Ape Escape: A platformer that didn’t monkey around
By Callum Smith
I’ve never actually attempted to catch an escaped monkey, though suspect it’s not as easy task. However, I think it’s a fair assumption that the difficulty would be ramped up significantly if each primate was wearing intelligence-boosting helmets and under the control of a hyper-intelligent but malevolent monkey called Specter. If these unnaturally intelligent monkeys hadn’t only scattered locally but had journeyed back through time in order to try and alter the course of history, you’d be forgiven for wishing you hadn’t bothered volunteering in the first place. That’s the exact task that you’re faced with in Ape Escape though.
It was undeniably one of the most challenging games I played as a kid but was a challenge that I embraced. It was one of the first games I played in which you needed to utilise the Dualshock controller to succeed. Modern games use the dual joystick system as a matter of course but when Ape Escape did it, it remained a novelty. Rather than the right analogue stick controlling the camera, however, as is standard today, it controlled the trajectory of the equipped weapon and the shoulder buttons altered the viewpoint. Of course at the time we weren’t as conditioned to use the stick in this way, so there’s an argument that the game is actually tougher now than it was back then due to the level of player adaptation required.
“It was undeniably one of the most challenging games I played as a kid”
One of Ape Escape’s major plus points was the fantastic way that the levels were crafted, each of them created with real finesse. The size of each stage was comparable to that of Spyro, giving it a feel of an open world game yet, upon closer inspection, you realised that it was actually fairly linear. However, if you chose to, you were still given license to comb every last inch of the level searching for hidden monkeys and Specter Tokens.
My favourite level in the game involved battling a monkey who was riding a T-Rex. If the nature of that challenge wasn’t exciting enough, it was only enhanced further by the exhilarating music which also ran throughout the rest of the game. The composer, Soichi Terada, also contributed to the Rush Hour soundtrack and his work here is similarly invigorating. It perfectly encapsulates the theme of each level and contributes significantly to the overall enjoyment of the game.
Virtually everything in each world wanted to kill you and the nightmarish controls made even basic platforming an absurdly tough challenge. I remember multiple occasions when I encountered an obstacle, jump or enemy that I simply couldn’t get past and had to ask my dad to complete it for me, as he was something of a pro at the game! It was often a choice between that or giving up completely.
“The nightmarish controls made even basic platforming an absurdly tough challenge”
Naturally the central enemies were the monkeys, who possessed a variety of different skills and increasingly vicious weapons as the game progressed. The game differentiated between each category of monkey by dressing them in different colour pants and I still remember the green monkeys firing missiles as opposed to the black monkeys that fires machine guns!
Ape Escape was a truly unforgiving game that ruthlessly punished any mistake. Danger lurked around every corner and each level was packed with surprises, good and bad, that could send you running for the hills yet it was so shamelessly fun to play that you couldn’t put it down. In order to catch those blasted monkeys you had to face giant suits of armour, a monkey flying a spaceship and everything in between but there was never any question of you putting it down and calling animal control.
Audio / Visual