Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus
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(originally published July 27, 2011)
"If [Sly Cooper] The Thievius Raccoonus were a real eBook, its marked-down $99.99 price would crash the Amazon servers, this all after a 52-week stint as a bestseller with a sticker price of $firstborn."
The best videogame in the world is a mixture of Red Bull, vodka, smelly ink, velvety poetry, half of those good notes a jazzman isn't playing, and that one girl across the room. Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus is several of these things, retold as a music video. It is the best piece of fan fiction that you wrote based on your favorite Saturday morning cartoon, as edited by Paul Krugman. A lot of the time, you're re-enacting Walt Disney's bold, visionary remake of Shigeru Miyamoto's 1996 platformasterpiece Super Mario 64, and the rest of the time, you're Scotch-taping your older sister's cheap scarf to your lower back and waving a lacrosse stick, shouting: "Broken glass! Broken glass is the gift for the man who has everything!"
The point of Sly Cooper is to steal things you've stolen before but never had a good reason to -- until now. Now, you have a good reason to steal everything.You want to steal things because it's humanity's greatest thrill. You're not Robin Hood in Sly Cooper (you're a raccoon named Sly Cooper in Sly Cooper) but you do rob from deserving people. There is no doubt that you're smarter and craftier than they, so there ain't no doubt that you know the true, deserved value of what's formerly theirs and now futurely [sic] yours. It's a continuous thievery slip-and-slide. Some people go to the gym for no particular reason. Sly Cooper doesn't go to the gym; he erodes villains' treasure hoards. Sly Cooper is a wide river full of gambling boats, each owned by a bully, and your job is to leap from one to the next, deep silhouette illuminated sharp against the moon, until you stop having fun -- that will never happen! You get to bring your friends with you, who are your stuffed animals -- a Nobel Prize-winning tortoise and a carnival cotton-candy hippo -- come to life.
Games will often handcuff you to an umbrella, whereas Sly Cooper gives you a line of Arrakean Spice to snort and a bunch of houses to break into. Nothing in Sly Cooper is experimental anymore -- everything in Sly Cooper was experimental when you were a young kid, like when you were trying to talk yourself into trapping a live fox with a box, a stick, a jar of Skippy, and lightning-quick reflexes. Sly Cooper is made of powerful magnets. Nothing in the game is haunted by ghosts, friendly or otherwise. The music in Sly Cooper sounds like the album that George Clooney's Ocean's 11 character, Danny Ocean, would sheepishly ask his krav maga sensei to get him for his birthday -- on vinyl. The level design is akin to the moment you gazed at the ceiling during the first family wedding that attended when you were five, wondering how much weight the chandelier could hold and not wondering if anybody could ever have a chance of spotting you. Sly Cooper is sweet, juicy, filled with fun seeds for spitting now, and sticky fingers for un-sticking (and re-sticking) later. It's basically a watermelon. If you like laughing at jokes, you'll like Sly Cooper, because all notions of modern comedic structure becomes outdated when you see a raccoon in blue flirt with a gun-toting fox on a Parisian rooftop. No joke, staring at Sly Cooper's expansive vistas is identical to the sensation an archeologist gets when he punches his hand straight into an ancient Egyptian statue's stone chest and removes a ruby the size of a black bear's brain. "It was a fake," he nods at the wrecked statue. "But this stone belongs in a museum."
Sly Cooper is a tuxedo-justice dispensary. Black, white, creased, and styled alongside infinity. The only motivation to play the game is to keep stealing, which is the snappy glee of scraping ugly paint off of an old house you were just told: "Take it, it's yours, it's not worth anything. Never was, never will." With heavy gloves, Sly Cooper encourages you to rip creeping vines off of the old thing, a house that should have probably been torn down back around the turn of the century. There's no confusion over what needs to be done. The game employs straight-line logic and it's damning that anybody could have considered that shaky wandering is more fun than snatching up every glass-cased treasure in a museum's corridor.
No doubt you're wondering at this point if you could ever be uncomfortable while playing Sly Cooper. The answer is a predictable, convincing: "No." The answer isn't hard to reach. You don't raise your voice to declare it because the conviction in your heart convinces the doubters in a nanosecond. They won't doubt you ever again. They just won't. Sly Cooper doesn't cause you to lose sleep. It's a hunt for keys. It's 36 doors that you want to open. You will be powered by intrinsic compulsion and you've missed that feeling. Here is a game that has no business being so charming. In fact, if you had one-tenth of one percent of Sly Cooper's charm, you could lean against a wall at a senior week keg party, watch a girl across the room reciprocate her dream-boy's four-year crush, wait for her to catch your eye, and you'd ask in simple street-clothes seduction: "Wanna make out?" And she would want to make out.
First though, she would rip off the other guy's dick with her bare hands to show how serious she is.
Jumping from place to place in Sly Cooper is a type of short-range parachuting that couldn't exist in reality. Attacking enemies in Sly Cooper is whacking flimsy plants with a glassy flute made of bamboo that might break at any moment but doesn't. You'll do a lot of sneaking between vivid spotlights and stalking cartoon prey in Sly Cooper, a specific action you will become so practiced in that you'll stay up all night to write a screenplay pitch for James Cameron titled Predator Babies, insisting that you do all motion-capturing and snarly, purring voice-work yourself to maintain the creative vision. Nothing is uncomfortably animated in Sly Cooper, nothing is drawn incorrectly. There's a part near the end involving Chinese fireworks in a snowy pagoda when breathing in primary colors has become so easy that you don't think you can ever go back to breathing oxygen. The sky blows up, you punch a panda, and there's no doubt in your mind that your ancestors will be proud.
If The Thievius Raccoonus were a real eBook, its marked-down $99.99 price would crash the Amazon servers, this all after a 52-week stint as a bestseller with a sticker price of $firstborn.