Ape Escape is a great example of a budget-priced game that doesn’t skimp on features just because it’s inexpensive. There’s plenty of fun, unique PlayStation Move-controlled action to be had in Ape Escape, and the game offers up a fair challenge along with plenty of replay value.
While the number of gadgets and subsequent variety in gameplay are somewhat limited and the graphics don’t do justice to the PlayStation 3’s hardware, Ape Escape is one of the better Move games currently available and provides child-friendly entertainment from start to finish.
The Ape Escape series began back in 1999 on the original PlayStation and was the first game on the console to require a DualShock or Dual Analog controller to play. It was renowned for making innovative use of both analog sticks, and the pesky apes with coloured lights on their heads went on to appear in numerous sequels as well as a mini-game in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.
Ape Escape was created for the PlayStation Move motion controller and is a very different breed of game from its predecessors. You’re still tasked with catching a variety of outlandish and aggressive apes from Space with your monkey net, but the game in now on rails – automatically moving you from one scene to the next once an area has been cleared of the crafty critters. There are also plenty of other ‘targets’ that need to be destroyed rather than captured, however, such as UFOs and octopuses.
Your slingshot and ‘smasher’ (a hand fan-like object) prove their worth in these situations, and when the difficulty significantly ramps up in later levels you’ll constantly be switching between your monkey net and slingshot in order to shoot down the barrage of projectiles coming your way and catch some apes when the opportunity presents itself during a lull in fire.
Unsurprisingly, bananas play a large role in gameplay as they fill up a portion of your life bar when shot or touched. They are scattered around each level in bunches of variable size, and appear in abundance as you automatically move between ape-filled areas. When it’s time to net yourself some monkeys they will charge at you, and if you miss them with your net they will steal a bunch of bananas as they make a hasty retreat. If you don’t shoot the bunch in time they will gobble it up and it will be gone for good. This is a clever gameplay mechanic which significantly increases the sense of urgency you feel when the apes run at you.
You’ll also need to use your slingshot to shoot apes who aren’t too interested in your monkey-netting antics. Each monkey has a coloured light on top of its head, with blue meaning ‘not alerted to your presence,’ yellow meaning ‘alerted to your presence’ and red meaning ‘attack!’ Since you need to catch every monkey in an area to initiate the next phase of the level you’ll want to incite these apes to violence and then quickly catch them as they get within range of your net.
The Move controls in Ape Escape work very well. Your motions are tracked in a true one-to-one ratio on-screen and there’s no lag whatsoever. You can hold the Move in either hand and cycle through your inventory by pressing the ‘Move’ button, and actions such as shooting your slingshot are performed by aiming using an on-screen reticule and using the Move’s trigger. You can also rotate the camera slightly to the left or right during the monkey-catching phase by pressing ‘X’ or ‘Circle’ respectively. These actions are actually required when some of the apes try to charge you from the side.
Unfortunately the gameplay in Ape Escape is missing a couple of ingredients that would have made the experience a lot more worthwhile. There’s no co-operative play in Story Mode which is a shame considering this is a staple of the rail shooter genre. There’s also no point at which a path branches in each level, so the experience feels very linear as a result. It would have been nice to have more ‘weapons’ at your disposal, as this was one of the best features of the old Ape Escape games.
Instead you’re limited to just a few inventory items during the course of your adventure, and because there’s a definite sense as you progress that the apes are getting more powerful, you’re left feeling just as weak and under-equipped as ever. Another gripe I have with the game is that you have to start the entire level again if you die. This is very, very frustrating and the type of thing that makes you want to abandon the game altogether when you fail one of the later levels for the umpteenth time.
People who are hoping to earn themselves an easy platinum trophy by buying Ape Escape for a mere $20 (about R140) will be disappointed to learn that a 100% completion status will only net you a gold trophy.
There are other aspects of the game that make it a worthwhile time investment, such as the nine included mini-games, some of which can be played with a friend using a standard wireless controller. Ape Escape also has online leaderboard support for the Story Mode’s fifteen stages, and there are 777 monkeys to catch in total. These can be viewed in a compendium which shed some interesting light on each one’s likes and dislikes. Some of the apes are modelled after famous movie stars or politicians so it’s quite funny to spend some time browsing the good-humoured entries.
Ape Escape’s music is jazzy and upbeat, and matches the varied pace of the game well. The game has a colourful, uncluttered menu design and presentation, and the largeness of the different icons is perfectly suited to the Move controller. Unfortunately the graphics are more akin to a Wii title – featuring flat, low resolution textures and simple geometry. On a positive note, the game runs nice and smoothly and the bloom effects used in the city/night time levels help to give it a ‘next-generation’ look.
Ape Escape may play very differently to its predecessors but the fun and quirky spirit of those games remains intact. This is one of the best singleplayer experiences for the Move and something which is both thoroughly engaging and easy to pick up and play. If silly monkeys ever descend upon Earth in an armada of silver UFOs, at least Ape Escape experts will have the know-how to eliminate this new threat to humanity!