Since the debut of the PlayStation Move controller, there have been precious few games that take proper advantage of it. Sony’s own Japan Studio has recently released Ape Escape into the wild, a game that uses only the Move controller. Is it a game that will make you go…ape? Is is more fun than a barrel full of monkeys? Or is it just…monkeying around? Find out, after the chimp.
Way back when the PlayStation 1 was but a youngling, and the PS2 was yet a twinkle in Sony’s eye, a game called Ape Escape appeared. The game was a platformer and featured a boy called Spike, tasked with unenviable task of capturing errant monkeys (because we all know that monkeys and apes are the same thing, right?), hell-bent on changing the world’s history. The game was followed by a bunch of sequels and spin-offs (most of which only saw the light of the Land of the Rising Sun and nowhere else). I imagine that Sony figured the time was ripe for a new Ape Escape game, given that Ape Escape 3 was last seen swinging from the branches of the PS2.
Enter PlayStation Move Ape Escape (also called Ape Escape on the Move in the US, and also confusingly just called Ape Escape), the latest Ape Escape game. When you pop the disc in, you are greeted with an anime sequence showing people staring and pointing at UFOs in the sky, and a news reporter doing what they do best. The anime introduces you to the two female protagonists (Tsukushi and Tohko) who charge you with capturing the alien simians running amok. Somehow, their grandmother has also gone missing, there’s also a money named Specter involved in all this, and a series of monkeys that look somewhat like Specter, but aren’t Specter are also part of the story. Plotwise, the game is a bit lacking, and I’m not even sure it’s the kind of game that needed a plot in the first place.
In essence, Ape Escape is an on-rails shooter-catcher-hitter that sees you railing through 15 levels in different settings, catching monkeys. The Move controller can be changed into a net (for catching monkeys), a slingshot (for shooting monkeys and UFOs), a huge paper fan (also called a harisen in Japan, and useful to whacking UFOs, boulders, or anything that comes within reach), a vacuum cleaner (for sucking in monkeys, and requires a battery), and a bananarizer (for turning things into bananas, which also requires a battery). Because this is all on-rails, your movement is mostly automatic. However, you’ll also stop at predetermined points so that you can snap up monkeys with the net. The monkeys will come at you and attempt to steal any bananas you might have on you (the game’s analog for a health bar). Lose too many bananas and it’s game over.
The controls for the game are astoundingly weak, and the capturing mechanism doesn’t work well, especially when you’re being mobbed by several monkeys at once. I usually found myself swinging the controller around wildly, vainly attempting to capture these errant monkeys. Everything about swinging the controller to entrap the monkeys in the net was an exercise in frustration. There was far more fun to be had in simply shooting them with the slingshot, but even this mechanism is too slow to be incredibly useful, and only stuns them instead of clears them from the level. The vacuum suction, however, works wonders, which is probably why it’s powered by a battery that lasts a few seconds. It’s useful for when a mob of monkeys proves a little too much, but batteries are so few and far between that you probably only use it once or twice per level. The other bizarre control decision is that, while stopped, you can look left and right, but only by using the buttons (X, O, Triangle, Square) on the move controller. No option exists to use the sub-controller. That would, obviously, have been far too easy. As would have been co-op play.
And that is the crux of the problem I think I have with the game. It’s obviously aimed at a younger crowd, but it is so unrelentingly bananarifically difficult, quite possibly to make up for the ridiculously short length of the game (in itself a bad way of inducing longevity). For example, I played the first, and easiest stage more than 10 times, and I have yet to attain a gold medal. In fact, for most of the game, don’t expect to see silver medals, or in some cases, any medals, in any of your first playthroughs. The expectation, I guess, is that you will happily play the same 15 levels over and over and over again until you get it right. And with the gimpy controls, it’s doubtful that you could ever get it properly right.
In addition to the main story levels, there are also three minigames attached, only the first of which is co-op, and only the last of which is any fun at all. The first minigame has one person driving a car while the other person shoots obstacles out of the way while the person driving attempts to reach a number of check points before getting to the goal. I enlisted the help of my wife for this section. The driving mechanism is terrible to say the least, and in the end my wife and I were reduced to fighting rather than playing co-operatively. The second minigame is a monkeyfied version of Where’s Wally [Ed: Where’s Monkey?] where you use the Move controller as a kind of sniper rifle to zoom in on a scene filled with cavorting monkeys. Hold the controller up to zoom out, point it at the screen to zoom in, step forward or backward to zoom further in or out. Since I’m useless at finding things in haystacks of things, I once again enlisted the help of my wife. This, too, resulted in a fight when I was unable to hold the Move controller still enough to zoom in on a suspicious-looking simian with a frying pan. The blasted controller was actually picking up on my breathing while I was aiming. I learned one thing here: I was never going to make a successful sniper. The third minigame involves spraying aliens with some ice-in-a-can while terrified monkeys try to make it safely across the bottom of the screen. It was at this point that my wife left the room.
If all this monkeyness isn’t enough for you, there is also something called the Monkeypedia. In case you’re unable to guess what this is, here’s a clue. It contains more monkeys than you could possibly know what to do with. Every monkey in the game, every single last stupid gosh-bedarned monkey exists in the Monkeypedia. For the love of Darwin, WHY would someone create 39 pages of monkeys, each page with five rows of four monkeys? That’s 780 monkeys! Who would do such a thing? That’s more monkeys than you need for a standard Hamlet deviation. That’s more monkeys than are listed in Pokemon canon. What frightens me even more is that someone, or several someones, sat and wrote a biography for each. damned. monkey. That’s just completely bananas.
Ape Escape would have been better as a download-only game [Ed: It is. Well, it is in the US, anyhow], but it’s still just simply “OK”. Not brilliant by any means, and certainly not the revival of Ape Escape that everyone had been hoping for. We can always hope that an Ape Escape 4 platform game makes an appearance some time, but sadly, this game is not it. If you’re after a party game, you can easily do better. If you enjoy rails-shooters, you might stand to give this game a chance, but for everyone else, the repetitive play will soon get very old and quite annoying. Young kids will get frustrated at the difficulty, and older players won’t find anything to keep them coming back. Some interest and fun could have been injected into the game if you got new or different devices at least every few levels, but once you’ve played the first level, you’ve played with every device you’ll get. Sadly, Ape Escape is only as much fun as a very small bucket of monkeys.
Score: 4 prawns out of 10
Game: Ape Escape
Control: PlayStation Move Only
Developer: Japan Studio
Distributor: Ster Kinekor
Release date: 22 June 2011