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Platform

Playstation 2

 

Genre

Platformer

 

Publisher

Ubi Soft

 

Developer

SCEI

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

Q3 2003

 

 

- Lots of levels

- Lots of extras to collect

- Mini-games

- Good controls

- Fun, lighthearted vibe

 

 

- Too easy

- Slightly dated visuals

- Story can get overly cute

 

 

Review: Ratchet and Clank (Playstation 2)

Review: Sly Cooper (Playstation 2)

Review: Jak and Daxter (Playstation 2)

 

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Ape Escape 2

Score: 8.3 / 10

Boy, it sure took a long time for this game to come to North America.  Ape Escape was by far one of the best platformers to grace the Playstation’s library with its tight gameplay and utilization of pretty much every single button on the Dual Shock controller (something rarely seen for its time).  Many fans of the genre were greatly looking forward to the sequel hitting store shelves in this region since the game came out in Japan in 2002.  Finally it’s here, oddly with Ubi Soft publishing it instead of Sony, but I must say Ape Escape 2 is a fine example that the expression “It’s better late than never” holds true.

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The game starts out with young Jimmy (little cousin of the hero of the original Ape Escape) and his Pikachu-clone pal, Pipotchi, doing an errand for the Professor, delivering new pants to the monkeys on the island that they live on via the Professor’s teleporter.  Unfortunately Jimmy accidentally sent out a number of monkey hats with the shipment which the masses of simians promptly donned, allowing Specter (a super intelligent and super evil white monkey) to control them for his own nefarious plans.  Now Jimmy has to scour the island to capture all the monkeys and stop Specter.

 

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All of this leads to a lighthearted, silly story that is a fun little romp, if a little overly cutesy.  The monkeys are adorable in their idiosyncrasies and the bosses often times are very funny in what their priorities are, like a very effeminate overweight sumo monkey dripping with narcissism that simply wants to be adored by the masses for his “beauty”, or the little pink monkey who just wants to be a pop star.  Some of the bosses are a bit clichéd though, like the mad scientist monkey, who predictably has a bad German 

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accent.  The one piece of cliché that will be a thorn in the side of many is how Ape Escape II taps into some of the cram-it-down-your-throat-cutesy-ness so prevalent in the popular anime being shown in the US.  It doesn’t happen often, but there are some instances during cut scenes and such that feel like they’re straight out of Pokemon or Yu-gi-oh.  Younger gamers will no doubt enjoy it, but for those of us who aren’t younger than 12 the sappy silliness of it all can prove quite grating.  the overall flow of the story is well paced and won’t bore you, especially considering that players aren’t hammered over the head with narrative after every single level, instead only having cut scenes appear on occasion, keeping the focus on the gameplay, not the storytelling.

And it’s the gameplay that really makes Ape Escape 2 worth checking out.  The overall control scheme has remained largely the same as the original game, making good use of all the buttons on the controller and with all of the different gadgets that can be used in the game pretty much every button is needed anyway.  The way the game plays out, players must control Jimmy as he navigates the different levels, capturing the escaped monkeys in his net.  He can be equipped with four items at any given time, including his two core pieces of gear, the aforementioned net, as well as his stun club for rendering monkeys immobile temporarily and destroying the other more aggressive critters lurking about.  On top of this he has a large arsenal of other gadgets to select for the remaining available slots.  These include a remote control car for getting into hard to reach places as well as bonking enemies (there are actually several cars that can be unlocked as the game progresses, but more on that later), a handheld propeller that acts like a helicopter for Jimmy so he can get to high up places, a water hose, a hula-hoop that makes Jimmy super fast, and a monkey radar among other gadgets.  They all serve a purpose and add tons of depth to the game.  One aspect of the first Ape Escape that really made it fun was that it encouraged players to sneak up on monkeys to capture them undetected.  When a monkey spotted you, the little light on his helmet would turn red and he’d high-tail it out of there, all of which would make it very hard to catch him.  In Ape Escape 2 this feature is still there, but it isn’t so much a necessity to sneak up on the monkeys in this game.  You can just muscle your way through the levels chasing the monkeys down and using the different gadgets to immobilize then net them.  All of this goes to show that this game is much easier than its predecessor.  The first game was a very solid challenge from beginning to end, but Ape Escape 2 feels slightly more geared towards a younger crowd, and as such the game isn't all that hard.  Platformer veterans can challenge themselves by returning to cleared levels to track down hidden monkeys they missed and run the time trials.  Tracking the hidden monkeys is great fun, but the time trials get old fast.  The only time any real challenge comes is when Jimmy faces off with a boss or when some of the more potent monkeys, like those brandishing machine guns or launching explosives at you, happen to be near a cliff and some fancy footwork is needed to catch them without being blasted into an abyss.  But even then it doesn’t take long to figure out a way to take them down with minimal effort.

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The problem with the lack of challenge in the game is largely exacerbated by the fact that it’s not very hard to replenish Jimmy’s health as well as get extra men between each level when you return to the Professor’s laboratory.  In there you’ll find this machine where you can spend the gold coins that can be collected in the levels.  When you’re short on health or men the machine’s probability of spitting out cookies and jackets to correct this is fairly high.  It’s handy, sure, but it always leaves players with a safety net.  That not withstanding, the machine also pumps out tons of little extras to collect including photos of monsters, concept art (some of it showing very interesting ideas for how some of the characters may have looked), songs from the game’s soundtrack that can be listened to at your leisure, monkey fables (a very hit and miss experience as they tap into popular fable, then make them monkey oriented with twist endings, some good, some just plain cheesy), a number of extra RC Cars (a fast black car, sushi on wheels, and exploding mobile pudding), as well as, and most importantly, mini-games.

These mini-games aren’t just there for the sake of having mini-games either.  There’s actually quite a bit of depth to them.  There are three mini-games in all: Monkey Dance (a simple PaRappa-esque game), Monkey Soccer (pick captured monkeys to form a team and head to the pitch), and Monkey Climber (a Donkey Kong, Jr. styled game).  These all can eat up quite a bit of your time, especially Monkey Soccer, because they stick to a basic premise but are very fun nonetheless.

The whole package is squished into a reasonably pretty package, by no means a visual tour de force comparable to Ratchet and Clank or Sly Cooper, but Ape Escape 2 remains easy on the eyes.  The detail is there in the game but it’s not as high of a quality as other titles on the market, but bare in mind this game was released in Japan about a year ago.  The animation is very smooth, and the layouts of the different levels is very well done.  It boggles the mind that Sony was able to find so many different themes for the dozens of levels in Ape Escape 2.  All of them are setup very well, with lots of solid traditional platforming, bouncing around obstacles, looking for secret areas, and solving the occasional puzzle.  There’s a definite flow to the layout, no haphazard smattering of items and challenges.  The overall look of the game does a good job of exclamating the lighthearted, fun vibe of the game.

Following right on the heels of Ape Escape 2’s graphics, the sound helps further the same fun-loving feel of the game.  The music is peppy and fun, proving to be very appropriate for the game.  Meanwhile the sound effects are very well done, with the expected boings and whaps that one would experience in a platformer.  Surprisingly, the voice acting is quite good here.  The actors have done a great job of bringing a Saturday morning cartoon feel to the game.  The acting stays interesting the whole time, and serves as a sign the publishers are finally making a concerted effort to have quality voice acting in games, not the legions of bottom fillers that plagued the 32-bit era.

Despite being a somewhat easy game that’s visuals are slightly long in the tooth, Ape Escape 2 still proves to be a fun game.  Trying to find all the hidden monkeys, collect all the goodies, or just whittling away your time in the mini-games are all very entertaining.  If you’re looking for a new platformer to add to your PS2 library, Ape Escape 2 is definitely a title to consider.

- Mr. Nash

(September 1, 2003)

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