Release Date: January 17, 2006
Buy 'APE ESCAPE 3': PlayStation 2
There are some games that slip in under the radar, becoming classics without any sort of media help whatsoever. Katamari Damacy comes to mind, an unassuming bargain-bin game that exploded into a phenomenon in America with its quirky ... well, Japan-ness. Other games are certainly playable, fun for what they are, yet lack the sheer replay value that a true classic would bear, the textbook definition of a "sleeper hit." Finally, we have games that try, try so very hard, but are just too flawed to make it to even the same league as said classics.
Guess which category Ape Escape 3 falls into?
The package the game is boxed in isn't much to look at, giving us a sensation of "capture the mediocrity" right out of the gates. I'm not talking about the physical box for the game, though, but the storyline presented in the manual and the game. For those out there unfamiliar with the Ape Escape series, the trouble starts when a scientist known merely as the Professor created a helmet to boost the intelligence of furry primates – a "Monkey Helmet," obviously. Naturally, one of these ended up in the hands of Specter, a simian with particularly evil intents.
After being defeated twice – in the first two Ape Escape games, natch – you'd think he would learn his lesson, but … no. Instead, Specter, an ape who looks more like a kid with a pair of cyber-underwear on his head, has a new plan to conquer the world. Around the world, monkeys are filming TV shows which are dumb enough to turn the human populace into vacant, mindless couch potatoes! Naturally, the parallels to real life are obvious and won't be discussed here. Regardless, the mind-sucking TV programs have already ensnared the Professor and the heroes of the first two games, leaving the fate of the world in the hands of a fourth-grade preteen idol singer, her twin porcupine-haired brother, and an old scientist colleague of the Professor who is thankfully named Aki, not Mary-Ann.
Aki works as your gadget distributor, providing you with trinkets as essential as your monkey-capturing net to doodads as worthless as a hula-hoop that makes you run faster, for some inexplicable reason. Each gadget has its uses, however, and in true adventure game fashion, you may have to use most or all of them to complete a level. In addition, your character gains a set of costumes to morph into, ranging from Wild West heroes to kung-fu masters. Each costume, naturally, grants special powers and abilities, but only stays active for a limited amount of time.
Sounds simple, right? This is the basic premise of a game that would largely be targeted to children, and the bright graphics and cartoony characters and voice acting only help to solidify that. Graphics and sound both are largely average for the PlayStation 2; nothing's going to knock you flat in astonishment, but at the same time, nothing makes you want to gouge out your eyes and pour salt in the wounds.
No, the controls are the only disfiguring ailment of Ape Escape 3. Oh sure, it seems simple enough at first. The left analog stick moves you around, and the right analog triggers your active gadget, the game acting in that sense like a Robotron clone on Prozac. The buttons activate different gadgets, and the shoulder buttons allow you to jump and go into a first-person view. Sounds decent so far, of course. Then it all becomes clear – how does a player adjust the camera? In most games, the right analog serves this purpose, or the L2 and R2 buttons. In Ape Escape 3, though, the camera is redirected with the d-pad, making adjustments a task that requires a considerable pause in the action or a third thumb.
Not helping matters is that the automatic camera control is atrocious, the camera seeming more random in its motions than any game this reviewer has seen since the original Tomb Raider. It's not uncommon to be balancing yourself on a narrow ledge, or trying to capture a particularly feisty primate, and the camera will swing in front of you, sending you careening to your doom. This factor alone breaks up the gameplay far more than it should, and makes even commonplace tasks at times seem hideously painful.
It's a shame, too; Ape Escape 3 is a blast to play. The gameplay is just varied enough to keep the action from being monotonous, and repetitive enough to keep the levels from feeling like "gimmick-a-day" deals. In addition, while the writing and localization has suffered a bit, the creativity in some of the television parodies borders on genius. Never once does a reference thrown in seem too obvious, with a level of subtlety hidden beneath that would make any television or movie fan chuckle.
There's a wealth of unlockable and buyable content, as well, ranging from the standard sound-test and movie-replay modes to concept art, extra options for gadgets, and even a few mini-games, one of which needs to be seen to be believed. I can't say too much without spoiling the surprise, but it's a full-blown parody of one of the original PlayStation's most well-received games, and actually ends up being even more fun than the main game!
Ape Escape 3 is truly a textbook case of how one major flaw can bring down an otherwise outstanding game. The game deserves better than it earns, but sadly, potential isn't rated here, and the camera difficulties are enough to bring the score down several notches. Don't be mistaken, though; Ape Escape 3 is a fun game, especially if you're buying it for someone under the age of 12. Rent before you buy, but if you can handle the distracting and counterproductive camera, go ahead and add a copy of Ape Escape 3 to your collection. You won't be disappointed.
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