sanzaru.  Having had the chance to play the game on both platforms at E3 last week, I’ve found that Sly looks to return in fine, albeit unsurprising, form.

Two levels were available during the demo, one controlling Sly and the other a relative of the famous raccoon, as the game’s narrative does explore his vast, thievery-laden heritage.  The Sly level played as you would expect, with the titular hero finding himself in a perilous circus this time around.  Armed with a Robin Hood-like disguise, Sly gains the ability to shoot arrows at targets to create tightropes he can cross.  Though of course, the challenge doesn’t end there, as cannonballs spring from the tent’s unseeable floor to knock you off your rope.  The level provided no real frustrating or difficult sections, but the Sly games were never known for their brutality.  The level felt like classic Sly Cooper gameplay, and is hopefully just a taste of the many situations the thievious gang will find themselves in when the full title is released.

The other level put players in control of Riochi Cooper, a member of the Cooper family tree.  In the game’s comical approximation of Feudal Japan, Riochi embarks on a quest to save his sushi shop and must sneak past guards and make his way through each room by means other than simply walking.  Luckily, he has a special power that allows him to zip from perch to perch, using lighting fixtures and exposed pipes to travel throughout a level.  It’s a nice way of shaking up the traditional level exploration norm of the franchise, but again don’t expect to be stuck at particularly grueling sections unless you have terrible timing.  Guards will stop Riochi’s progress if he cannot sneak up and attack them properly, and it is always amusing to watch the series’ foes perish into a cloud of smoke.

Both examples of the title proved that Thieves in Time is not looking to deviate drastically from its predecessors.  The art style may suffer most of all, as, while there is a noticeable bump, the game does not look quite as sharp as I would have hoped.  It does look fantastic on the Vita, however, and I am surprised, though happy, to say that may be my console of choice when playing the title.

The controls felt good, and with the back touchpad substituting for the shoulder buttons, it comfortably transferred the game’s set-up onto the Vita.  I find the franchise to work in small bursts thanks to its mission-based levels.  Thanks to the apparent minute loss in leap to the handheld space, I would love the chance to play such a fully-fledged console experience on my Vita.

That said, I am a little disappointed to see no major risks taken with this long-awaited sequel.  I do enjoy the franchise, and to see it become stagnant would be an unfortunate fate for one of Sony’s most widely appealing mascots.  Thankfully, the franchise’s gameplay is strong enough that, with the support of its colorful characters, I feel confident after my demo that Sly’s latest tale should provide another fun romp with Bentley, Murray, and a whole gang of Coopers.