CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There's a certain amount of trepidation that arises any time a beloved video game franchise changes developers. History has shown that for every smooth transition, such as 343 Industries taking over the "Halo" series for Bungie and releasing the excellent "Halo 4," there are missteps along the way, like when Obsidian put out the disappointing "Fallout: New Vegas" after taking the reins from "Fallout 3" developer Bethesda.
Sony's popular "Sly Cooper" franchise is the latest to undergo such a shift, with Sanzaru Games taking over for series creator Sucker Punch. But unlike most cases, Sanzaru wasn't simply given "Sly Cooper" - it actively sought out the long-dormant series. The result of that pursuit is "Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time," the fourth entry in the "Sly Cooper" franchise and the first new release in nearly eight years. It is also a fantastic return to form for one of gaming's iconic characters and one of the most enjoyable pure platformers of this console generation.
"Thieves in Time" continues the story of master thief Sly Cooper, his band of loyal partners in crime Murray and Bentley, and love interest Carmelita Fox. Picking up not long after the events that unfolded in Sly's last outing, "Honor Among Thieves," the gang reunites to discover why pages of the Thievius Raccoonus -- a book that contains all of the secrets of the Cooper family -- are mysteriously disappearing. In order to recover the pages and preserve the Cooper legacy, Sly and Co. travel back in time, unraveling the mystery with the help of some of Sly's more infamous relatives.
The time-traveling aspect of the story allows Sanzaru to flex its creative muscle, designing gorgeous backdrops for Sly's latest adventure. You'll travel to such unique locales as ancient Japan, the Old West and medieval England, meeting some of the series' trademark colorful characters along the way. Each of Sly's ancestors has their own special talents, adding to Sly's already impressive repertoire of sneaking and jumping.
Thankfully, "Thieves in Time" doesn't stray too far from the series' hallmark stealth-based game play, placing an emphasis on avoiding detection and direct combat. The controls are tight and responsive, a must in a game such as this that places a premium on timed jumps and subtle movements. From a game play standpoint, the levels are fantastic, with plenty of room for exploration and Sly's patented platforming. There are numerous bottles and treasures to collect, and those with a PlayStation Vita can use the handheld to locate hidden items.
Speaking of the Vita, "Thieves in Time" is part of Sony's brilliant cross-buy promotion, meaning gamers get the game on both the PS3 and Vita for one price. Saves can be transferred between the systems, and the game feels just as well on the handheld as it does on the home console, save for longer load times and a minor hit in graphical quality.
Load times are an issue on the PS3, too, but it's nothing gamers haven't experienced before. My only real gripe about "Thieves in Time" involves the hacking mini-games that require you to use DualShock 3's motion-sensing abilities. I understand the need to break up the core game play, especially in a lengthy game such as "Thieves in Time," but the controls were tough to master and caused much frustration for my kids and I. Thankfully those sections weren't abundant and didn't take away from the overall fun we were having.