It might be more than seven years since we last saw Sly Cooper in action, but not a whole lot has changed in the weird world of wise-cracking raccoons, turtles, and hippos.
For reasons not worth dwelling on, the gang is forced to get back together one more time to maintain the legacy of the infamous Thievius Raccoonus book. This time, Sly, Bentley, and Murray wind up on a time-travelling adventure that takes in the Wild West, Feudal Japan, Paris, medieval England, Ancient Arabia, and pre-historic times.
The locations have changed, new playable characters have entered the fray, and a multitude of new abilities have been added, but Thieves in Time remains resolutely consistent with the previous titles in Sony's routinely overlooked platforming series.
Whether that's a good thing or not depends entirely on how much you enjoyed the PS2 originals, or the more recent HD remakes on PS3.
Personally, I always thought Sucker Punch deserved far greater recognition, and I'd place all three of the Sly games right up there with any of the more celebrated (and more commercially successful) Ratchet or Jak games of the era.Taking the baton
With its beautiful cel-shaded visuals, challenging-but-fair level design, superb controls, and sharp banter, it felt very much like a thinking-person's platformer - and Thieves in Time picks up the baton seamlessly.
Despite development duties being handed to Sanzaru Games, it's impossible to see the join. The added visual prowess of the Vita and PS3 have allowed the team to move away from the cel-shaded visual signature, but apart from that this looks and feels every bit as charming as it ever did.
As with all the Sly titles, the game sees you engaging in a sequence of quickfire tasks to scope out the activities of certain key enemies. The formula repeats itself throughout the game, where Sly has to creep around doing stealthier jobs, before giving way to Bentley's hacking and Murray's brawling prowess.
To add to the variety, though, each of the game's five main worlds throws in an extra playable character, allowing Sanzaru room to explore different game mechanics and one-off mini-games.
For example, playing as Bob Cooper, Sly's caveman ancestor, has you engaging in a series of quckfire training missions to get him back in shape, while the Wild West's Tennessee Kid Cooper focuses firmly on his six-shooter and rail-grinding skills.Stay fresh
This pot-pourri of occasionally used game mechanics helps keep the experience fresh, and ensures that Thieves in Time never settles into the kind of monotonous rut that's the bane of many a promising title.
But while the game's never afraid to throw new mechanics in your direction, it rarely presents you with much of a challenge. Much of your progress through Thieves in Time feels like a procession, with generous auto-aiming and dim enemy AI the order of the day.
It's not until the inevitable boss battles that a real test emerges - and even then you'll emerge unscathed after a few attempts. Frustration might be at a minimum, but it comes at the cost of genuine satisfaction. You'll chip through the game quite happily, but without really breaking sweat.
Want to know what definitely is great, though? Cross Play. For the week or so I spent playing the first new Sly Cooper title in over seven years, I've spent most of it road-testing Sony's strangely unheralded new feature that allows you to play the game on both the PS Vita and PS3 for one all-inclusive price.Value pack
Happily, it's one of those initiatives that's every bit as good in practice as it sounds, and gives you the very welcome ability to enjoy the game wherever you may be. For players with possibly limited game time at home, being able to whip out the Vita and pick up from where you left off is an absolute godsend.
Unlike certain Cross Play games we've tested to date, synching progress between systems in Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a flawless process. You simply upload your progress to the cloud when you're done playing, and download it on the other system once you're ready to resume. Easy.
The seamlessness of the Cross Play implementation is really important in a title like this, because of its quickfire, piecemeal design.
Anyone familiar with the 'snacky' nature of handheld gaming will definitely appreciate this, and it makes the restless, fragmented approach work much better than if it were a typical home console game. You can just pick it up for ten minutes, complete a job, and make similar incremental progress over dozens of sessions.
Given that some retailers are offering Sly Cooper for a shade under £20, die-hard platformers are getting a real bargain. If more PS3 games were to offer a cross-compatible PS Vita version free of charge, it won't be long before people see the Vita in a very different light.