Ape Escape – Full Review
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With the release of Yooka-Laylee and Crash Bandicoot: N. Sane Trilogy being not too far off, I figured there couldn’t be a better time to talk about Sony’s best, but easily forgotten platformer series, Ape Escape. Having been released in 1999 for all territories, Ape Escape might have been made after the success of Super Mario 64, but by far outshines that game in its design, presentation, and more.
Ape Escape is in a world where a professor has the massive amount of grant money to perform experiments on monkeys by making helmets that incidentally make the monkeys smart and mischievous. This also causes said apes to escape from the “Monkey Park” that they inhabited beforehand as the intro to the game lightly explains. Among these monkeys, includes Specter, a white furred monkey who happens to become extremely intelligent as a result of the monkey helmets to such an extent that he crafts himself a better helmet after putting on one of the normal ones.
After this, we met Spike and his friend Jake who are on their way to met the professor as he has apparently created a time machine along with his assistant, Natalie. Once they arrive, the two naive boys find the Professor and Natalie tied up with the monkeys mucking about in the lab and then using the time machine to start causing chaos in different time periods. It’s then left up to Spike or in other words the player to catch all the monkeys and defeat Specter.
Ape Escape for a Playstation One game has such amazing production value in its presentation. The visual design of every single level is so charming along with the music done by the amazing talent of Soichi Terada, who has given the game such an invigoratingly electronic vibe that it’s rather hard to not jam out to the music when playing through the game. The gameplay is quite interesting in that Ape Escape was the first game to ever require a Dual-Shock controller, basically a dual analog stick controller. The game controls rather well with the set up of the left stick for movement, the shape buttons as selecting gadgets, the right stick for using/aiming the gadgets, and the R2 button for jumping. It sounds bizarre, but if anyone gives it time, they will get used to it. Ape Escape is your standard 3D platforming collect-a-thon, like Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64 for that matter.
The helmets mentioned earlier are actually a part of the smart design that went into crafting this game. Catching monkeys involves either sneaking up on them or chasing them down depending on what type of monkey the player is attempting to catch. The helmet has a flashing light on top of it. This light represents the level of awareness the monkey has towards detecting the player. A blue light means they aren’t aware at all, a yellow light means they sense something that’s somewhat outside their perception, and a red light means they can see the player fully and are running away as fast as their little legs can carry them. At the start, you are equipped with two gadgets to use, the Stun Club and the Time Net. The Stun Club is for knocking out monkeys to make for an easier catch and the Time Net is for catching monkeys obviously. Later on, the player gets a handful of practical gadgets to use to catch more monkeys and to complete particular platforming challenges within the levels.
Occasionally there are boss fights that the player has to overcome which mostly involves robots made by Specter and his army of monkeys, but some of the fights are between the player and Specter himself in his own mech of course. A huge contribution to the 3D platformer that Ape Escape had over that of Super Mario 64 was that of the auto camera adjust button. With the simple click of the button, the camera would automatically set itself directly behind the player, a feature that would later be implemented in the Nintendo DS remake of Super Mario 64. Along with the main game, there are mini-games that can be unlocked by collecting Specter coins along the way. The mini-games aren’t anything to write home about with only one particularly good mini-game, Galaxy Monkey, a Galagia clone of sorts. Although to unlock Galaxy Monkey, the player has to acquire quite a few Specter coins as it’s the last mini-game to unlock.
The variety of monkeys to capture are all determined by what color of pants they are wearing. Yellow ones are the most common and can be armed with different weapons to change things up every once in a while. Pale blue ones are unpredictable and are typically the easiest to sneak up on and catch. Blue ones are rather fast and can only be caught with a gadget that allows the player to go fast or by sneaking up on said monkey. The Green ones are highly aware of most everything and have heat seeking missiles that come out of the backpack they lug around. The white ones chuck bombs at the player and have good awareness as well. The black ones wield automatic guns and are rather aggressive. Finally, red ones are the most aggressive while also able to wield guns and are rather obnoxious to deal with unless sniping them with the Slingback Shooter gadget.
Ape Escape is only held back by the technology itself when it comes to any flaws, such as its slightly bad control. For what it’s worth, it wasn’t enough to ruin the fun that Ape Escape showcased. Speaking frankly with how much charm and good design this game wields fully, there couldn’t be a better platformer of the time which explains how this game became a platinum seller quite quickly. Even with better games in the series having been made, this game deserves to be at least looked at.