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October 10, 2005

REVIEW: Sly 2: Band of Thieves

  • Platforms: PlayStation 2
  • Current Price (new): $20
  • Amount of Game Played: 100%
  • BOTTOM LINE: Steal This Game
A few weeks ago, I was watching one of the shows on G4 where viewers call in and ask questions. After hosts Tina Wood and Laura Foy debated the merits of shooter X vs. shooter Y, a caller phoned in with the following question: “If you could change the voice-over of ANY video game character, which would it be?”

“Not a bad question,” I thought, and I leaned forward a bit, interested in what they might say, given that I, like every gamer, have my own pet peeves in the voice-over department.

Laura answered the question first. When she said that her choice was a character from the Sly Cooper series, my pulse quickened.

“Could this finally be it? After so much time alone in the wilderness, has someone else finally noticed Constable Neyla’s teeth-grindingly brutal fake British accent in Sly 2: Band of Thieves?”

As Ms. Foy continued her preamble, I started getting an uneasy feeling. Instead of talking about the cringeworthy faux-limey monstrosity turned in by the double-dipping Alesia Glidewell (she does a good job voicing Inspector Carmelita Fox), she started talking in a whiny nasal voice. I didn’t like where this was headed.

I was right to be concerned. When she finally pulled the proverbial wraps off her choice, what was unveiled couldn’t have been more wrong.

She (and Tina, who agreed with her) had inexplicably chosen Bentley (voiced by Matt Olsen), the geeky little turtle, who happens to be one of the BEST voiced characters I’ve heard in my gaming travels. That’s right, I said it.

Foy and Wood know their stuff, but they’re way off the mark here. Bentley’s voice may not be the most pleasant thing in the world to listen to, but it fits his character to a T, and that’s all anyone can ask from a voice actor.

So there...................

Um...what was I talking about? Oh, yeah. I’m supposed to be reviewing Sly 2. Games for kids and all that. My bad.

Allrighty, then. Let me just hoist myself out of the little minutiae trench that I’ve dug for myself and get this thing back on track.

A couple years ago, my kids were content to play games with me on our computer, whether on their favorite websites, or one of the many free game demos that I downloaded for them to play. Video game consoles were something Daddy played with after they went to bed.

Then came two games that changed everything, and made them sit up and take notice of the wonders that awaited them inside those mysterious boxes connected to the TV.

The first, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, stars...well...SpongeBob.

The second stars a cunning blue raccoon named Sly, a beefy pink hippo named Murray...sorry, The Murray, and the aforementioned geeky green turtle, and is one of the best platformers from the current generation of consoles.

Sly 2: Band of Thieves, from SCEA, is the sequel to 2002’s Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. FYI, the third installment in the series, Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, was released a couple of weeks ago. We haven’t played the full version yet, but if the demo is any indication, developer Sucker Punch has created a worthy sequel in the Sly Cooper franchise.

Sly 2 takes you on a globe-trotting tour, with stops in Paris, Prague, India, and the Canadian wilderness. The levels are both colorful and whimsical, with plenty of attention to detail. Each level has a look and feel that is unique and faithful to the locale.

As for the characters...

The Good Guys

Sly, Murray and Bentley have been best buds for years, having met at an orphanage as young ’uns. For Sly 2 you can, nay, must play as all three, as every mission is designed so that only one of them can accomplish it. Sly is the stealthy, swashbuckling leader of the crew, Murray is a practitioner of the fistic arts, and Bentley is the gadget wizard.

As for the overall goal of the game, The Cooper Gang teams up to find the various components of Sly’s family’s chief nemesis for years - an evil mechanical owl named Clockwerk. The problem is that The Klaww Gang has beaten Sly to the Clockwerk parts. Who is the Klaww Gang, you ask? Read on...

The Bad Guys

The Klaww Gang consists of colorful characters like Parisian purple lizard nightclub owner Dmitri (whose turn-ons include butchering American slang), Indian tiger spice lord Rajan, French Canadian freight train magnate Jean Bison (pronounced en Francais - Jawn beeSON), and Arpeggio, a condescending parrot with a raging case of wing envy. They are also aided by The Contessa, an Interpol criminal psychologist who just happens to be a black widow spider. Another nice touch is that the flashlight-toting henchmen are unique to each level. For example, Indian elephants, Canadian moose, etc.

Carmelita Fox is somewhere in the middle, as a well-meaning police inspector trying to catch the Cooper Gang red-handed. She also seems to have a flirty love-hate relationship with Sly. Carmelita’s protégé, Constable Neyla, is a bit of a mystery, but only for a while.

On another character-related note, since I touched on the voice-work earlier, other than Neyla’s fingernails-on-the-blackboard hackery, the voice-overs in Sly 2 are excellent.

Now on to the gameplay. I enjoyed the heck out of playing this game, which is a good thing, because I ‘had’ to play a large percentage of the game for my kids (of course, as a gamer who enjoys the platformer genre, they didn’t exactly have to twist my arm). One reason I had to play so much has to do with the fact that neither of my kids was comfortable with the PS2 controller when we played this game, but truth be told, this isn’t the easiest game in the world for kids to play.

Older kids (including those in their ‘30s) will enjoy all of the things that younger kids will. And instead of being frustrated by some of the tougher parts of the game like their younger siblings (or kids), they’ll be challenged by it. Mind you, this is with the full understanding that many hardcore adult gamers (that doesn’t sound quite right, does it?) are of the opinion that this is an easy game.

Any way you slice it, though, Sly 2: Band of Thieves is a great game in general, and a very good game for kids. However, as much as my kids and I loved this game, there are a few notable negatives.

First, there’s the whole romanticizing thievery thing. While we’re not talking The Grinch here, Sly is definitely more Aladdin than Robin Hood. He doesn’t steal from the rich to give to the poor. He steals from the bad guys and keeps it for himself. So Sucker Punch does deal with the morality issue by not having Sly...say...steal all the presents in Whoville, but as a parent, you may decide to have a conversation or two about it.

The second issue is that depending on how young your kids are, there are a few ‘bad guys’ here and there that may scare them a bit. There’s nothing really scary, but Clockwerk is pretty menacing, and the ‘flashlight guards’ (elephants, warthogs, moose, wolves, rats, etc.) provide some tension when you need to stay out of the light to avoid detection.

With apologies for a mild spoiler, Bentley gets hurt during the game’s finale (nothing graphic, of course), which, although they defeat the bad guys, is purposely left open-ended for Sly 3. Again, depending on how young your kids are, if they’ve formed a bond with our intrepid trio, they may be a little upset by this.

Finally, as I touched upon earlier, Sly, Murray & Bentley are orphans. While it’s not a part of the gameplay at all, it is mentioned in one of the early cut-scenes, so be prepared to answer a query from your inquisitive children. Or just distract them with something shiny (or baked goods) for those few seconds. Entirely up to you.

Overall, your kids will love this game. My kids don’t necessarily incorporate every character from every video game into their real-world playtime, but along with Ratchet & Clank and Miyamoto-san’s cast of characters at Nintendo, Sly, Murray & Bentley are on the short list of characters they like to pretend to be.

Bottom Line (literally): Playing Sly 2: Band of Thieves is like exploring the inside of a comic book...and a great one at that.


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