Review: Ace Banana

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VR developers are still working their way through what works and what doesn’t with respect to world design and interactivity. Some games feel more akin to tech demos while others have a solid grasp on design, even if it is minimalistic. Other games attempt to offer a slew of interactive features, yet come up with poorly implemented limits on that interactivity. Ace Banana unfortunately falls into the second camp.

Oasis Games’ Ace Banana, a turret/shooting gallery-style arcade shooter, supposes that an elite Banana Archer is out to defend his precious kin from swarming hordes of hungry monkeys. The game recommends using two Move controllers to mimic holding a bow and pulling back a bowstring to launch plungers at the constant primate onslaught. Naturally, pulling back farther on the string means the arrow plunger will fly farther and with more power on release. Because the Move controllers are so highly sensitive, movement from holding both with shaky hands means that you’ll likely end up missing more often than hitting. Monkeys move fairly fast and in large numbers, which means picking them off isn’t nearly as easy or as fun as it would seem.

Monkeys appear in waves on different levels so that a teleport of sorts is necessary to move from one spot on the game map to another. Additionally, some monkeys will drop temporary ammo perks like hedgehogs, lightning bolts, or even large rolling pandas. Moving into later waves, some monkeys throw fruit, which can be shot down out of the air, but there are so many monkeys on screen that taking the time to shoot the fruit means other monkeys are more likely to actually abscond with a banana. When the fruit hits the player, a large orange splat covers visibility of the screen, causing players to shoot blind. This becomes mostly annoying, because the inability to see while also having less than perfectly responsive controls makes for an overall frustrating experience.

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What’s worse is the way that waves of monkeys tend to come in from areas that are just on the edge of where the camera is able to properly track the Move controllers. Since the game doesn’t properly indicate whether or not players should be sitting or standing–and doesn’t have a good indicator showing where feet placement should be, unlike other PSVR titles like Batman Arkham VR and SportsBar VR–it is very easy to get caught up in the action of the moment and start to drift out of the camera’s view. Losing all perspective of where your body is at while playing the game means that the controllers can be easily moved too far from being tracked.

Adding further fuel to the frustration is the boss interactions at the end of monkey swarms. For example in one boss the monkeys have managed to build a massive mechabot, which in theory should be defeated by shooting the monkey sitting at the top controlling the robot’s movement. But getting a precision shot off in between wildly swinging arms is pretty much impossible. One time I even had the unfortunate experience of shooting a weapon “upgrade,” which switched the plunger ammo into soft, fluffy pillows. Once a power-up is activated, there’s no way to manually switch back to normal arrows until ammo runs out. Making things worse, these pillows never actually ran out. It almost seemed like a bug that I got stuck with one ammo boost that wouldn’t go away after hitting the boss many times. It was just an endless supply of pillows that did nothing to take down his health. Apparently the logic dictated that once I switched to that ammo, I would only use them up if I ever actually got a hit on a target. Since the only spot to hit was at the top of a fierce mechabot monkey, I was doomed to helplessly watch it suck up all of the bananas I’d managed to save.

While Ace Banana is recommended to be played with two Move controllers, the game can also be played–and played better–with a DualShock 4. Tracking problems exist just as badly while using a DS4 unfortunately, but the act of shooting in rapid succession actually is much easier with a simple button press versus having to physically draw the bowstring and aim the bow with every shot. Aiming works by simply tipping the DS4 up or down to control the crosshair, but that still doesn’t remove the way the game shifts the location of where monkeys spawn too far to the left or right from the view of the PlayStation camera.

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Aside from the main archery gameplay, Ace Banana also has a minigame that occupies time by having the player water, sprinkle food on, and add sunshine to baby bananas earned from completing levels, which grow up to become new playable characters. The problem with this minigame is that it requires a large space between where players are sitting (or standing) and where the actual baby bananas are located. Depth of field is so poorly processed that I was lucky to get one plant to grow fully without either stepping out of view of the camera or actually knocking my TV over.

Of all the games in the PlayStation VR launch lineup, Ace Banana is an unfortunate example of how games can go wrong without proper tuning and a solid grasp on design for the technology. The bright art design and promising archery concept are ultimately let down by poor camera tracking and level design. More fun than a barrel of monkeys, this game is not.

SkipIt

Pros:
+ Bright comical art style with anthropomorphic bananas and quirky primates
+ Playing with two Move controllers mimics feel of shooting a bow and arrow
+ Game is much easier (i.e. playable) with a DualShock 4

Cons:
– Bad camera tracking and level design
– No indication of whether the game should be played standing up or sitting
– Weapon upgrades inhibit progression; no manual arrow switching

Game Info:
Platform: PlayStation VR for PlayStation 4
Publisher: Oasis Games
Developer: TVR (Time of Virtual Reality)
Release Date: 10/13/2016
Genre: First Person Arcade Archery
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: PlayStation Store for $14.99. A 10% discount is in effect until 10/27/2016. PlayStation Plus members get a full 20% off.

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.