You want monkeys? You like apes? You got it. Not since Charlton Heston graced the screen in his Ape epic has there been any kind of real ape threat to our civilization. In Ape Escape a once happy circus monkey is magically transformed into a super-intelligent ape with the aid of an experimental helmet made by a good-intentioned professor. However, the down side of this is that his secret evil side is released and he makes plans for world domination that would impress even Pinky and the Brain. Knowing that he cannot take over the world alone, he releases a whole zoo of monkeys and gives each of them their own smart hats. After tying up the professor and his daughter the monkeys steal the professor's time machine and go back to the dawn of civilization. Their plan? To change the face of history so that monkeys will be the superior race, "as it should be."
Okay, enough plot. The utter silliness of the game really gives it a charm far beyond any of the other kinds of platform games of this nature. You are not on a distant planet or in another dimension a la Mario or Spyro. You are on Earth saving humanity from a bunch of evil, crazed monkeys. This, among other things I will mention later, makes this appear as a kid's game, but in reality, it has the depth and difficulty to please any fan of the platform genre. Really what makes this game stand out, and what everyone is talking about, is its control configuration. The game requires the use of a Dual Shock analog controller (If you don't have one yet, what are you waiting for) and it uses every single button. You, the player, are in master control of the camera, the action, and various other choices that will require you to press buttons on the fly.
The game works like this: your character carries four different gadgets but can only use one at a time. One stick moves the character and the other stick uses the gadget. You choose which gadget to use from the menu using the 4 shape buttons much like the Zelda. The D-pad is used for the camera as well as the L1 and L2 buttons. And the R buttons jump. It may sound complicated but in actuality it is very intuitive and once you get the hang of it you will really see that it is these complex controls that make this game ideal for gamers. The game was designed for the Dual Shock specifically and it really uses the full potential of it. There is even a part where the character is in a rowboat and each stick controls a specific oar.
The level design in this game is a little over simplified, but still works well. Each stage has a main screen with paths leading to other screens, and I am happy to say that the load time was remarkably quick. In each level there are monkeys running around with hats that tell them when you are close. There are also coins to collect, which are required to get to new levels and open up a set of mini-games. The nice thing about the way the game is laid out is that it is designed simply so that kids will not have to difficult a time finishing each level, but has enough challenges and difficulty to satisfy even the most experienced of platform gamers.
But what about the camera control? Yes, this problem has dropped potentially great platform games such as Banjo-Kazooie, Gex 2 & 3, and Blasto down to a mediocre level. These games, which are usually designed for kids, are designed with such poor camera angles that it becomes challenging, not because the game gets harder, but because the view gets more muddled. Ape Escape, however, fixes much of these problems but still has its rough spots especially when the character is swimming. Like I wrote previously, the D-pad is used to manipulate the camera, but I found myself barely ever using that. The more useful L1 button will automatically flip the camera behind the character. This feature works very well if you can remember to use it, a task that is difficult when monkeys are barraging you. Otherwise, there are usual camera problems that come with any platform game of this type; you just cannot see everything you need to all of the time. Until someone creates a camera engine that fixes all of these problems, it seems that this is going to be a given.
In the end, all I can say is after playing Ape Escape, I only wanted to play more. I wanted to find all of the coins, catch all of the monkeys and learn all of the gadgets! It's the kind of game you'll want to play with your kids-if you'll ever let them have a turn!
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