Sunday, July 15, 2012

Ape Escape -- No One Remembers The Monkeys Anymore

Doesn't that cover just scream "HARDCORE"?

There are great games that everyone talks about, terrible games that nobody mentions and fantastic games that fall into obscurity. Personally, I think the original Playstation game Ape Escape falls under that unfortunate latter category.

Okay, when the game was first introduced to me, I almost wrote it off as a joke. The object of the game is simple: capture monkeys in your net. That in itself is a weird task to build a video game around, but things get really weird when you get into the plot.

You play as a young boy named Spike, who with his friend Jake, travels to meet up with The Professor to check out his new time machine. No, this "Professor" doesn't have a given name. I think that should be a big red flag to the boys right there. Anyway, The Professor has also developed special helmets that increase the intelligence guessed it...monkeys.

Of course, the helmets fall into the hands of a diabolical primate named Specter, who decides to use The Professor's new time machine to send some his brethren into past to rewrite history so that they rule the world. The two boys just so happen to arrive while Specter is activating the machine and they end up being sucked in and are cast into two separate time periods. You then travel through the time space continuum to round up all the monkeys, find Jake and ultimately save the world.

I wasn't kidding when I said it was weird.

But that only adds to it's insane charm. If you can look past the plot, you will be rewarded with some nice gameplay. In fact, Ape Escape was pretty revolutionary for its time for being  the first game that required the use of a Duel Shock Analog controller. One analog stick controlled movement, while other controlled the various gadgets, the most important--as well as the most fun--part of the title. You start off with Time Net to capture the monkeys and a Stun Club to...stun them, but you can't just run up and throw your net over every monkey you see. There is a bit of strategy and stealth involved and the extra gadgets are a big part of that. Bag enough monkeys and you're rewarded with a new toy that could help you solve puzzles, find targets and make catching those wily rascals that much easier.
The best monkey capturing device to date. 
And did I mention that the monkeys have different personalities. Just take another look at that cover. The apes can range from quite docile to downright destructive and you must plan your strategy accordingly when confronting them. In the end, the monkeys are what really makes this game.

But why isn't Ape Escape a household name, or at least a more common one? It received good reviews upon release and even inspired a couple good sequels, with Ape Escape 2 being my favorite (One word: Pipotchi). It goes without saying that is much more popular in its home country of Japan, where the franchise has expanded to include many more games and even an anime series. But despite all of its positive aspects, I guess the storyline is just too much for some in America to handle. I almost didn't give this game the chance it deserves. So if you ever get the chance to play this pretty much forgotten gem, whether in its original format or one of its later ports, do it. The apes will not disappoint you.

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