I’m pretty sure most everyone is aware of this series at this point, and rightly so. Ape Escape was one of the premier 3D platformers released for Sony’s Playstation One console in 1999, and famously the first title for the system to actively require the Dualshock or Dual Analog controllers with their twin analog sticks to be played.
The plot is wacky and very typical of games of that era - a beloved circus ape known as Specter inadvertently dons an intelligence-boosting helmet and uses his new knowledge to spread an army of monkey minions throughout history in order to change the universal timeline and put apes on top. Naturally it falls to Spike, a young boy to travel through time and capture them all to restore order, using a plethora of gadgets and equipment to do so.
As stated previously, the game was released in 1999 and it hasn’t aged terrifically well graphically, with everything being pretty blocky, but I think that’s more than forgivable of something released so long ago. That aside, Ape Escape actually has that classic art style that makes me so fond of these early 3D platformers, with super-vibrant colours and simplistic but powerful visual effects. If you’re a fan of Crash Bandicoot, Klonoa and the like, you’ll feel right at home here, and the sheer breadth of environments on offer really showcases what I’m talking about, with locations such as prehistoric jungle and arctic tundra all the way through to futuristic space stations. The artists really did a lot with the small amounts of runtime memory available to them, and they definitely get the nod of respect from me.
"If you’re a fan of Crash Bandicoot, Klonoa and the like, you’ll feel right at home here, and the sheer breadth of environments on offer really showcases what I’m talking about..."
Praise must also go to the sound design here - everything is incredibly upbeat and memorable, quintessentially Japanese in nature. Simple hooks repeated and looped well are the order of the day, and I love it. While I’m not normally a fan of background music overwhelming game scenes every step of the way, it works here given the lack of dialogue during your ape-accosting adventures. Particular mentions go to the bouncy Fossil Field, the very first level of the game, and Hot Springs, wherein a beautifully slow orchestral pattern is overlaid with an almost-vocal synth motif - music to my ears. Literally.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the voice acting. If anything was going to tarnish the reception of this game, it’s the truly regrettable dialogue, with characters sounding disinterested and often entirely disjointed, leading me to believe that the actors were given very little, if any, direction at all. Enough time has passed where this obviously is considered more as an artifact of the era rather than something that breaks immersion, but by god it sucks. It’s almost worth playing to laugh at it, which I suppose ironically works in the game’s favour nowadays.
So, as previously discussed, Spike’s objective is to travel to various points in time to capture Specter’s simian minions using initially just his stun club and the rather convenient time net, which sends trapped monkeys back to the present day. Here’s where the rather unique control system comes into play - the left stick controls Spike’s movement, while the right operates the currently equipped gadget, four of which can be assigned to the controller’s face buttons at will. Jumping is assigned to the R1 button, which can take some getting used to, but the controls are actually more intuitive than they sound and do make sense, more than justified given the amount of free range and finesse they afford you.
Speaking of the gadgets, there are some rather wacky and wonderful items on offer. The water net allows capture of submerged monkeys, while the Sky Flyer can be rotated like a helicopter blade to give you a massively enhanced jump, useful to access more hard-to-reach platforms. There’s also a controllable RC car, just because, I guess, and a whole load of others besides, each with their own distinct uses and exclusive puzzles requiring their use to solve, which can often result in finding hidden monkeys or even Specter coins, which unlock minigames when you can retrieve enough of them.
For a hark back to the golden age of 3D platforming, Ape Escape is a winner for sure. The novel control system, simplistic collectathon gameplay and pumping soundtrack make this a no brainer for any Playstation fan, and it’s not that hard to find, so I would definitely recommend picking it up if you see. A true classic without a doubt.
Author: Ollie Burton
Ollie is a student at Newcastle University in the UK studying Cellular & Molecular Biology. In his spare time he operates this website, is an avid gaming & film fan and plays in a blues-rock band, as well as editing for the University's student newspaper, The Courier.