Fellating the Raccoon

9 04 2010

Bet you didn’t expect to hear that, did you?

In contrast to this week’s earlier hate-filled rant, I felt like writing a b-b-b-bonus entry in this here blag, this time about something that makes me happy. This time, I’ll be writing about one of my favorite games of all time, Sly 2: Band of Thieves.

The PlayStation 2 was a haven for video games. Fondly recalled as one of the best gaming consoles (typically right after the SNES), it had its fill of just about every genre under the sun: RPG, Sports, Strategy, Racing, Fighting, Platforming, you name it, the PS2 had it. It was also home to some of the most memorable games, characters and experiences of any console. For me, one of the best games I ever played was found in this neat little system, and that game was Sly 2: Band of Thieves.

Now, I know it’s a sequel. No, when I first played it, I had not played the first game. I went into it armed with research and reading a rather glowing review from EGM, so I knew what I was getting into. The game’s graphics were mesmerizing to me, the style was great and the characters seemed to jump out of the screens. I marched down to my local game store and picked it up sometime in September 2004, the month it came out. I was blown away. Now, the game wasn’t without its criticisms, despite a very good Metacritic average . Most who looked at the game had one of two complaints: It looked kiddy, or it looked like it was for furries.

The game's cover. OHGODFURRIES!

For starters, sure, the game is “kiddy.” I’ll admit that in some respects, it could be. It has an E rating and it doesn’t exactly push the envelope of what you’d expect from this sort of game. It’s got your typical cartoon violence (that is, no blood, enemies simply vanish when defeated) but this game just oozes style. As you can tell from the cover, the game very smartly chose to use cel-shading for its graphics. I say smartly because this game will forever look pretty, it will forever be stylish. A game like Ratchet and Clank or Jak and Daxter (two comparable platformers for the PS2) may have had their own styles, but they chose “real” graphics instead, and look pretty ugly by today’s standards.

Seriously, how can you not love this?

But enough about the graphics of the game, those should speak for themselves for anyone who’s at least seen the game in motion. The gameplay is as solid as… something solid. A lug nut? I don’t know. It’s a 3-D platformer, as was the style of the time, and it played like a dream. In the first game, you were only allowed to play as the titular Sly (Cooper), who controls like one would expect a raccoon to. He was quick, he was agile, and he used his shepherd’s crook to bash enemies when he needed to. What set 2 apart from the first game though was its structure. 2 opted for a more open-world structure, divided into eight distinct worlds. Each world was filled to the brim with enemies, each had 30 collectible bottles (if you found all 30 in the level you would unlock a new move for Sly) and little waypoints were located on the map that you would go to to start a mission.

However, perhaps the biggest difference between the first game and this was allowing players to control Sly’s cohorts, Bentley the turtle and Murray the hippo. In the first game, these two were simply supporting characters, stuck in the Cooper Van to instruct Sly on when and where to go, helping only in the cutscenes. In 2, they become fully controllable with their own distinct sets of strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Murray, the muscle of the group, was slower and less agile than Sly, but he was far tougher, able to defeat even the strongest enemies with ease.

Murray in action.

Playing as Murray felt like something of a treat when compared to playing as the weaker Sly and Bentley. You felt powerful, and his slowness was never really a handicap.

However, the most interesting character to play as was easily Bentley, the brains of the operation. At first, it’s easy to dismiss Bentley as a typical, clichéd geek type character. He’s meek, he’s shy, he’s weak and he’s always the first to complain in any situation.  However, halfway through the game, Bentley goes through a rather large character arc. Sly and Murray are captured, and it’s up to Bentley to conquer his fears, fight his demons and rescue his pals (all after learning to drive a stick shift, which is no easy task!).

The game’s story revolves around the KLAW gang, a sinister group of evil-doers that are diametrically opposed to the Cooper family. The Cooper family has a rich history of thievery, dating back about as far as history goes, and they have always been opposed by these adversaries. In the end of the first game, the Cooper gang defeat Clockwerk, a gigantic owl kept immortal by its burning hatred of the Cooper lineage. They manage to defeat it and scatter its mechanical parts throughout the world.

Enter the second game, where the Cooper gang must track down and destroy these parts once and for all. The game starts out in Paris, takes you to the deep jungles of India, the wilds of Canada, the spooky castles of Transylvania and finally, a blimp floating high above Paris. The enemies in this game are all memorable and distinct, and rarely act out of malice, instead acting out of greed. You see, the Clockwerk parts are great for business. The razor-sharp tail feathers are perfect for cutting counterfeit money, while the mechanical heart makes the perfect pump for spice, and so on.

Adding to the game’s style is its incredible sense of humor. The characters talk back and forth during the missions, and it’s in this that you get some of the best dialog in the game. Sly is an incredibly suave, confident thief, just as you’d expect. Murray chooses to act as “The Murray,” a superhero-esque identity he thought up himself, and Bentley begins as a very meek and frankly annoying individual that blossoms into his own strong character later on.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fGdkJTvwro The game’s intro. Sorry again, WordPress is being lame and not embedding the video.

Anyway, I could go on for hours, literal hours, talking about how much this game means to me and how great I think it is. It’s not the best game in the world, not by a long shot. It has its share of flaws, and yes, the game is pretty easy, especially for someone who has played one or two platformers before. But you know what, none of that holds it back in my book. The easiness just allows the game to be played leisurely without the player getting frustrated. The style and humor never cease to amaze and crack me up and the game is just fun to play, through and through. It’s always a treat, it’s a diamond in the rough, forgotten gem, whatever you want to call it. I recommend absolutely everyone at least give it a shot, because who knows, you may love it too.

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