Ape Escape 2

Ape Escape 2

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 8/8/2003 for PS2  

A few years ago Sony introduced a device called the Dual Shock. Life before Dual Shock was horrible; thumbs became sore as a result of holding down the d-pad for hours on end. Precise movements and commands weren’t possible because control was limited to eight directions, causing a hindrance on the budding 3D platformer genre. Indeed, life before Dual Shock was bad, Tomb Raider controls bad. Then one day everything changed. Suddenly controllers vibrated, thumbs stopped hurting and characters moved in more than just eight different directions. To showcase the controller’s abilities Sony released Ape Escape, the first game to require the Dual Shock controller. Gamers were introduced into a whole new world; the gaming world would never be the same again.

It’s been four years(!) since that glorious day and now one of the forefathers who helped usher in the new standard of gaming has spawned a sequel. While most will agree that it’s long overdue I’m sure that very few will have much to complain about. Sony of Japan’s Ape Escape 2 (published by Ubi Soft here in the ‘States) is a well designed game that may be a little rough around the edges but is still a blast to play. There’s just this beautiful simplicity about it that helps tie the whole package together.

The premise of the game is simple, run around and catch monkeys with your net. At times the game will throw some small puzzles at you but for the most part it’s straightforward and simple. After you’ve met your quota you’ll be able to move on to the next level where you’re saddled with completing the same task. At certain points you’ll have to face bosses in battles that are both creative and well-designed. Some of the puzzles and situations are frustrating but never to the point where it becomes too annoying to stomach. To flesh things out a bit there’s a little side game involving the coins that are scattered about the environments. Depositing them into a giant Gotcha machine will gain you a Gotcha ball filled with a random bonus. These range from comic strips and parts of the game’s soundtrack to stories, mini-games and other assorted bonuses. This was especially novel on the part of Sony and Ubi as most games use coins as a means of earning 1-ups as opposed to dealing out goodies.

Of course the meat of the game resides in the platforming elements so this is where you’ll spend the majority of your time. All of the environments are large and feature different areas and facets. Movement within them is rather limited, however, as they aren’t quite as large as some of the environments that we have become accustomed to. The variety is what really makes each level fun to play. You’ll travel to Egyptian pyramids, pirate boats and even a Shaolin Temple that satirizes the hit action flick Enter the Dragon.

Monkeys are often hidden in creative ways. Sometimes you’ll find them sitting around but more often then not you’ll find them hiding in paintings, seashells and other clever places. Like most wild animals the monkeys won’t go down without a fight. To even up the playing ground a bit they’ve all been given defense mechanisms. When you begin they’re relatively tame and will basically try to run away from you but as you progress they become more and more lethal. Some have heat-sinking rockets, flame throwers and bombs. A few will hop into cannons and launch themselves at you while others will jump into giant robots and take the fight to you. This makes catching each monkey a different and unique experience, one that doesn’t get old too quickly.

Fear not for you won’t be heading into the battle unarmed. Throughout the game you’ll acquire new gadgets that will aid in your quest to capture all of the monkeys. During your quest you’ll come across an R/C car, a hula hoop that helps you run faster, a stun baton, a slingshot, a boomerang that lures monkeys towards you and much much more. All of the devices serve a different purpose and help alleviate the headaches that those pesky bastards will incur upon you. Using the gadgets is made simple thanks to a system that allows you to map your four favorite devices to the face buttons. This allows you to switch between devices right on the fly without having to search through your inventory. It’s kind of a double-edged sword at times because in order to access the other gadgets you’ll have to pause the game, wade through a few menus and then map it to one of the face buttons. At times I wish that the designers would have just gone with a traditional scroll based inventory setup.
For a game that takes full advantage of the Dual Shock 2’s capabilities the controls are nothing short of disappointing. Most of the time the controls feel sluggish and inoperable, to the point where hitting a stationary target becomes a chore. If hitting a stationary target is difficult think about how hard it is to hit a fast moving monkey. Most times I felt like I captured the monkeys out of blind luck as opposed to sheer precision. Adding to the problems is a camera system that is so archaic it hearkens back to the days of Tomb Raider. Since the right thumbstick is relegated to the attacks the player has no way to control and position the camera to their liking. Instead they’re forced to succumb to the mercy of the inoperable system which has a knack of concealing the vantage point with surrounding foliage and structures.

Vehicles have been added into the fray to spruce things up a bit but they’re more of a chore than a joy. Their implementation is shaky at best as their inclusion seems to be rushed as opposed to some sort of natural progression of the game. Controlling them is difficult thanks to sluggish movements that cause the vehicles to control erratically. Poor control can be attributed to the weak control scheme that causes the vehicle to behave unrealistically. There are no actual physics to be found so the vehicles control like a faster version of the character. Some of them have weapons but they’re practically useless due to the lack of a targeting reticule.

While the levels are well-structured their look is nothing to brag about. Most of the architecture is pretty blocky and generic-looking while the texture work is boring and repetitive. The textures are repetitive and washed-out, lending them a really blurry look. All of the walls and objects have a decidedly flat feeling to them, a notion that has become associated with the games of yesteryear. Every now and then there are some pretty impressive objects, such as a stone whale with a water spout in the center of it, but most of the time you’ll be too busy noticing the visual deficiencies to pick up on them.

Things fare better on the audio side due to the excellent voice acting and upbeat music. Quality voice acting isn’t a must for a game of this genre (just look at Mario Sunshine) but it’s nice to know that Ubi Soft took some time to acquire some decent actors to fill the various roles in the game. The music is just as good, featuring a wide variety of genres to fit in with the wide variety of locales that the game places you in. Every time you set foot in the game world you can expect to be accompanied by an excellent audio track that properly sets up the mood. They’re not generic either as some of them are just downright catchy. I do feel that Ubi Soft missed out on a great chance to incorporate the song "Brass Monkey" into this game though. That alone would make me want to start up the game on those long and boring nights.

If you grow tired of monkeying around the levels you can always partake in a few mini-games. Though they need to be unlocked via the Gotcha machine they’re accessible enough to the point where you won’t need to stress yourself too much to acquire them. Some of the mini-games include a very Dance Dance Revolution-esque rhythm based game and a surprisingly deep and engaging soccer simulation. Each of them are of high quality and would fit well with one of those mini-game type compilations that seem to be the rage nowadays.

Make no mistake about it, this is a game that has cute written all over it. Even the health system, which uses cookies to establish your physical condition, is cute and charming. It can’t compare to Pipotchi though. In addition to looking cute and making cute noises he’s actually helpful. His aid ranges from dropping hints on how to solve puzzles to giving you extra cookies when it looks like you’re down for the count. My girlfriend is a huge fan of that damn monkey. I’m telling you right now, Ape Escape 2 equals instant chick magnet.

In addition to being a chick magnet, Ape Escape 2 is fun for the whole entire family. Those who are searching for an excellent 3D platformer that is devoid of violent imagery should look no further than Ubi Soft’s latest entry. There’s enough here to satisfy both novice gamers looking for a challenge and hardcore gamers who are looking for something fun to cut their teeth on.

There are a ton of things that I don’t quite understand about the Japanese culture but perhaps none of them confuses me more than the country’s affinity with collecting random and useless trinkets. Sure there’s the shiny and novelty factors at work but why devote so much time towards such a futile cause? I came into Ape Escape 2 with this exact mentality, thinking that I wouldn’t enjoy this off-kilter game. But in the end I had a blast.

Rating: 8.1 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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