June 23, 1999 - A month or two after the Dual Shock Analog controller hit store shelves, the guys at IGNPSX all sat around thinking how much more interesting games would feel and play. Baseball would feel better when you hit a home run, fighting games would be more arcade-like, and...well, the future looked a little brighter as the PlayStation started its third year and reached middle age. Unfortunately, no software company actually utilized it to any real extent, except to make sure it worked in conjunction with the digital pad. And we felt that with the exception of some racing games (those that use both analog controls for steering and acceleration), the analog pad was essentially a nice addition but nothing worth writing home about. No game fulfilled the potential it initially promised.
Apparently, Sony Japan felt the same way, and in a first for PlayStation, the company created a completely analog-controlled platform game, Ape Escape. For an industry that likes to push the technological barriers in theory, but only occasionally in practice, Ape Escape not only used the used the analog controller, but the game requires it. Ape Escape is a big step in the evolution of the modern platformer. It's a bold step. It is not only a more interesting game because of its analog control, it's a genuinely mesmerizing and inventive platformer that uses the analog in ways no one has ever seen before.
Ape Escape is the story of a band of rogue monkeys that escape from the amusement park and mistakenly break into a genius professor's laboratory. They find the inventions called the Peak Point Helmets and instantly become intelligent, with a particularly ingenious simian named Specter running the others. In a theme reminiscent of Planet of the Apes, these little creeps plan on changing history so that apes rule the world and humankind becomes the special attraction at amusement parks!
You star as Spike, and with the help of your friend Natalie and the Professor, you travel back in time to capture each and every one of the precocious little monkeys. In the adventure, the Professor will assist you with numerous gadgets, helpful TV-like transmissions, and warp your body back and forth in time to complete the necessary tasks.
What makes Ape Escape so playable and so honest in the beginning are the tutorials, of which there are many. In the control room, players can try every single little tutorial, and throughout the game, new ones will pop up to explain new gadgets, puzzles, and the ways in which the game works. For instance, the levels were created so that as players pick up later-level gadgets, frequent returns to previously visited levels are necessary. The new gadgets, such as the Sky Flyer, enable Spike to acquire monkeys he couldn't get and bonuses that were once simply out of his reach. Those who don't like analog controls will get into the swing of things because the tutorials are brief and right to the point. Their appearance is woven perfectly throughout the game.
In terms of straight gameplay, Ape Escape blends traditional platform elements, such as jumping, running, and uncovering secrets, with all sorts of newfangled ideas, and a few concepts right from some of your favorite games. The game makes use of the analog controls in such excellent ways, we're sure that the development team just sat around brainstorming just how they could be implemented. Perhaps the team even looked at some other games (such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and maybe even Star Wars) for inspiration.
Here's the weapon and gadget list:
The Slingback Shooter, which is a whole lot of fun, is just like the slingshot from Zelda. And those little golden triangular power-ups are identical to those found in Turok. The Stun Club? That is a Light Saber. In the ultimate compliment to Zelda, however, the gadgets and weapons can be attributed to any one of the special buttons (Square, Circle, Triangle, X). In some levels you'll require the Monkey Radar and the Stun Club, and in others you'll just need the Sky Flyer and the Stun Club, and all are switch-able. In almost all cases, you'll need the Stun Club and the Time Net, which transports the monkeys back to the professor. OK, so what? The ideas are from another game. They're still fun in their own way, and they make the game work.
One of the strangely problematic parts of Ape Escape is its main character, Spike. In most games, the lead character is somehow cute, special, or cool. Spike is rather ordinary. Instead of him being the marketable, hip, wacky mascot that we're so used to (and tired of), in Ape Escape the monkeys get the spotlight. This may be why most people confuse Ape Escape as some kind of Donkey Kong game, which it isn't. Regardless of this odd lack of marketability, we're actually glad that Spike's an everyman, because that leaves the cool factor to the gadgets and the gameplay, which is what this game has in bucket loads. Spike is also incredibly agile. He can move in all sorts of ways, and do all sorts of things, including the abilities to:
Frankly, at first the game seems hard to control. It's often difficult to get the little running monkeys into the Time Net. Once players get the hang of the 3D spaciousness, nabbing monkeys becomes second nature. But what elevates Ape Escape to new levels of greatness is its deep gameplay and replay value. Always using the analog seems new and refreshing throughout. With all of the gadgets, each of which enables Spike to complete a mission in a different way, the missions are always unique, too. To add to that are the 25 levels (plus submissions), which must be revisited to fully complete the game. And finally, a series of mini games exist to challenge your skills as your progress. In the end, gamers will have their hands full for some time with Ape Escape.
Ape Escape is a simple looking game, packed with primary colors, like those in Mario, Croc, or Gex, and mostly ordinary effects. While the textures aren't terribly stunning and the character design rather fundamental, there is something extremely cute about those damn monkeys. With their goofy little helmets, their puny little screeches, and adorable-as-can-be movements, the charm of Ape Escape is in locating and nabbing the monkeys. But not without checking them out first. Using the Monkey Radar, and pressing L2, Spike can learn each monkey's special habits and characteristics. Some like to draw and others like to collect. Some are mischievous or naughty, and some are more dangerous than others. It's fun just to see what they're like.
Other than the peculiar attraction these homely little monkeys have, the rest of the game is designed in a cartoony, simplistic way. This doesn't take away from the game's value, it's just its style. But if you compare this to say, the Dreamcast's upcoming Sonic Adventure, it's extremely crude and simple. A few special effects stuck out from the crowd. While the water effects aren't anything special, the game designers did pay attention to detail. In some levels you'll see the night sky, and shooting stars will pass by. In every level, the special effect for capturing a monkey is awesome. The mixture of transparent lights, designed in rings and coupled with sparks (generated from a nice particle system), and a quickly moving camera, create a fantastic and gratifying effect.
A few other notable special effects are also worth noting. The consciously created TV effects, relay effects, and other lighting effects are cool, and specific to the game.
The other particularly Japanese touches are found in the music department. Few platformers have music like this. A weird concoction of J-Pop and techno-style synth music fills the levels, and in a strange way, each style works well. In some cases, I noticed that I was humming songs after the game (the poppy tunes), and in other cases, I couldn't even remember the songs (the techno tunes). Both tilt toward being more Japanese than Western.
As with Spike's looks, his voice is nothing special. The monkeys win in that department, too. The screeches, "eeps" and "ooks" are all funny and loveable. Overall, the sound does a good job of bringing an aural life to Ape Escape that's different that in other platformers.
Ape Escape is the best 3D platform game on the PlayStation. Hands down. It's not only innovative, it digs deep into the analog control's inherent movements and brings out a breadth of fantastic gameplay elements that are unique to the game.
Strangely, once in a while I felt that it was annoying. I got sick of those damn monkeys, especially the ones that I couldn't get to and required secondary visits. That's most because I'm so systematic and thorough, but it's also because sometimes the monkeys or bonuses are only inches from reach.
In the end, Ape Escape is not the Mario of the PlayStation, it's something different. It's a skilled-based platformer that is technically deft but lacks the marketable mascot factor. That's good and bad, and is the game's biggest problem. In a world filled with Crash Bandicoots, Marios, and Sonics, Ape Escape seems to fall into a no-man's land in which there is no real Hollywood-style star at all.
Still, besting Crash Bandicoot's tightly harnessed 3D gameplay, which is still great stuff, Ape Escape provides a fresh, innovative way of playing in three dimensions on PlayStation. It's different than the Crash Bandicoot series, so it's not directly comparable, but on an overall scale, it's a superior game.
|out of 10||click here for ratings guide|
Great tutorials and explanations of how to use the controls. Sweet menus.
Simple and cartoon like, but good nonetheless. Some great special effects.
A mixed bag of techno and Jpop-ish tunes. Funny and chamring ape sounds.
All sorts of cool gadgets and highly designed levels create a new way of platforming. Fresh and likeable features.
Tons of replay value. All levels must be revisited to totally complete the game.
(out of 10 / not an average)
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