Monday, February 06, 2006

VG REVIEW: Ape Escape 3 & Ape Escape Academy

I attended the Jim Rugg/Tom Scioli/Paulette Poullet signing last Saturday. Got to meet Ed Cunard of The Low Road, who, in addition to producing a kick-ass blog, is a heckuva nice guy. He told me about his dogs; I complained about my kids. I chatted with Rugg about manga, talked with Scioli about Godland and bought Poullet's mini-comics. All in all it was a good time. Hopefully the bad weather didn't keep people from stopping by after I left.

And with that out of the way, here's this week's video game review ...

Sony, for PlayStation 2
rated E10+ for Everyone age 10 and older (car­toon violence, crude humor), $39.99.


Sony, for the PlayStation Portable
rated E10+, $39.99

I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand our culture’s fascination with monkeys.

Whether you’re talking about the little pet primate on "Friends" or the orangutan from those horrible Clint Eastwood films, there seems to be this pervasive idea that monkeys are just inherently funny. The logic of that notion completely eludes me.

That might be part of the reason I was less than enthused about the two latest entries into Sony’s "Ape Escape" franchise — "Ape Escape 3" for the PlayStation 2 and "Ape Escape Academy" for the PSP. Neither game was able to win me over with its little simian antics, particularly in the case of the hand-held title.

For those of you who haven’t played any of the previous "Ape" games, the premise is simple: monkeys (dressed in shorts and helmets with flashing lights) are running amok and causing havoc. It’s up to you and your trusty net to catch them.

Besides the net, you have a number of tools doled out to you as you progress through the game, including a flotation device, a slingshot and an RC racing car. You can also transform into different, more powerful characters, such as a knight or a ninja, if you collect enough energy pellets.

The monkeys prove to be devilish little suckers to catch. Many are quick to alert themselves to your presence and can and will knock you flat if you try a full frontal assault.

As with previous games, "Ape Escape 3" takes a lighthearted, kid-friendly approach, with lots of tongue-in-cheek jabs at well-known fairy tales, films and even other video games, which tend to be more cute than actually funny.

Ultimately, though the problem with the game lies in its controls. You move your character with the left analog stick and swing your net (or other gadget) with the right. Sounds simple right? Except that with the right stick occupied there’s no real solid way to control the camera.

Oh, you could use the L1 button to center your viewpoint, but even clicking that regularly fails to fix the camera, which frequently gets stuck in corners, leaving you wide open for a monkey assault.

If it weren’t for that nagging camera problem, "Ape Escape 3" would be a much more enjoyable game. As it is, it’s a marginally entertaining title that will offer more to those who can’t get enough monkeys in their video games.

That’s not something I can say about "Ape Escape Academy," a woebegone collection of ape-inspired minigames.

Taking you behind the scenes, "Academy" puts you in the ape army, and asks you to complete a number of overly simple, 1-minute games in order to "graduate."

So far, so good. Problems begin with the basic layout of the main stage of the game, which resembles a tic-tac-toe board. Complete three or more games in a row and you move on to the next stage.

You get only one chance to succeed in each game, however, and even if you’ve already failed and have no chance of continuing on to the next level, you can’t quit and start over. You have to play through all nine minigames before you get the chance to start again.

That’s not the worst of things though. There are next to no instructions offered for the various minigames, meaning that you’ll have to fail several times at each game before you figure out what exactly it is you’re supposed to do.

Even that would be forgivable if the games themselves were somewhat interesting, but for the most part, they’re not. Unless you consider multiple-choice quizzes about the flags of the world edge-of-your-seat entertainment.

Combine all that with long load times, too few games to pick from and poor multiplayer options, and you have a game that not even the ultimate monkey devotee could enjoy.

As I already said, I’m not one of them.

Copyright The Patriot-News, 2006


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