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Game Thing - Ape Escape

Like all you guys, I also find myself having way too much time on my hands, so here's another series of blogs about a subject. First thing I need is a title. Now, seeing as all the good ones have been taken, I'm gonna call it Game Thing. Hopefully nobody else has done something by this title, because that would just be beyond sad, wouldn't it?

Anyway, I need a subject now. I have no strong opinions about any ongoing issues, and this is probably where most people would give up, but there's always the possibility of writing about something I like. But still, much as I'd love to write about my love of grilling and BBQ, the site kinda has a theme to it, so instead here's a rundown of my favourite games list, in GLORIOUS ALPHABETICAL ORDER!

Uncharacteristically of something you'd read on the internet, this blog series is going to be very positive, with no sharp, cynical criticism to be found. This is some mushy, gushy shit we're jumping into, so I hope you're not allergic that stuff. Think of it as half review, half love letter.

The first on the list is Ape Escape, the only one that starts with an A, so here we go...

First I'd like to point out that this is a strong one to start with, one of the strongest on the list. A lot of the others you might find are a bit on the strange side, which is partially why I love those games so much, but this is not the case here. Ape Escape is just plain fucking awesome! It kicks every kind of ass imaginable, it stands tall above the rest, and it is some of the most fun that you could have with any electronic product. The game was released in 1999 for the original Playstation, and has become one of the machine's defining titles.

Ape Escape is notable for being the very first game ever created to require the DualShock controller, as it makes use of both analog sticks during gameplay, something that the game's marketing and manual wouldn't stop banging on about. Seeing as this is still the norm today, it's clear that this game started something quite a revolution.

I think the easiest way the properly describe Ape Escape, is as a combination of the very best elements from other classic games, blended together brilliantly to make something that still manages to be original. The games in question here would be Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time and Metal Gear Solid.

The first one is the most obvious, as the game is very much like a bigger, badder Mario 64, with more levels, more collectibles and more content overall. The levels in both games are open-ended, and the objective of both games is to collect a certain amount of "objects". In Mario it is the stars, as we probably all know, but in Ape Escape, you collect monkeys (pretty sure they are supposed to be monkeys, the 'Ape' in the title just makes for a neat rhyme). The difference this makes is that your collectibles are alive, and actively trying to get away from you, as they are also your enemies, which in my opinion makes for a much more interesting challenge.

Of course, there is some story behind why the monkeys are escaping from you, but it's really not worth talking about. They got evil from these weird science helmets, then they found a time machine, and now you have to stop them from fucking up time, blah blah, moving on...

The biggest difference from Mario 64 would be the similarities to Zelda. Instead of doing crazy flips and jumps, you got an arsenal of Zelda-like gadgets, which you can use for different purposes. These include a club (that looks like a lightsaber), a slingshot, an RC car and more. But the most important one is your Time Net, which you use to catch the monkeys, as simply running into them won't do the trick. Important to note is that all gadgets are controlled with the right analog stick, which is the very reason that this game can only be played with the DualShock. This, I recall, felt a bit strange at first, but once you get used to it, it sticks! No kidding, I can still play Ape Escape at any point and instantly be at home, no matter how many vastly different games I've played since. It's amazing how natural it feels for something so unusual, and it just comes to prove how excellent this game is.

Another thing that I absolutely adore is the fact that the game has an entirely optional stealth element to it. Click and hold to left stick, and suddenly you're crawling, allowing you to sneak up on monkeys. This is where the MGS comparisons come from, as this game has a very Metal Gear-esque alert system, indicated by the lights on the evil monkeys' evil science helmets. Here's how it works:

Blue light
The monkey is calm, and has no idea what kind of danger it's in

Yellow light
Caution Mode - The monkey is on the lookout, and is more likely to spot you

Red light
Alert Mode - The monkey has seen you, and will run from you, at times trying to attack you

It is basically a very streamlined, simplified version of Metal Gear, and it works well for a game like this. It gives you much more freedom to choose your approach, and it generally improves to game a whole lot, in spite of how simple it is.

Even more depth is added to the game through the monkeys themselves. Not only are there different types of monkeys, each individual monkey have their own set of stats, a name, a personality trait, and a difficulty level. This is amazingly diverse for a game like this, and it too adds a lot to the experience.

The levels start out small, but quickly grow to massive proportions, a bit like a spontaneous erection. The game offers 22 of them (levels, not erections), though only 19 are "regular" levels, in which capturing monkeys is the primary goal. The very first level is as simple as it gets, and it's very small. You have to catch 3 of the 4 monkeys here in order to progress. By the third level, however, you get changing environments, and by the fourth, the game starts introducing analog stick driven vehicles that you use to get around the environments. By this point, the levels have already gotten huge, and you may even find yourself getting lost in certain areas. Secret areas exist as well, and there are many locations that you can't access without a certain gadget, meaning you will have to come back later. I'm a huge sucker for stuff like this, as I love being given a reason to go back to a previous area and explore it further. I also love when a game teases me, it makes everything more mysterious and exciting!

Exploring the levels in Ape Escape is a lot of fun, in no small part due to the many interesting environments. For example, one level has you run along what is essentially as twisted obstacle-course version of the Great Wall of China. This is by far the most linear level in the game, yet it doesn't feel restricted, as the objective remains the same as usual, not to mention that Ape Escape levels always allow you to go back where you came from. Another level takes place in an evil amusement park, in which you try out different evil attractions such as an evil roller coaster, an evil circus and an evil haunted house. Then there's the level in which one of the monkeys are riding a T-rex, and in order to catch said monkey, you have to anger the T-rex enough for the monkey to fall off. If that wasn't hardcore enough, there is yet another level in which you face an even bigger dinosaur. This time you have to get yourself swallowed by it, and once you get inside the beast, it turns out that the damn thing ate an entire ship. The game is packed with all kinds of wonderfully imaginative levels, themes and ideas.

Now, the game's control, being a 1999 game, isn't perfect, with a bit of the usual stiffness that you see in games from that era. However, I believe that the levels compensate perfectly for this in their design. The environments are all very open, platforms are large, blocky and easy to land on, puzzles involving the gadgets are very lenient, and the game doesn't require a whole lot of precision. Instead it requires speed, patience and creativity when it comes to catching all the monkeys.

The game does also suffer from 90's 3D blocky-vision, and the draw distance, probable due to the large scale of the levels, is very low. Thankfully, the game's cute and colourful style helps a lot here, and it certainly could have looked worse. Besides, it has some pretty appealing character designs, especially for the monkeys. Those little bastards have become pretty iconic, haven't they?

It is also to be noted that it was a very ambitious game for its time, and especially for its console, and one could argue that it would have been a better choice to release it for the PS2 instead. But fuck it, they managed to make it on the PS1, and the result is still amazing!

The game's music is composed by Soichi Terada, and let me tell you, this guy knows his shit! The soundtrack major ass! It will no doubt confuse and/or excite some of you when I say that the vast majority of the music is drum 'n' bass. That's right! A very unusual choice for a game like this, but this is how it goes, and personally, I'm happy about this, because this is a sweet and memorable soundtrack.

In spite of being mostly one genre, it still manages to be every bit as varied and exciting as the game's environments, and it always fits perfectly. Every single track manages to nail the theme, tone and pace of the level it accompanies, and it makes the levels themselves even more memorable than they already were. The music, due to the way that it differs from the visual style, even manages to add an entirely different layer of personality to the game, a much stronger one than what the game's story manages to cook up. The Ape Escape you see in the cutscenes is the kiddy, dorky, clumsy, generic Ape Escape. The Ape Escape you experience within the levels is the cool, smooth, ambitious Ape Escape. The one I remember is the latter. Good job Soichi!

Oh, and the music gets all sneaky whenever you crawl, which is neato.

But wait, there's more!

All this, and I haven't even gotten to the minigames yet. See, one of the collectibles in the game aside from the monkeys would be the Specter Coins. Collect enough of these, and you unlock a minigame, of which there are three:

A skiing minigame, in which each ski is controlled by an analog stick. There are three courses, and five characters. While the game is pretty unbalanced character wise, and a bit awkward overall, it's still fun to play, and a decent challenge too.

Spector Boxing
A boxing minigame, using the two sticks to control each hand. Very awkward, and by far the weakest, if slightly fun for a few minutes.

Galaxy Monkey
A twin stick shooter, and the best by a long shot! Galaxy Monkey is the shit, and I have often booted up Ape Escape just to play this game. The game is simple, yet has enough variety to its enemies that it keeps me coming back to test my might! It's no wonder this is the last one you unlock, considering how damn good it is!

The fact that these minigames not only exist, but include a 2-player mode for each one, is a sign that the developers really went out of their way with this game, making absolutely sure you'd get your money's worth of content! 

There is a lot of replay value, and a ton of stuff to do. Aside from the 206 monkeys that you can catch, you have the bossfights, the bonus races against your rival, the unlockable time trials, the tutorials (which you can replay anytime), and an entire monkey encyclopedia, letting you take a look at the monkeys you've already caught, complete with name, stats and everything! Ape Escape is not just an awesome game, it's a goddamn package!

The fact that this is not available on PSN (outside of Japan) is maddening, because I can tell you all right now, that this is one of the best 3D platformers out there, if not the absolute numero uno! It's better than Crash, it's better than Spyro, it's better than Super Mario 64, and if you enjoy these kinds of games just a tiny bit, this is absolutely worth your time! IGN and Gamespot gave it similar praise back in '99, and while these sites aren't though highly of these days, they were right on the money. I strongly recommend it to pretty much everyone, and I seriously hope that Sony will give this franchise another shot, at the very least in the form of a PSN release. Will love forever! <3

Next game on the list is Batman: Arkham City. Will I be able to say anything about that game which hasn't already been said? Well, I hope so...
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About Dango one of us since 10:28 AM on 11.09.2011

Art by the fantastic Roberto Plankton

Phalanxification by the bombastic ZombZ

The cream of my video game crop (no longer in alphabetical order):