Earlier in the summer, PlayStation developer Sucker Punch revealed that despite months of rumors saying otherwise, no one—not themselves or another developer—were working on a follow up to either the Sly Cooper or Infamous franchises. With the studio now focused on what’s most likely a Ghost of Tsushima sequel, the two franchises that helped it establish a presence as a top tier PlayStation developer are on ice, and will likely remain that way for another couple of years. And while normally such news would ultimately be disappointingly unsurprising, this stings just a little bit more than usual because the Sly franchise is now 20 years old.
Sly Cooper & the Thievius Raccoonus released on the PlayStation 2 on September 23, 2002. The titular Sly Cooper hails from a family of master thieves and, with the help of his crew—Bentley, a brain turtle and Murray, the hippo wheelman—travels around the world to recover the pages of his family’s titular tome from the gang who killed his dad and left him an orphan. Like most games back then starring an animal protagonist, Sly was a platformer; each of the game’s five hub zones contained levels where a key awaited at the end that would be used to get Sly to fight the zone’s boss and recover a page from his family book. Those pages would then lead to a new mechanic to enhance his thief repertoire.
Despite reviews praising it as a solid platformer, the game didn’t sell terribly well at first, but eventually sold enough copies to join PlayStation’s “Greatest Hits” lineup. With that success came two sequels, both of which sold and reviewed equally well enough: 2004's Band of Thieves made Bentley and Murray completely playable characters (swapped out via a safehouse in each location) with their own missions as the trio pulled off a series of heists across the gloe. Honor Among Thieves, the trilogy closer that released in 2005, had the trio expand their gang to reach the vault of the Cooper lineage, though those characters could only be played for a handful of missions in specific circumstances.
The biggest issue the Sly franchise ended up having was that it was frequently overshadowed by its brothers in arms, Insomniac Games’ Ratchet & Clank and Naughty Dog’s Jak & Daxter. Despite the three franchises being lumped in together due to their shared status of beginning as standard platformers, Sly was basically the outlier of the trinity, not helped by Jak and Ratchet being geared towards slightly older audiences. Even as their protagonists were respectively a mute (at first) elf with a chatty weasel on his shoulder and a cat with a talking backpack, those franchises’ focus on guns, some raunchy humor, and a Teen rating were more enticing compared to the E for Everyone adventures of a raccoon who does crimes with a turtle and a hippo.
But while the Sly Cooper franchise didn’t have the edge of its peers, it made up for this in style. It was the way the games fully embraced being a cartoon by calling each location an “episode,” complete with a splashy card and title like you were watching a cartoon after you got home from school. Along with cel-shaded cutscenes that gave a brief rundown on the villain, who was usually some average person that decided to turn to crime out of pure spite, it was the little things like comic book sound effects popping up as enemies were defeated or how footsteps would be accentuated by guitar plucks when sneaking up behind guards or along rooftops. Even as stealth and crime games have remained fairly in favor in the industry, there isn’t anything like Sly Cooper out there right now.
After Honor Among Thieves wrapped a bow on the trilogy, things got...weird for the franchise. Sucker Punch entered the PlayStation 3 era with its superhero saga Infamous, and the question of if the studio would ever return to Sly was answered once and never came up again. In 2013, Sanzaru Games brought the series back with Thieves in Time, which was...fine, from what I remember, but I certainly didn’t play it as much as I did those earlier games. The following year saw a trailer for a CG movie adaptation from Rainmaker and Blockade Entertainment that honestly still looks pretty good. (Except Murray, something about his proportions and face feel off.) Sadly, it was a movie that slowly fell apart before eventually being cancelled, thanks in part to the box office failure of Rainmaker’s Ratchet & Clank movie.
So where does that leave the franchise now? On a game front, currently iced, as previously stated; but there’ve been rumblings in recent years about a TV show in production from PlayStation Studios. Given how hard Sony’s trying to get their games to small and silver screens—they’re doing a Gravity Rush movie, of all things, after shutting down the studio that created that series—it wouldn’t be out of the question, nor would it be entirely unwelcome, given how Sly has television basically encoded into its DNA. But as much as I’d look forward to that, I think I’d rather a new Sly game first. Like how Rift Apart served as a reminder of what made Ratchet & Clank so special, it would feel wrong to bring back the Cooper Gang without giving them another chance to steal players’ hearts through a new game.
You can play the Sly games via streaming if you’ve got the Premium tier of PlayStation Plus.
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