The Sly Collection Vita Review: Mario and MGS collide on a handheld
I’m somewhat of an oddity in the console ownership landscape -- I missed out on the PS2 and PS3, but I own a Vita and a PS4. That’s probably more and more common with younger audiences, but for me it was an unfortunate gap in my gaming knowledge. I decided in the last year or so to catch up on all the Sony classics I missed out on, and thanks to HD re-releases and collections it’s been pretty painless. Now The Sly Collection has come along on Vita, giving me another beloved franchise to play -- and in portable form to boot. So how is the transition?
First of all, it’s important that I commend Sanzaru Games on their work with The Sly Collection. You don’t need to be a longterm Sony fan to see the difference between Sanzaru’s work here and the port jobs The God of War Collection and Jak and Daxter Collection received on Vita. Sly 2 and 3 especially, running on the Vita OLED at full resolution and a stable framerate, makes it irrelevant that they are PS2 re-releases. If you’ve never played these games they feel right at home on the Vita. God of War, by comparison, looks like a grainy YouTube video, whereas the Jak Collection dips into unplayable framerates.
What’s perhaps even more important is the thought, love, and care that went into translating these games to the Vita’s control scheme. My playthrough of God of War 1 and 2 was marred by the developer’s decision to place the grab/interact button on the Vita’s rear touch pad, an issue that made a few late game puzzles unnecessarily difficult. Here, with the Sly games, the button placement is so intuitive that you’d never think these were originally PS2 games. The rear touch is only used to show you where your next objective is, so even if you unintentionally press it, there’s no harm done.
If you’ve never played the Sly series its worth noting that in my recent experience, and even among fans of the franchise, the games didn’t really find themselves until Sly 2 came along. The first Sly Cooper game contains the thieving/stealthy themes the series is known for and the Saturday morning cartoon-vibe that makes the games so approachable, but it wastes those qualities with by-the-numbers platforming gameplay and infuriating mini-games. The one-hit kills add to the frustration, but it’s the over-reliance on half-hearted racing and shooting mini-games that left me scratching my head. You’ll get the first chapter in the story with Sly 1, but the game is a really unfun, pain in the ass. If you skipped it, I wouldn’t blame you.
That may sound like a condemnation of the entire collection, but Sly 2 really brings it. This sequel fully realizes the blend of light-hearted tactical espionage and cartoon-styled platforming that the first game promised. Especially now, with so many Metal Gear games out there, Sly 2 plays out like a wonderful spoof of that series’ tropes. You’ve got everything from codec conversations, to stealth kills, sleep darts, crawling under tanks, sneaking through vents, extracting prisoners, and hiding in barrels instead of cardboard boxes. You’ll shadow targets from the rooftops, take recon photos, and sabotage enemy weaponry. The only thing the game skips is the brutal melodrama -- instead, Sly Cooper’s cast of characters go on an episodic adventure that’s perfect for kids.
Sly 2 alone left me with such a smile on my face, that by the end of the game’s 16-hour adventure I felt it had justified the collection’s $30 asking price. It’s an instant classic for me, even if I had to endure it’s lame predecessor to get to it. If you’ve already played the games I can assure you this is a quality adaptation, but I can’t stress what a treat Sly 2 was to play for the first time.
Sly 3, developed and released only a year after the release of Sly 2, is more of an incremental update than the complete overhaul that Sly 2 was. It’s the bigger and more badass sequel, with larger environments and more characters. If Sly 2 isn’t enough, then Sly 3 inoffensively doubles the size of the adventure for you. It might not strike the same perfect balance that puts Sly 2 into my top games of all time, but it’s still a game worth your time, even years after its release.
Consider the review score here a reflection of the quality of Sly 2 and 3, and the epic work that Sanzaru did in bringing those games to Vita. Had this simply been a review of Sly 2 in HD, I’d have no choice but to award the game a 9.5 or 10. But even when bookended by two lesser games, Sly 2 shines through in this collection as an immediate must-play.
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