Video Game Review: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD [PS3]

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD [PS3]

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus HD
System: Playstation 3
Genre: Platform/Stealth
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sucker Punch Productions
Release Date: November 9, 2010 (original PS2 release: September 23, 2002)

Despite owning a Playstation 2 for most of the system’s lifespan, I missed out on a lot of its more popular titles. For one, I pretty much neglected the entire 3D platforming genre. Thankfully, Sony has been especially helpful in my quest to go back in time by releasing HD collections of all sorts of modern favorites. The first one to revisit: Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus.

I was initially ambivalent to check out the Sly Cooper series simply because of its cartoonish nature — I had written it off as a kid’s game, more or less. I couldn’t have been more wrong. While the Thievius Raccoonus can be enjoyed by all ages, there is a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay that will keep everyone coming back for more.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

In his quest to uncover his family’s “Thievius Raccoonus” book about stealing, the eponymous raccoon travels through five different areas, ranging from mountains in China to Haitian swamplands. He is aided by two trustworthy companions, the intelligent Bentley the Turtle (voiced with a poor man’s Harry Caray impression) and the dim-witted Murray the Hippo. There is also a love interest of sorts in the form of Carmelita Fox, a government agent who is actually trying to capture Sly.

Gameplay consists of a hybrid of platforming and stealth elements. Sly can be wiped out with just one hit from an enemy, so sneaking around can be crucial to level progression. Getting caught by a security camera will set off an alarm, causing any enemies nearby to swarm the area. There are ways around most security systems (helpfully shown by a dotted blue line), but it can be tricky to get by in some instances. For the most part, Sly Cooper is fairly easy, but there are occasionally frustrating moments that require expert jumping and dodging of obstacles to get anywhere. For me, there was just the right amount of challenge, but platforming pros may breeze through the campaign with minimal difficulty.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

Each locale is comprised of several levels, all of which have several clue bottles and coins scattered throughout. The coins act just as they do in Mario games — collect 100 for an extra life — but getting all of the bottles will provide Sly with bonus power-ups and features. These become especially handy in later levels, as some aid in jumping and combat. Each game world also has a handful of mini-games to spice things up, including go-kart racing and third-person shooting.

On the whole, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus offers a well-balanced campaign with fluid gameplay. I never ran into any trouble with the in-game camera — a problem I often have with the genre — and the mix of stealth/platforming is perfect. If anything, the game’s only real problem is that it is relatively short. The single player campaign can be finished in less than eight hours, though getting 100% can extend its shelf life a bit.

Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus

What makes Sly Cooper stand out from other like-minded platformers are its gorgeous cel-shaded graphics. The PS3’s upscaled HD rendition makes the colors even more vibrant, and the animations wouldn’t be out of place in a Looney Tunes cartoon. Adding to the attractive aesthetics are brilliant film noir-esque interludes that are perfectly in line with the game’s criminal roots.

As the first title in this highly-regarded series, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus has laid down some impressive groundwork. This bit of platforming fun was exactly what I needed to play recently, and for those looking for a diversion from today’s popular shoot ’em ups, you can’t go wrong with this. I can’t wait to play through the rest of the Sly Collection.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Fatal Frame [Playstation 2, 2002]

Fatal Frame [Playstation 2, 2002]

Fatal Frame
System: Playstation 2 (also on Xbox)
Genre: Survival Horror
Publisher: Tecmo
Developer: Tecmo
Release Date: March 4, 2002

When the scariest video games of all time are discussed, it never takes long for Tecmo’s Fatal Frame series to get brought up. This is a series that thrives on its haunting atmosphere, with mostly helpless protagonists faced against an endless onslaught of ghosts and general creepiness.

The original Fatal Frame takes place in an abandoned Japanese mansion. You play as Miku Hinasaki, a young woman who ventures to the mansion to look for her older brother, Mafuyu, who has been missing for two weeks. When she arrives, she realizes that the place is actually haunted, as old folklore stated, and she starts to uncover startling secrets about the family who once inhabited the home. Tales of gruesome murder and torture are unearthed, and now the mansion is crawling with ghosts. Seriously, they are EVERYWHERE, often appearing in places you would not expect.

Fatal Frame [Playstation 2, 2002]

The only way that Miku can combat the ghosts is by using the Camera Obscura, an antique camera that possesses the ability to damage and capture spirits. When an attacking ghost appears, Miku must keep it within the camera’s shot while waiting as long as possible before taking the picture, as this will maximize the damage. Of course, this is easier said than done since this means Miku will be face to face with disturbing ghosts that are moaning and trying violently to grab her and cause harm. It’s pretty damn crazy.

The camera can be upgraded over time, but the enemies grow stronger as well. Throughout the entire campaign, there is a vast feeling of uneasiness. Fatal Frame excels at keeping you on edge, as you never know what to expect. Ghosts randomly spawn all throughout the mansion, even as you backtrack through previously explored areas. Sometimes they will pop out when you open a door, other times they will just randomly appear behind you. The tension can be almost unbearable at times.

Fatal Frame [PS2]

Unfortunately, as the ghosts grow stronger and become more plentiful, the game’s difficulty spikes drastically. By the time I reached the last chapter, I was ill-suited to deal with the powerful spirits that just so happened to be in damn near every room and hallway. Perhaps I had been using medical herbs and high-powered film too liberally in the first half of the game, but I had a hell of a time making my way through the last chapter. Exploring the house in each chapter usually reaps dividends in the form of bonus items, but it’s hard to actually get to these when there are hellacious ghosts around every corner. I felt the game could have been more balanced overall, as this was a major inconvenience for me.

The game’s controls also take some getting used to. They are in the vein of Resident Evil’s old school survival horror, and the game uses fixed camera angles set up in each area. This can cause moments of disorientation when the camera abruptly switches to a different angle. Once I got the hang of it, this didn’t bother me, but I can see how it would be an issue for some.

Problems aside, Fatal Frame is still a damn good horror game that is more than worthy of its “scariest game ever” label. This is a game that deserves to be played in the dark with the sound turned way up. Try not to wet yourself when the music slowly builds up while you hear ghosts moaning in the walls. You know there’s a ghost (or two, or three) lingering around, but you have no idea where. This is the essence of Fatal Frame.

8/10

God of War II [Playstation 2, 2007]

God of War II

God of War II
System: Playstaton 2
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: March 13, 2007

WOW, now THIS is how you do a sequel! God of War II takes everything from its predecessor and increases it tenfold. After conquering Atlas in the first game, Kratos has taken over as the new God of War. Kratos’s bloodthirsty ways have not been kindly looked upon by the other gods, and the almighty Zeus has finally had enough and strips Kratos of his power. Now a down-and-broken man, Kratos sets off on the ultimate quest: to murder Zeus. A lofty task, to be sure, and the journey along the way is nothing short of incredible.

The original God of War is a great-looking game, but GOW2 is just beautiful (well, as beautiful as gory non-stop violence can be). The textures have been cleaned up admirably, and everything looks sharper as a whole. While I was impressed with the original GOW’s visuals, this is easily one of the best-looking games ever created for the PS2.

The game’s mechanics are largely the same. This is still a prominent hack ‘n slash brawler with platforming, puzzle and RPG elements. There are a handful of new traits that Kratos can acquire, such as the ability to glide and to fly atop the famed horse Pegasus, but the same principles remain. One of my biggest concerns with God of War was its lack of boss battles. This issue has been dramatically improved in GOW2. At the very beginning of the game, you are inserted into an epic battle against the massive Colossus, a boss fight that was forever immortalized by Penny Arcade. Boss battles are everywhere in this game, and some of them rank among the most memorable fights I have ever experienced in a video game. Some people complained about the first God of War’s length (about 8-10 hours). This has also been improved in GOW2, as now a typical campaign will last closer to 12+ hours. These enhancements really show that SCE Santa Monica listened to their fanbase, and you have to respect that.

God of War 2 has accomplished what sequels should do in the first place, and that is to improve upon as many aspects as possible. While I hesitate to say the game is “perfect” (there are still occasional camera issues, and some of the puzzles are absolutely frustrating), I would still consider GOW2 one of the best action/adventure games I have ever played, and it is easily among the best in the PS2’s gigantic library. Highly, highly recommended!

9/10

God of War [Playstation 2, 2005]

God of War [PS2]

God of War
System: Playstaton 2
Publisher: SCEA
Release Date: March 22, 2005

God of War is widely considered one of the best games on the now-hanging-on-a-thread Playstation 2 system. As a third-person action adventure game, God of War is certainly a strong offering. The game combines elements from all sorts of genres, including platform, puzzle and, to a lesser extent, RPGs. At its core, however, GoW is a hack ‘n slash brawler.

Users play as Kratos, a blood-thirsty Greek warrior with unbelievable strength who is on a revenge mission to kill Ares, the god of war. The story is simple, but as the game progresses it is easy to get behind the revenge plotine. The Greek mythological setting allows the game to provide some truly epic moments. Boss battles, although few and far in between, are incredibly intense, as there is nothing like taking on an opponent far bigger than Kratos. In order to slay bosses and some other tough enemies, users have to input certain buttons/joystick movements to match what is shown on screen. While some oppose these quick-time events, I found them to be satisfying since they help create a frantic atmosphere in the key moments of the game. There are dozens of memorable events in the game, and with an impressive soundtrack in the background, it truly feels as if you are partaking in something epic.

While God of War is a well-polished game (and easily one of the best-looking on the PS2), it does have a couple flaws that hold it back from being a masterpiece. As mentioned earlier, the boss battles are incredible yet there are only a few in the game. It would be nice to see more of them to break up the occasional monotony of entering a room, clearing it of enemies, and then repeating this over and over. Also, while the stationary camera angles are usually good enough, there are moments where they switch over at the most inopportune times. This doesn’t happen too often, but when it does it is frustrating. Overall, however, God of War is definitely an enjoyable experience and is one of the strongest hack ‘n slash games available on the PS2.

8/10