Friday, December 25, 2015

Ape Escape 3 (PS2) Retro Review

Once again from SuperPhillip Central, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! This is a season of giving, so I'm going to give some more to you guys and gals, my readers! It's a retro review of Ape Escape 3, a PlayStation 2 game from 2006. Next month, the game will have its tenth birthday here in North America. Seems like a good reason as any to take a look at this title, then!

Monkey See, Monkey Catch


I came to the Ape Escape series quite late, with my first entry being the PSP port of the original Ape Escape. Since playing that game and very much enjoying it, I quickly attempted to seek out the other installments of this underrated Sony gaming series. Now, I have reached Ape Escape 3, and with it celebrating its ten-year anniversary in North America next month, there is no better time to get funky with these monkeys.

The basic premise of Ape Escape 3 has the main villain of the series and highly intelligent monkey, Specter, coming up with a new plan to try to take over the world. This time his monkey cohorts have created a series of television stations to put their viewers into a drooling daze. Thankfully, not every human is under Specter's television station spell, and heroes Kei and Yumi (you're able to choose between which character you want to play as at the beginning of the game) set out to take down each of Specter's television stations broadcasting monkey mayhem. With each station under watch by a member of the Freaky Monkey Five, the adventure is going to be no cakewalk.

Ape Escape 3 utilizes full motion video cutscenes, using more intricate character models than what is seen in-game. The movie direction is competent enough, and the voice acting is suitably cheesy, as is the dialogue. This is a very kid-friendly game, from its story to its gameplay.

As for the gameplay, Ape Escape 3 follows the same structure of past Ape Escape games. You enter a level with a set of tools that increases as you progress through the game. The goal is to capture a set number of monkeys strewn about more and more complicated levels. At first you'll enter smaller, more linear levels, but by the end of the game, you'll be traveling through multi-room, multi-level, and hidden area-filled, expansive levels. If you're looking for a heavy challenge, Dark Souls this ain't.

Yikes! Mad monkey on the loose!
Controlling your character of choice feels good for the most part, but there is a learning curve to be had. You don't jump with a face button-- instead, you utilize either the R1 or R2 shoulder buttons. Both characters have the ability to double jump, though there is a moment after initializing a jump where you can no longer do a double jump. This gave me a few aggravations, as I was thinking I'd have enough clearance to leap over a chasm, only to not have a double jump register because I hit the jump button for the second time a split second too late. Furthermore, anything concerning vehicles like tanks, robots, and boats controls horribly. The decision to utilize a dual analog control scheme and only a dual analog control scheme for vehicles was not the smartest idea by the developers. While these sections in Ape Escape 3 didn't cause me to curse in frustration due to cheap hits or deaths, they made for moments where I was just befuddled by the fussy and complicated controls.

You might regret doing this, Kei.
Every tool used in Ape Escape 3 is done so with the right analog stick. Swiping the stick in a given direction uses the tool in the same direction. This takes some getting used to, especially with the net. Having a monkey on your right side means you should try to flick the analog stick to the right as well in hopes of catching your banana-munching prey.

You start off with a modest amount of tools available to you. Just a stun club and a net to capture monkeys. However, as you play on through Ape Escape 3, you gain more equipment to help out in tracking down monkeys. You're even able to return to past levels to reach areas that you were previously unable to because of a lack of a given tool. The amount of tools is lesser than past Ape Escape games, but what you do get is helpful nonetheless.

No worries. I'm not going to say "I told you so."
There are advantageous tools like a radar that hones in on general locations of hiding monkeys, a ring that when the right analog stick is rotated makes for a speedy way to get around levels as well as a means to take down foes, a slingshot to hit faraway panels and to knock down monkeys from high places, and there is also an RC car, great for getting into small alcoves that either character isn't able to fit inside.

One really cool example of how the RC car is implemented has you controlling the car with the right analog stick through a countryside diorama. You can easily see what's going on as the action all plays out under the glass floor your character is standing on. As you make progress with your RC car along a curvy road, your character needs to press and hold down switches to change the direction of the bridges, allowing the RC car to cross them. The whole affair leads to the RC car scaring a monkey from its hiding spot, allowing you to attempt to catch it.

It's not just the RC car that sees action in Ape Escape 3. Each tool in the game is put to good use, and you're never just relying on one or two tools throughout the game. Each one has a benefit to using it, and even though you can only have a tool assigned to each face button, changing tools is a breeze. There is no real burden to be found when you have to switch between a tool that is assigned to a face button and one that is not.

Nothing like a stun club to the face to ruin this monkey groom's wedding.
Despite the smaller than usual amount of tools used in Ape Escape 3, there is a new set of abilities that allow you to morph into various forms for a limited amount of time. From a shield-wielding knight that can push through fire like it was the wind to a otaku-styled superhero that can dash through the air, the morph abilities are very cool, offering an easier way of catching monkeys. The "catch" here is that you have up to thirty seconds in a gauge to use. Through obtaining green batches of energy, you can add seconds to the gauge. However, thirty seconds is always the max the gauge can be at.

One of seven different morph forms Kei or Yumi can take.
With all of these tools and morph abilities to utilize in Ape Escape 3, the means of finding, coaxing out, and finally catching the monkeys that horseplay around the game's levels are highly varied. Some require you to search high and low in hidden alcoves and rooms for monkeys, while others require multiple steps. Then there are some that are just plain old right out in the open. Don't think they'll just surrender without a fight (or a run in most cases). With over 400 monkeys to ascertain their whereabouts and nab them with your net, you're going to be in this for the long haul. It's just great that the game is one that is a lot of fun to play that you won't mind sinking tons of hours into it.

This girl means serious business when there are monkeys to catch.
If you haven't guessed, then, there is A LOT to do in Ape Escape 3. So much so that when you initially beat the game, you're only at around 50% completion. Through beating all of the Freaky Monkey Five twice and capturing every monkey in the game, you finally get to have the second go-round with Specter, the true final boss of the game. Even after he's defeated and captured, there are still time attacks to do. These have you try to speed through a level, capturing the specific number of monkeys as fast as possible in order to receive a bronze, silver, or gold trophy. Throw in tons of items and collectibles like music, videos, and even a Metal Gear Solid monkey-centric mini-game made by the developers of the series themselves, and you have plenty to monkey around with.

This sneaking mission might turn into a snacking one
if this monkey starts gobbling up those bananas.
Ape Escape 3 turned out to be an engaging game from beginning to 100% completion. It offered me about 10 hours of solid enjoyment, no filler, mostly nonlinear levels to indulge in and explore, and a really wacky sense of humor to coat the entire package. While the controls and sometimes problematic camera make for occasional headaches, there is no denying that for me, Ape Escape 3 was more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

[SPC Says: B+]

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