What do you get when you combine cartoon characters, Simon Templar, and solid platforming action? One devious Thevious Raccoonus. Sly Cooper & The Thevious Raccoonus, to be precise.

One criticism of the PS2 console from certain quarters has been its

lack of any decent platform titles. Games such as Jax & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank have helped alleviate this condition somewhat, and Sly Cooper goes a step further, giving platform gamers something to sink their teeth into.

You are Sly Cooper, a young raccoon lad who is the last remaining

member of a long line of accomplished master thieves. When you were but a scant eight years old, your family was murdered and your house ransacked by a cartel of crime bosses known as The Fiendish Five. They took your family's manual of advanced thieving techniques, the Theivious Raccoonus, and split it amongst themselves, going their separate ways to build their criminal empires. Years later... it's up to you and your two friends to get it back and put an end to their crime spree... if you don't get caught by Inspector Carmelita

Fox first!

On the surface, this game might seem like another ho-hum 'run around

and collect items to get The Widget Of Yendor' type of game, but once I got into it I found it to be great fun. The cel-shaded graphics lend to the comic-book feel of the plot, and really allow you to suspend disbelief for a time... I didn't put it down at my first sitting until my stomach growled loud enough to rattle my ribs! The visuals in the game are almost flawless, with the backgrounds looking as if they could've come straight out of a Tex Avery classic, and the character animations are startlingly fluid, considering the style. Sly's tail even twitches, swishes, and reacts almost as one might well expect from a critter of his species.

You start the game atop the roof of police headquarters. Your mission: Sneak into the office of Inspector Fox and swipe the file containing the information on the Fiendish Five. Once this is done, there's an in-game cut scene where the Inspector confronts you, then starts taking pot-shots at you with her paralysis gun, as you haul ass for the getaway van in the parking lot below. Once you've made your getaway, the game begins in earnest, with an animated cut scene detailing the plotline, and the lead up to the first mission. Fox makes several more appearances in the game, including one fairly challenging sequence where you must run, jump, and haul ass away from her as she shoots the ground out from under you in a dilapidated casino.

Game-play is solid, with enough variation on the 'hunter-gatherer' theme to keep things interesting. Of course, there's the typical gold coins to collect, but coupled with this are clue bottles which, if you gather all of them in a given level, can help you unlock a vault on that level which will grant you thieving techniques, map data, or other bonuses... not that finding all of these clues is particularly easy at times. Fortunately, after completing a given level, you can go back to pick up items you missed earlier. The spare lives are done in a different way as well... collect 100 coins, and you get a lucky horseshoe, which will absorb a hit and spare you from demise. Collect another hundred, and your lucky charm turns from silver to gold, giving you a two-hit defence. After that, each hundred coins will

convert into a spare life to augment the five you start with. If you

lose all lives, you merely restart at the beginning of the level, rather than the last checkpoint you cleared.

Sly's main weapon is his cane, with which he can collect items by

swiping at them with it, or alternately use it to grab onto hooks and ropes overhead for climbing or swinging over obstacles. Of course, whacking opponents with it works as well. Stealth also plays a part in the game, as certain foes have searchlights... step into the light, and they blow the whistle, attracting others to you as they attempt to wallop you into submission. Similarly, there are alarm systems you must circumvent or feel your way through, including search beams, laser-tripwires, and pressure-sensitive floors which if triggered, turn deadly.

The action is broken up by several mini-games throughout the levels,

including an initially amusing one where you must run over piranhas in a swamp boat, which fuels a flamethrower that you must then light twenty-five tiki torches with to win the level. Others involve racing, top-down shooting, and perhaps the most hilarious one, "Whack The Chickens."

The boss fights are interesting, much more so than mere 'hit the boss

until he falls down' encounters. Possibly the most enjoyable one is when you run up against Mz. Ruby, where the game pays homage to Pa-Rappa the Rapper and Um Jammer Lammy... to get to Mz. Ruby, you must play a game of "Simon says," matching the patterns she throws at you to avoid being hit, so you can get close enough to give her a stout caning for the trouble.

Sly Cooper's audio is spot-on as well, with cartoon like sound effects that match the graphics. (My personal favorite is the "*WIBBLE!*" sound Sly makes when electrocuted.) The music sets the mood for a given level fairly well, with different areas represented by different tunes... the voodoo swamps of Mz. Ruby are sound-tracked by a haunting, spooky dirge, while the Oriental mountain ranges of the Panda King are backed by something that sounds appropriately kung-fu. The voice-overs are sometimes over-the-top, but that's forgivable, given the style of the title... although I do wish sometimes that I could slap a gag on Sly's geeky pal Bentley.

If I have any complaints about this game, it might lie in some of the

mini-games, which while initially amusing, can sometimes turn out to be frustrating, especially since you have to complete them in order to progress. In particular, the racing one can be annoying, as you have to win a race against a bunch of souped-up racing dragsters in a beat-up panel van, with the controls being a bit 'loose' at best. It also is a bit on the short side, although some of the replayability features like the "Master Thief Sprints" make up for it. It also is fairly linear once you get into a level, although that is to be expected from platformers... fortunately, if you get stuck, you can exit the level, and go back to the 'hub' map for the mission, select another area, and come back later.

Overall, Sly Cooper is a very enjoyable game, even if you aren't a big platform fan. It has enough variety, humour, and action to keep the interest of all but the most jaded gamers, without going so over the top or being so difficult as to dissuade casual players. Definitely worth a buy if you're a fan of the genre.