Video games went through a very exciting period in the late 1990s. The introduction of the third dimension, championed by PS1, presented a broad new challenge for designers. How can you comfortably control a character in 3D? It’s widely known that Super Mario 64 succeeded on the first try, but there are other games from that era that deserve some attention. Ape Escape, a 3D puzzle platformer from Sony, is one such game.
This was the first game to require the use of DualShock, a new deluxe controller with two analog sticks. Back when 3D gaming was still a new concept, it took a while before the standard controls we use today were fully adopted, so games like this were still in the works. A big part of Ape Escape’s allure is its new control scheme, which makes the most of both analog sticks in ways you don’t see nowadays.
A bit of context, though. Specter, a monkey associated with the zoo, puts his hands on a special helmet that makes him super smart. He frees his master brethren, gives them helmets as well, and makes their way to the Professor’s lab, where they travel back in time to try to replace humanity as the dominant species. Unintentionally, Spike and his friend Buzz also travel to the past, and it’s up to the former to put an end to the madness by capturing all those pesky monkeys. It’s a funny story, but it allows for various creative levels throughout the adventure.
This basic idea of catching all the monkeys is awesome, and it’s still a very unique idea. First of all, Spike only has club and network access, and these will be your go-to tools for every level. All instruments are controlled with the right stick; You’ll swing a club or net in the direction you’re pushing, for example. At first, it’s hard to get used to, but having more control over where you aim your swings is often helpful. Once you find the monkey, get close enough and drop the net to catch it. Using the club will prevent it from running, giving you a short time to catch it.
Obviously, things are not always so simple. As mentioned, monkeys can detect you and they will monitor you, their helmets telling you what alert state they are in. Fortunately, each level is open to exploration and there is no time limit, so if a monkey escapes, you can find it at your own pace. Holding L3 makes the Spike crawl, making it easier to sneak into your target, although moving the stick while holding it down seems awkward. The process of finding and capturing each monkey is a simple pleasure, and he always feels the satisfaction of a successful rip with them.
You can switch between instruments using the face buttons, and the camera controls are placed on the D-pad. Some of these control decisions are outdated and feel awkward by today’s standards, but they work well enough. L1 puts the camera back behind Spike, so you can use it when things inevitably end in a weird sight.
Other gadgets include a radar to locate the monkeys, a slingshot to hit targets at range, a collar that acts as a shield and speeds up. We appreciate that each tool has its uses, maybe not at every stage but you have plenty of reasons to use them all throughout the game. You can only outfit four at a time — again, dedicated to the face buttons — but pressing select gives you quick access to your entire collection. It’s another aspect that really shows the age of the title, but again, you’re not going to be in a situation where you need all the tools at once, so it works just fine.
Tool drip feedings across the campaign mean that you can’t always catch every monkey in a level on your first visit. In fact, you will automatically finish a stage when you reach your quota, and there are often a few you haven’t found yet. Returning to previous sections with new equipment allows you to access new areas and capture all those monkeys, which is what you have to do if you want the real ending.
Visually, the game is PS1 at its core with sharp edges, a wobbly texture, and heavy use of space fog. He’s definitely very blunt, but nevertheless, there are plenty of traits that shine through. The colors really stand out, the characters are nicely stylized, and the monkeys have an iconic look that would be lost if they had more polygons.
The main game is pleasantly simple, super easy, and not particularly long, so it’s a great color palette cleaner. Collecting Specter Coins in each stage rewards you with mini games of varying quality, the idea being that they also make extensive use of analog sticks. In Ski Kidz Racing, you can control the skis under each foot of your character, which is hard to get used to. You can control your character’s fist independently in Specter Boxing, with similarly impractical results. Finally, Galaxy Monkey is a two-stick game, probably the best of the three. They’re neat additions, but you probably won’t spend much time with them.
Ape Escape may show its age in some aspects – the controls are a big part of its time, the mini-games are hit and miss – but it remains a fun and easy adventure. Tracking all the monkeys and figuring out how to catch them is still fun, and all Spike’s tools are useful through the colorful and varied stages. Full of charm and still unique to this day, it’s just old fashioned but good.
#Review #Ape #Escape #PS1 #Monkeying #Platforming #Pioneer #blast