Jeremy Jastrzab
05 Jul, 2011

Ape Escape Review

PS3 Review | Someone deserves a spanking after this.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The original Ape Escape was a charming, enjoyable and innovative platformer, that was among the first games to use the dual analog sticks on the then revolutionary Dualshock controller for the PlayStation One. Following the trilogy of successful and enjoyable platformers across the PS1 and PS2, these siren-capped monkeys seemed to forget about Darwin’s laws and devolve into spin-offs and mini game compilations, such as Ape Escape Academy for the PSP. Redemption for the once quirky and well-known franchise could have been at hand with this latest attempted revival - Ape Escape for the PlayStation 3.

The story is simple enough, though quaintly presented with some good quality Japanese animation. While the hero sits in his riverside house munching on pizza and watching the news, the crazy space monkeys invade earth and start causing their usual mischief. Apparently, the monkeys have been 'summoned' by these two girls and their grandmother, the latter who is looking for a space monkey named Specter. Because the protagonist is SO much more athletic than the girls, he’s enlisted to catch the monkeys so that the girls can work their way to Specter, using a device that rather uncannily resembles a Move controller but transforms into the Monkey Net. It’s not going to win any awards, but the story is quaint, feel good and serviceable enough for anyone happy to accept the anime sensibilities.

Just as the original Ape Escape was the pioneer and innovator for dual analog control, Sony had a golden opportunity to do the same with this PS3 iteration, possibly creating an innovative action-platformer with the Move controller. Instead, Sony has completely fluffed their chance to do so by releasing a rail-shooter packed with three mini games. And just like the majority of PlayStation Move exclusive titles out there, the title proves that there is very little wrong with the technology. No, instead it’s another in a long line of titles devoid of substance and in excess of appeal to the lowest common denominator. Rather than taking an innovative approach with the technology and showing how it can appeal to everyone, both the casuals and the core, Ape Escape does nothing that hasn’t been done in the first wave of casual Wii titles. And in this case, there are a few crucial factors that prevent it from even being a good title for the casual market...

OW! My dignity!

OW! My dignity!
As a rail-shooter, there are some nice ideas. Unfortunately, none of them come together coherently. Spread across fifteen levels, your job is to catch all the monkeys that come running at you to steal your bananas (the currency for your health and score bonuses), while also warding off numerous obstacles, such as UFOs, robots and random level specific paraphernalia. Each level is driven by the mini-boss battle finale to catch Specter, who is actually an imposter the first fourteen times. Overall though, the fifteen levels don’t actually spread more than half a dozen locales, so things become pretty familiar after a while. And despite being full of colour and vibrance, the levels are rather dull and plodding affairs.

Playing solely with the Move controller, it acts as a couple of different weapons in one. While you are standing still, you have the Monkey Net, a slingshot and Monkey Vacuum. While moving, you have a fan (to deflect projectiles and beat up stationary obstacles), the slingshot and a device that turns enemy obstacles into bananas. So essentially, you’re ferried from point to point, stopping at each to catch the wave of monkeys thrown at you. At these points, you use the controller to catch the monkeys as they come hurtling towards you with the intent of stealing your bananas. And it’s game if you lose them all. In between catching the monkeys in the net, you can use the slingshot to collect bananas that are around, or recover stolen ones if you’re quick enough. The Monkey Vacuum and banana converter both act as screen clearing 'last resorts', but are limited in their use until you find the batteries that power them.

Strange Monkey Vacuum. You should be afraid.

Strange Monkey Vacuum. You should be afraid.
So if the technology works, what’s so wrong with the game? It’s often a horrendously slow, plodding and frustrating experience, where the five or so hours that it takes to complete seem so much longer. The pacing of the game is completely off, so instead of coming across like a rollercoaster, it comes off more like a drive through heavy and inconsistent traffic. While it is possible to learn some patterns, you’re never likely to feel comfortable with some of the more dynamic sequences. And for a game that’s meant to be aimed at casuals, the later levels are pretty nasty to deal with. Speaking of nasty to deal with, the demands placed on the player to get gold medals in the level are way too excessive. It essentially demands that you be absolutely perfect with your capture combo, and maybe then you’ll get a bronze medal. But given the inconsistent, slow and plodding nature where each level feels a lot longer than it is, there isn’t even an incentive to try and aim for high scores.

There are three mini games to be unlocked as you play: ‘Mecha Tag Rally’, ‘Aim, Sling, Snipe!’ and ‘Sprayzer Defence Force’. And each mini game has three levels. For some reason, they ask for multiple players – where the first game can only be played with one player driving and the other shooting. The second is remotely interesting for a little while, as it requires you to spot monkeys similar to Where’s Wally? and can be played competitively. The last one plays a bit like tower defence, where you freeze monkeys before they're destroyed by the canon shots coming at intervals. It’s slightly admirable that these all try something different, but none are particularly compelling and really come off as ‘different for the sake of different’.

They are laughing at you. Not with you.

They are laughing at you. Not with you.
An advantage that a lot of the Kinect and Move specific games have had with their graphical styles has been remarkable cleanliness in presentation. If there is one genuinely impressive aspect of the game, it’s that it runs really well and that all the levels are full of vibrant and lively scenarios. The Ape Escape style complements this very nicely, and is one part of the franchise that remains intact. However, this dedication to style comes at the expense of complex details and there are often bits that will come across as bland and empty. Annoying monkey shrieks and cartoon sound effects suit the game well enough, while the soundtrack will get the job done without being particularly memorable.

Sony has done an abysmal job with providing endearing titles for the PlayStation Move. The technology itself is fine, great even, but so far there have been very, very few titles that come close to making it compelling. Ape Escape is the latest in a long line of titles that completely fails to really provide enough to draw in the players, while continuing the devolution of a once loved franchise. It fails to provide anything that hasn't been attempted just as well on the Wii and doesn't give players a reason to jump on board or play with Move. And it’s not the technology, but the weak design that prevents it from being as enjoyable as it could, and an abysmally broken scoring system and frustrating difficulty are likely to scare off the casual market that it’s clearly aimed at. The worst part about it is that it wouldn’t have taken much to make everything in the game that much better.
The Score
The slow, frustrating and difficult ride that is Ape Escape is another in a long line of failures of titles trying to moot the need for PlayStation Move.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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2 years ago
(Pedant mode on)

Given the game title, and that the primates in question have no tails, shouldn't the subjects of the game be called apes rather than monkeys?
2 years ago
^You're going to have to ask the developers that question.
They're referred to as 'monkeys' in the game.

Also, the Japanese title is Saru! Get You!, where 'Saru' is literally translated as 'monkey'. So it seems that the use of 'Ape Escape' is an attempt at clever word play.
2 years ago
This game sucks.

I wanted more platforming goodness, not this crap.
2 years ago
Damn, what a disappointment. I was excited to see this in the stores the other day but was a little skeptical... and rightly so, it seems icon_sad.gif
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    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  30/06/2011 (Confirmed)
Year Made:
System Requirements:
PlayStation Move

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