Sly Cooper's failure to become a great platforming icon is one of the biggest gaming sob stories of the past decade.
Despite developer Sucker Punch coming up with arguably one of gaming's finest trilogies, all three titles failed to excite a sleepy buying public, and the brand was mothballed for an entire generation.
But everyone connected with the series must have realised that it was worth giving Sly another shot. So, following on from Sanzaru Games's excellent HD-enhanced Sly Trilogy collection on PS3, Sony has tasked the same studio to pick up from where Sucker Punch left off with an all-new adventure set after the conclusion of 2005's Sly 3: Honour Among Thieves.
The trusty Thievius Raccoonus has been lost in time, and the old gang of Sly, Bentley, and Murray have to whizz off on a typically eccentric time-travelling adventure to retrieve the all-important book.
Armed with a complete preview build on PS Vita, we played through the opening three levels to get a taster of what to expect from the game, and came away thoroughly impressed by what Sanzaru has come up with.
Unlike a lot of the familiar brands that have been released on Vita to date, what you're getting with Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is a no-compromise version that looks and feels absolutely identical to the PS3 version.
The cartoony visual style has moved on subtly from the softer cel-shaded look of old to a crisper approach that takes full advantage of modern high-definition displays. That said, it still retains a similar feel, with vibrant, obstacle-laden environments to traverse and conquer.
More importantly, the gameplay is classic Sly, with its unique blend of daring platforming and creeping stealth. The early missions provide a good refresher course in the formula, with roaming sentries traipsing around, flashlights in hand.
As before, the environments offer numerous opportunities to shimmy up lamp posts and leap onto telephone wires.
The fleet-footed Sly can dance undetected past lumbering enemies without much trouble, but sometimes it's necessary to engage in some old-fashioned pick-pocketing to progress. Creeping up behind enemies and hooking their booty from their back pocket provides an instant reminder of the kind of sneaky tension that made the series a firm favourite.
But the latest Sly adventure isn't simply another generic exercise in mindless kleptomania. Yes, there are a bunch of hard-to-reach bottles to scoop up during your journey, but other gameplay elements drop in and out depending on the task at hand.
Early on, Sly has to do some reconnaissance, steal armour parts, and then suit up in order to disguise himself and circumvent the security system - at the expense of his lithe athleticism.
As the game progresses, these costumes will give him access to new abilities, and ensure a welcome degree of gameplay variety. Later on, Sly gains a time-slowing pirate suit, as well as a rope line-shooting archery outfit.
Once again, the other cast members also have their part to play, with the wheelchair-bound Bentley on hand to utilise his hacking skills, while Murray's brawn also comes in handy when cunning is not enough. Carmelita Fox and some of Sly's ancestors also become playable later in the game, all with their own unique sets of abilities.
As with all major Sony first-party releases, production values are absolutely top-notch throughout, and even the voice cast promises to be typically high quality, with the likes of Nolan North (Uncharted's Nathan Drake) and Grey DeLisle chipping in with the requisite energy.
So far, it's looking very promising for Sly Cooper's return, and the fact that it's one of Sony's first mainstream releases to take full advantage of its Cross Buy initiative is great news all-round. The upshot is that when you buy the game, you can play it on both PS3 or Vita.
Not only that, but it will also make use of Sony's excellent Cross Play system, which lets you upload your saves to the cloud, sync your progress, and continue from where you left off on the other format.
In these days of budget-conscious gamers accustomed to cheap smartphone offerings, it's these kinds of promotions that will ultimately coax players into getting on board with the PS Vita.
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is due for release on PS Vita and PlayStation 3 on February 5th in the US, and March 27th across Europe. Check back with us soon for our full review.