Ape Escape 2
The sequel to the much-loved PlayStation adventure finally arrives in the West. Kikizo investigates.
By Kikizo Staff
Incidental to the release of Sony's Dual Shock controller, no doubt in order to flaunt its new functionality, Ape Escape can rightfully claim to be one of the most endearing PlayStation titles of 1999. A requisite for play, the then-new Dual Shock controller inspired a host of inventive scenarios that not only made full use of the new control scheme, but offered a unique take on the standard platformer formula.
The second title in the franchise, Pipo Saru 2001, dropped the dual-analog control scheme, and adopted a more action-oriented approach to the gameplay. The premise you ask? To suck the pants off of various primates with the intent to wash them. Needless to say, the game never left Japanese shores. And so, finally we come to Ape Escape 2, the third title in the series, and the direct sequel to the PlayStation original.
Tasked with sending a batch of newly designed pants to Monkey Park, Hikaru overloads the transporter machine by inadvertently sending monkey helmets along with the pants; the very same helmets that caused all the havoc in the past. The net result (haha!) of all this is that Hikaru, accompanied by a winged baby monkey named Pipotchi, must set out to recapture the simian escapees and their leader Specter. As much as Pipo Saru 2001 strayed from the original design, so Ape Escape 2 adheres to it. An almost carbon copy of the first, Ape Escape 2 has players making their way through a range of themed environments, utilizing a familiar stockpile of toy-like gadgets to overcome various obstacles and capture the monkeys that now plague the world.
Analogous to the acquisition of items in similar titles, gameplay, as you might expect, centers around the discovery and subsequent capture of monkeys. Rated in categories such as Aggression, Alertness, Speed and Fullness of Stomach, the monkeys become harder and harder to catch as the game progresses, and oftentimes will require the player to solve a simple puzzle or defeat a mini-boss-style character in order to net specific monkeys. When threatened, the monkeys will retaliate with punches, or heavy ordnance such as guns, bombs and rockets, but stiffer resistance is offered by the many hybrid creatures encountered in the worlds, (be they Wax Owls, Porkies, or even a Pineapple Finch) who will attack Hikaru on sight.
It is of course entirely possible to use the 'brute force' approach to capturing the critters; that is, simply chasing them down while flailing away with your net, but to do so would be to miss the point somewhat. It's far more enjoyable to use items such as the RC Car or Bananarang to flush or entice them out into the open, before sneaking up and pouncing on the hapless critters. That said, with hundreds of monkeys to catch, the game can, inevitably, degenerate into an exercise in tedium. Also, while inherently enjoyable, the novelty of manipulating two analog sticks has waned somewhat. You can thank the four-odd years we've had with the controller for that.
You can also thank the four-odd years for the advance in visuals. You'd certainly never mistake it for anything other than a platformer, but it does sport a clean, refined look that is easy on the eyes, if not overly impressive. The requisite next-generation upgrades aside, there's very little to distinguish this from its peers. As the obvious focus of the title, it's also disappointing to see such little care given to the monkeys themselves. Would a little bit of 'fur-shading' have hurt anyone? Hardly deficient in any one particular aspect, but not exactly excelling in any others either. Just above average.
Three words. "Monkeys on Parade!" That, quite frankly, is all you need to know about the soundtrack. Believe it or not, the game's catchy theme song has remained intact during the localization process. Having owned the Japanese version of the title for some months now (it has in fact already been relegated to "The Best" status, the Japanese equivalent of Greatest Hits), and as self-confessed fans of the tune, this pleases us greatly. Accompanying this little ditty is a soundtrack filled with such fluffy renditions as "Viva Apespania!," "The Blue Babboon" and "Castle Frightmare," a perfect foil to the less-than-serious on-screen antics. The voice-acting ain't bad either.
As if collecting every last one of the Poke... er, monkeys wasn't enough, the developers have filled the title with a host of unlockable extras. Between levels players can use the Gotcha Box, a sort of giant gumball machine, to purchase hidden content with the coins accrued during their travels. A commendable effort on the part of the developers, the extra content ranges in scope from Monkey Fables to Fortunes.
Jammed in between however, you'll find concept art, secret photos, enemy photos, Ape Escape 2 factoids, soundtracks, mini-games and even more pertinent items such as health cookies, extra lives and additional coins; a veritable treasure trove of quality content. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the five-a-side football mini-game, it's no Winning Eleven, but it's great fun nonetheless. You can even create your team from monkeys you've captured on your travels, all of whom possess different football-related ability ratings.
Sadly, time has rendered many of Ape Escape's original innovations obsolete. Although it's not quite the title it once was, the particular brand of humor and gameplay that is unmistakably Ape Escape remains firmly intact in this PS2 rendition. And that alone makes it worth a look for ardent fans of the original, and especially those who never played the first title.