Publisher: Ubi Soft
Release Date: July 2, 2003
Buy 'APE ESCAPE 2': PlayStation 2
Ever since that fateful day in 1981 when a small then-struggling coin-op start-up company by the name of Nintendo unleashed Donkey Kong, a simple puzzle game featuring an enormous monkey and a “jumping man,” on an unsuspecting American public and single-handedly breathed new life into a nearly-dead videogame industry, simians the world over have enjoyed great success in the interactive digital realm. Congo Bongo, Toki, Escape from Monkey Island, Samba De Amigo, Super Monkey Ball – the list goes on and on. But no monkey-related game released in the last 15 years can come close to the sheer originality and intuitiveness of a little game released by Sony for the PSone in 1999. That game was Ape Escape, and its claim to fame; dual-stick gameplay. Like Robotron 2084 before it, Ape Escape’s control scheme relied heavily on using two control sticks in tandem; one for moving your character around and the other for controlling your character’s monkey-catching net and other assorted gadgets.
Sadly, Ape Escape did not end up being the multi-million unit seller that it should have been, perhaps because the game wasn’t marketed for the American market. Amazingly, despite its somewhat underwhelming sales performance a follow-up to the game was made by the name of Pipo Saru 2001, this time around the goal of the game wasn’t to capture monkeys with a net by to use a vacuum device to suck their pants off. While Pipo Saru 2001 was also met with much critical acclaim it still never saw the light of day in North America. Sad, but true. Then, in the middle of 2002 a true sequel to Ape Escape was unleashed in Japan, but Sony Japan, unconvinced the American market was ready for its monkey-themed gameplay antics, again decided to keep the title in the family, so to speak. Luckily, Ubi Soft, prepared to put their reputation on the line in the name of simian hijinx had the foresight to localize Ape Escape 2 for the western market. And that is why, after four long years we (you, me, and little Timmy down the block) finally get to experience the game that Shigeru Miyamoto, Donkey Kong creator himself, would be proud of.
In the original Ape Escape you’d play as Spike, a young carefree kid who, after inadvertently releasing hordes of mechanically-enhanced monkeys on the world, took up the responsibility of capturing via a net and lots of spiffed-out technologically-impressive gadgets. This time around you’ll play as Spike’s equally clumsy cousin, Jimmy, and like the first game your mission will be to chase after monkeys and capture them. Luckily, you won’t be alone in your mission. Natalie, the resident tech-savvy daughter of a brilliant professor who later on in the game comes to your aid, will be on hand to answer any questions you might have and bestow new gadgets that will come in handy in proceeding levels.
The aforementioned gadgets that you’ll get to play around with during the course of the game are plentiful, though only three are actually new. You’ll have a stun club, which you’ll regularly use to bash monkeys over the head with in order to daze them long enough to capture them with your monkey net. You’ll have a water net that aides Jimmy in swimming and also shoots out high-propulsion nets so as to capture monkeys underwater. The super hoop is a hula-hoop-type gadget that you’ll spin around your waist with the right analog stick and allows you to run at blinding speeds once adequately charged up. The slingback shooter is an old-school wrist-rocket that can shoot three types of projectiles. A few different R.C. cars will be made available to you and is controlled with the right analog stick to reach areas that Jimmy can’t. And the sky flyer is a propeller hat that allows Jimmy to shoot up into the air and float gently down to the ground.
The three new gadgets come in the form of the banarang, which can be wound up and thrown with the right analog stick to stun monkeys or destroy enemies. In addition, the banarang can also emit a strong banana odor mid-spin to attract hungry, hungry monkeys. The water cannon is also a new gadget; rotate the right analog stick to shoot streams of water, mainly used to put out fires. The third new gadget is the electro magnet; by spinning the right analog stick you’ll charge its magnetic field, at which point you can drag certain heavy metallic objects. These new gadgets are pretty fun and all, though they decidedly lack the originality found in the returning gadgets.
The levels in Ape Escape 2 are mainly platform-driven, meaning you’ll jump around various structures and platforms as you make your way through the stage and come across helmet-wearing monkeys to capture. But occasionally a level will require that you utilize a specific gadget in order to progress. Figuring out which gadget is appropriate for a particular obstacle is usually a no-brainer as Natalie gives you the most applicable gadget before the level begins. But using these gadgets to overcome the various obstacles that you’ll be presented with in the course of the game is definitely one of the game’s main draws, right behind the actual monkeys themselves, that is.
Each level requires you capture a certain amount of monkeys before you are able to progress. Each monkey that you capture is unique (there are 300 in all), like Cabbage Patch Kids, kinda. They have their own names and personal quotes, and a primitive attribute system ranks each one according to their habits. For example, some monkeys may be hard of hearing, making them easy targets to sneak up on. Others may be very hungry and thus susceptible to the tempting smell the banarang emits. Thanks to a useful radar system (which you also control with the right analog stick), homing in on nearby monkeys and scoping out their statistics is a breeze. Some monkeys differ not only in habitual attributes but also in appearance, some even tote firearms and breath fire! The diverse cast of simians in Ape Escape 2 is what really helps to keep the game feeling fresh and new all the way through, yo.
After every level you’ll be warped back to base (a makeshift headquarters that Natalie created in her room after Jimmy destroyed the original lab). Here you’ll be able to participate in a slew of extracurricular activities such as using the coins you’ve collected in the previous level to buy capsules containing tons of bonus goodies like Ape Tales, comic strips, cookies (health), movies, soundtracks, inspirational artwork, and mini-games. Three mini-games can be unlocked: Dance Monkey Dance, a Dance Dance Revolution-style game that utilizes both analog sticks; Monkey Soccor, a fun monkey-themed soccer mini-game; and Monkey Climber, akin to Donkey Kong Jr. The wealth of bonus material packed into Ape Escape 2 is nothing short of overwhelming, ensuring long lasting appeal well after you’ve invested the requisite dozen or so hours required to beat the game.
Ape Escape 2 has a very vibrant, colorful cartoon style presentation that easily sets it apart from other platform games on the market. The environments are often sprawling and teeming with all sorts of atmospheric niceties and the character models that laden them are very stylized and visually attractive. From a technical standpoint Ape Escape 2 doesn’t push the boundaries of the PS2 or innovate in any particular way, and being that the game is over a year old perhaps that’s to be expected, but it’s hard to deny that the game has its own unique graphical personality that is brimming with enthusiasm and lightheartedness. The soundtrack consists of many jocular ditties that sufficiently fit the game’s theme and even features a particularly cool pop rendition in one of the boss battles, vocal dialogue and all. Speaking of voice work, the voice talent employed in this game is great (Natalie is voiced by Rachel Lillis of Pokemon fame).
Overall, Ape Escape 2 is one of the most original, cleverly designed and just plain fun games a PS2 platforming fan could possibly hope for. Spending coins to unlock a bounty of extras is extremely satisfying and entertaining, and the included mini-games are entirely addictive in their own right. Grape Ape would be proud.