Review: PlayStation Move Ape Escape

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When Sony first announced the PlayStation Move, Ape Escape was one of the first games I thought of as an ideal mate to showcase the incredible motion control capabilities of the accessory. After all, Ape Escape always seems to be at the forefront of any new Sony hardware or technology release, beginning with the debut PS1 installment which required the original Dual Analog Controller and effectively shaped the future of console video game control.

Ideally, it would have been great to finally get a full blown Ape Escape platform adventure on the PS3. One that would have you controlling Spike in 3D worlds using the Navigation controller, sneaking up on mischievous monkeys with quiet tilts of the analog stick while swiping with the Move itself, firmly gripped in your dominant hand, to snag your simian prey with the monkey net. Sadly, PlayStation Move Ape Escape is not that game. But don’t hold that against it, because you’ll be missing out on what is still a highly entertaining game.

PlayStation Move Ape Escape takes the loveable Ape Escape brand of gameplay and re-imagines it as an arcade rail shooter of sorts. I know there are a lot of people who will automatically turn their noses up at the mere thought of an on-rails Ape Escape, and I think that’s just sad because it is an approachable style of gaming that will never go out of style as far as I’m concerned. This guided form of gaming is no better or worse than others; it’s just different.

In PlayStation Move Ape Escape, Specter has returned from outer space with an army of crazed primates, and it is up to you to brave ape infested city streets, carnivals, haunted houses, glaciers, jungles, volcanoes and space stations in pursuit of the hairy, little banana addicts. The graphics may not be all fancy schmancy, but while hardcore HD whores are complaining, more accepting players should appreciate the appealing pastel colors, the candy-sweet art direction, and the beautifully animated anime cutscenes. Believe it or not, there is a fairly engaging storyline to follow.

During the game’s 15 levels, the Move controller becomes your all-in-one monkey capturing tool. The game plays out from a first-person perspective, and as you are automatically pulled along you must swap between different gadgets on the fly depending on the situation. At a push of the Move button, the controller morphs between a slingshot (for shooting things), a Japanese paper fan (for swatting things), and a net (for capturing monkeys). While in transition, the slingshot and fan are the tools of choice, as they are the only defense against robots, UFOs and other non-ape enemies that frequently chase after you. You’ll also need these gadgets for collecting banana health pick-ups and batteries (which charge a monkey vacuum power-up), and for knocking over environmental objects to scare out hidden monkeys.

In between these transitional shooter segments, the game enters a capture mode during which the rail system pauses and waves of monkeys begin to charge at the screen (or attack from afar with machine guns or by throwing objects). This is where the fun begins. As monkeys attack, attempting to steal away precious bananas (representing your health bar), you must swoosh them up with your net before they get too close. Once all monkeys in the area are captured, the rail line continues, until the entire level is complete and the Specter imposter waiting at the end is in custody. Should you lose your stash of bananas, though, the game ends, and you have to start over from the beginning.

The slingshot cursor is a bit jittery, which in turn causes slight inaccuracy when attempting to shoot faraway targets. During capture mode, the camera can also be panned left and right with the Cross and Circle buttons, however when monkeys are approaching on multiple fronts the slow pan speed often leaves you momentarily oblivious to where attacks are coming from. Other than those faults, the controls perform marvelously. The Move is tracked about as close to 1:1 as is possible, with every angle and twist of your net hand reflected within the game. Swinging the net feels buttery smooth, and the thunderous “thump!” you feel through the controller when the net slams over a monkey is very satisfying.

As straightforward as the game is, you might be surprised by just how challenging it becomes. For the first handful of levels or so, the game eases along at a calm, accessible pace. But by the time the Hard, Very Hard and Insane difficulty levels kick in, you’ll be cursing Specter and his fiendish apes with words far more mature than the game’s E10+ ESRB rating would permit.

Timing is paramount, as swatting the net a split-second too early or too late will result in a missed capture, which can be frustrating at first. Luckily, you can whip out the slingshot at any time to stop a charging monkey in its tracks or to stun a few waiting in the wings so you can calmly focus on trapping one or two at a time.

Many of the levels are approachable enough to at least survive on the first time through, but the real challenge comes when trying to achieve high scores and earn medals (bronze, silver and gold, as usual). The only way to score big is by chaining successful captures and building the combo multiplier, but even on the easy levels it can be tough to keep a long combo going without one pesky ape sneaking through your defenses. After completing all 15 stages and going back to replay some more, I’ve barely eked out one or two silver medals. The rest are bronze, and I haven’t even sniffed a gold yet.

All told, it took around four hours to complete the story, resulting in 69% overall game completion. For this type of game, that’s a common length, because the main value comes from replaying stages to raise high scores (online leaderboards are available), to earn shinier medals, and to capture all 700+ monkeys in the Monkeypedia, a journal that logs collected apes like a digital photo album. Even in on-rails form, that special Ape Escape personality is bursting through, and capturing monkeys—and listening to their manic cries and chirps—never seems to get old. Using the PlayStation Eye’s microphone, you can even personalize the experience by recording a “Gotcha!” proclamation that sounds off whenever a monkey is caught.

Sony also tossed in three mini-games, but the only one that is even halfway decent is “Aim, Slingsnipe”, a take on “Where’s Waldo?” in which you are given pictures of three wanted monkeys and must find them hidden within a scene. The others, an RC car time attack and sort of a monkey tower defense challenge, aren’t anything special. Basically, you’ll play them each once or twice for shits and giggles, and then go back to the real game, never to return.

PlayStation Move Ape Escape has its quirks for sure, but if you approach the game with an open mind and don’t let expectations of what could have been cloud your judgment, you can expect to have more fun than a barrel of monkeys. (Sorry for the cheap pun, I just couldn’t resist!) That being said, PlayStation Move Ape Escape is the type of game that you’ll either burn out on quickly or become hooked on like a monkey fiending for bananas, and since a demo version is available I strongly suggest that you download it first to see how it suits your taste. If you’re hungry for more monkey mayhem afterwards, you will get your $20s worth from the full game.

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Pros:
+ Capturing monkeys is silly fun
+ Move controls track responsively and accurately
+ Good challenge and replay value for high score hunters and medal collectors
+ Iconic Ape Escape charm and personality shines through

Cons:
– Slingshot targeting a bit jittery
– Cumbersome manual camera control
– Higher difficulty stages may turn off casual players
– Lame mini-games

Affiliate Links:
Buy from Amazon

Game Info:
Platform: PSN for PS3 (requires PlayStation Move)
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: SCE Japan Studio
Release Date: 7/5/2011
Genre: Family/Social Gaming
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!