You know how it's impossible to listen to "Don't Fear the Reaper" without hearing the cowbell in the foreground? "Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time" is kinda like that. Despite a quality foundation and high production values, a few annoying quirks that you hardly notice at first are eventually all you can think about.

One is the nonstop stream of unfunny jokes. You play as a bunch of characters, from a raccoon thief who specializes in sneaking and platforming, to a turtle who gets around in a rocket-propelled wheelchair and throws grenades, so the game isn't lacking in variety. But no matter who you're playing as, you can't escape the punny play-by-play. It's as though instead of calling out "Yahoo," Mario repeatedly said, "I just gave that turtle shell shock." What is this, "Sly Cooper: John Madden in Time"?

Another annoyance is the camera. Sly and his gang are traveling through time to save his ancestors, hitting up places such as feudal Japan and medieval England, and the charming, cartoonish environments are something out of a Disney movie. But just like how the game developers don't trust you to appreciate the game without a play-by-play, they don't trust you to look correctly at the world they've created. The game feels a bit like a junior version of the highly cinematic "Uncharted" series. It gives you big open environments to explore, then forces you down a particular path so it can set up the most dramatic camera angles.

The game also feels a bit like the "Lego" games based on the "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" and franchises, in that there's a whole lot of smashing random things in the environment -- trash cans, flower pots, whatever -- to collect coins. It's a sure sign a development team has run out of ideas when your most common task is walking up to an inanimate object and hitting the attack button.

'Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time'
» System: PS3, Vita
» Price: $39.99, $29.99 Vita
» Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

One can only hope the series' original developer, Sucker Punch, since moved on to the "inFamous" series, will return to the raccoon and his pals. Maybe Sucker Punch will shut up the characters and let the game speak for itself.