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Ape Escape 2
Review By: Greg Lynch
 
Developer:  Sony
Publisher:  Ubisoft
# Of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  10-9-03

Iíve always blamed the creation of the 3D video card for the downfall of two of my favorite genres of gaming, adventures and platformers. However, while point-and-click adventure titles have nearly disappeared (apart from a few rather decent appearances over the past few years), there are still abundant attempts to recapture the magic of platform gaming in the 3D world. A few of those succeed wonderfully, but most seem to fail, thanks in part to how difficult it is to judge jumping distances in 3D, or shoddy camera controls that make it unnecessarily difficult to view everything going on around you. Couple those problems with a general lack of fun and originality, and it can become near impossible for a platformer fan to find much appeal in the genre.

Ubisoft attempts to defy the odds by releasing Ape Escape 2 (AE2), the sequel to one of the original PlayStationís more innovative platformers, and one of the first games to truly utilize every aspect of the Dual Shock controller. The premise is simple enough: Jimmy, the lead character, botches the delivery of monkey helmets, which results in a rain of helmets falling from the sky and being collected and donned by 300 of the little simians. Your job is to utilize several special devices called ďgotcha gadgets,Ē and capture all the monkeys (all of which have their own personality and statistics) along with five super-powered monkey bosses and their leader, Specter.

Gameplay consists of searching for monkeys scattered throughout wildly different worlds, including everything from snow covered Christmas levels to a lost world of Dinosaurs. As you progress, new gadgets are introduced and you are given the opportunity to test each one out in a handy trainer that gives general instructions for their use (though youíll soon find that there are other uses that arenít readily apparent). Gadgets vary from remote controlled cars to a powerful magnet that lets you cling to metal objects or pull metal armor from protected creatures.

Using these devices is really the hook that separates AE2 from most platformers, and figuring out which to use for each situation does a great deal to keep the game feeling fresh. Each device uses the Dual Shock controller in special ways, and using each item becomes fun in its own right. For example, to use the Bananarang, you must pull back on the right analog stick, aim using the left stick, and quickly release the right stick to throw it. Once in the air, you can also spin the right stick to release a monkey scent that will attract hidden or hard-to-reach monkeys and make them easier for you to catch. Several vehicles that require controls similar to the special gadgets can also be found scattered throughout the game.

Another impressive aspect of the game is in the varied and interesting level designs. Unlike most games that seem to reuse a texture set over and over for several levels to expand the length of a game, AE2 chooses to focus on twenty completely different levels, each with its own set of challenges (including monkeys specific to each level). Every level features a different experience to look forward to, and there isnít a bad one in the barrel despite a few cheap and frustrating jumping puzzles in the last few levels.

However, while the game does a great job setting the bar for original gameplay mechanics and level design, it doesnít do much in the way of raising it in terms of graphics. Character and enemy models are fairly basic low-polygon fare. Similarly, the levels are relatively simple in appearance, despite each being amazingly functional in terms of playability. While none of the anime-inspired graphics are a turn off by any means, it would have been nice to see a little more attention given to the package, since it doesnít look much better than a cleaned-up version of the PlayStation original.

Unlike the graphical portion of the game, sound holds up much better. The music is catchy, and fits perfectly with each environment you are playing in. The voiceover work is especially commendable, and features recognizable talent from several cartoons including Pokemon. Sound effects in general are equally effective, though not as varied as it probably could have been.

Adding to the gameís longevity, an enormous number of unlockable items can be purchased at the Gotcha Box (a kind of gumball machine found at your home base) using coins youíve collected. There are hundreds of items including concept art, monkey fables (typically, classic fairy tales retold using monkeys), creature pictures, and other goodies viewable at a virtual entertainment center. Of special note, however, are the mini-games that can also be won from the Gotcha Box.   Each one is fairly impressive, supports multiple players, and could probably stand on its own as a $10 bargain game.  Iíll leave what they are as a surprise, but the fact that Ubisoft put that much effort into an additional diversion shows the amount of attention they placed on the package as a whole.

HIGHS:

  • Spot on controls
  • Amazing camera system that rarely gets in the way
  • More extras than you can shake a monkey at
  • Excellent and original level design

LOWS:

  • May get too hard for the younger target audience, too easy for the rest
  • The main game is a relatively short affair
  • Cute, but somewhat uninspired graphics

FINAL VERDICT:

In the end, Ape Escape 2 overcomes practically every pitfall found in most 3D platformers. The gameplay is wildly original, the controls are spot-on, and there are only a few occasions where the camera angle gets in the way of gameplay. In fact, the only real complaint I would level against the title is the relative ease in which one can beat the game. While it could be argued that this is a game for a younger audience, the complexity of the controls and difficulty of the last few levels might elevate it above that crowd. Still, what matters is the amount of fun a game delivers, and despite an easy ride for most gamers, itís a blast while it lasts, and thereís still plenty to see and do even after youíve beaten it.  

Overall Score: 8.3

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