Title  : Ape Escape
Platforms  : Sony PlayStation (Dual Shock analog controller required)
Publisher  : SCEA
Game Rating  : 8.4
Review by  : Ken Gagne

Almost twenty years ago, Nintendo rocketed to fame with an ape named Donkey Kong. Now it's Sony's turn to employ gorilla warfare tactics with Ape Escape, for the PlayStation. 

One day, an amusement park chimp, Spector, found and donned the Professor's Peak Point Helmet, giving him a supreme, malevolent intellect. After bushwhacking the Professor, Spector and his simian soldiers used the experimental Time Station to travel through time. As young Spike, you must follow them to prevent history from being rewritten with monkeys as masters over men! 

Ape Escape is a 3D platformer with new challenges and opportunities in each level. There are six time eras, and three stages per era. Using his Time Net, Spike must capture a minimum number of monkeys in each stage before moving onto the next. In each era, Spike will be sent a new gadget to help him find and capture the monkeys. His potential arsenal includes a stun club, slingshot, remote control car, and monkey radar; each tool must be mastered to overcome the next stage. New parts of previously-completed stages will also become accessible to Spike's new abilities. 

Ape Escape is the first game to make full use of the Dual Shock analog controller (or similar device), which is required. Thirteen of the fourteen buttons are used! The analog sticks control the main action: movement with the left, items with the right. The sticks can also be pressed as buttons for further actions. As in Zelda 64, tools can be assigned to the shape buttons for quick switching. The digital pad controls the camera (rarely necessary; it works well on its own). R1 jumps; L1 & L2 provide further camera support. At first this setup may seem gimmicky, but as the game progresses, it utilizes the Dual Shock's potential more and more. Training areas provide ample opportunity for practice; the control scheme does not remain complicated for long. 

The music is simple yet effective, fitting the game's light mood well. Sound effects can be as small as a monkey's squeak to large when a dinosaur goes pounding by, to useful when employing the monkey radar. Regular messages from the Professor and his aide Natalie, and the occasional cutscene with Spector, receive well-acted, plentiful voice-overs. 

The graphics are standard for a 3D platformer, with a decidedly anime-ish look. Ape Escape doesn't take itself seriously, with colorful worlds and comical characters. The game's polygonal nature will sometimes show when Spike is suddenly able to look through a mountain, or some other such glitch, but these are rare and easily overlooked. 

There is no great challenge to Ape Escape. Operating Spike's inventory is not difficult, and neither is capturing the minimum number of monkeys. The clever stage design and slow introduction of new tools makes finding the monkeys the main trial. It's fun to return to old places and discover newly-accessible areas. The optional search for Spector Coins yields access to bonus mini-games, a worthwhile pursuit. 

Ape Escape is an innovative platformer, not in terms of visual or audio appeal, but style and control. It's possible to finish Ape Escape in just an afternoon or two — not because it's simple, but because you won't be able to stop playing.


This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 19-Jul-99