A few years ago Sony introduced a device called the Dual Shock. Life before Dual Shock was horrible; thumbs became sore as a result of holding down the d-pad for hours on end. Precise movements and commands weren’t possible because control was limited to eight directions, causing a hindrance on the budding 3D platformer genre. Indeed, life before Dual Shock was bad, Tomb Raider
controls bad. Then one day everything changed. Suddenly controllers vibrated, thumbs stopped hurting and characters moved in more than just eight different directions. To showcase the controller’s abilities Sony released Ape Escape
, the first game to require the Dual Shock controller. Gamers were introduced into a whole new world; the gaming world would never be the same again.
It’s been four years(!) since that glorious day and now one of the forefathers who helped usher in the new standard of gaming has spawned a sequel. While most will agree that it’s long overdue I’m sure that very few will have much to complain about. Sony of Japan’s Ape Escape 2
(published by Ubi Soft here in the ‘States) is a well designed game that may be a little rough around the edges but is still a blast to play. There’s just this beautiful simplicity about it that helps tie the whole package together.
The premise of the game is simple, run around and catch monkeys with your net. At times the game will throw some small puzzles at you but for the most part it’s straightforward and simple. After you’ve met your quota you’ll be able to move on to the next level where you’re saddled with completing the same task. At certain points you’ll have to face bosses in battles that are both creative and well-designed. Some of the puzzles and situations are frustrating but never to the point where it becomes too annoying to stomach. To flesh things out a bit there’s a little side game involving the coins that are scattered about the environments. Depositing them into a giant Gotcha machine will gain you a Gotcha ball filled with a random bonus. These range from comic strips and parts of the game’s soundtrack to stories, mini-games and other assorted bonuses. This was especially novel on the part of Sony and Ubi as most games use coins as a means of earning 1-ups as opposed to dealing out goodies.
Of course the meat of the game resides in the platforming elements so this is where you’ll spend the majority of your time. All of the environments are large and feature different areas and facets. Movement within them is rather limited, however, as they aren’t quite as large as some of the environments that we have become accustomed to. The variety is what really makes each level fun to play. You’ll travel to Egyptian pyramids, pirate boats and even a Shaolin Temple that satirizes the hit action flick Enter the Dragon
Monkeys are often hidden in creative ways. Sometimes you’ll find them sitting around but more often then not you’ll find them hiding in paintings, seashells and other clever places. Like most wild animals the monkeys won’t go down without a fight. To even up the playing ground a bit they’ve all been given defense mechanisms. When you begin they’re relatively tame and will basically try to run away from you but as you progress they become more and more lethal. Some have heat-sinking rockets, flame throwers and bombs. A few will hop into cannons and launch themselves at you while others will jump into giant robots and take the fight to you. This makes catching each monkey a different and unique experience, one that doesn’t get old too quickly.
Fear not for you won’t be heading into the battle unarmed. Throughout the game you’ll acquire new gadgets that will aid in your quest to capture all of the monkeys. During your quest you’ll come across an R/C car, a hula hoop that helps you run faster, a stun baton, a slingshot, a boomerang that lures monkeys towards you and much much more. All of the devices serve a different purpose and help alleviate the headaches that those pesky bastards will incur upon you. Using the gadgets is made simple thanks to a system that allows you to map your four favorite devices to the face buttons. This allows you to switch between devices right on the fly without having to search through your inventory. It’s kind of a double-edged sword at times because in order to access the other gadgets you’ll have to pause the game, wade through a few menus and then map it to one of the face buttons. At times I wish that the designers would have just gone with a traditional scroll based inventory setup.
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