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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Ape Escape 3 (PS2)


By Michael Palisano

The newest installment in Sony's long running monkeyshines series arrives on the PS2. While Ape Escape 3 doesn't reinvent the wheel, there are a few new twists, like the ability to morph into different characters, to keep things fresh. Players can choose one of two characters and go through a variety of satirical television-themed levels and mini-games where they have to capture out of control apes and prevent the evil Spectre from controlling the world. Read our review and find out why Ape Escape 3's instantly accessible gameplay and light-hearted approach make for an appealing title for all gamers.

Ape Escape 3 begins as the evil Spector and his band of hypnotized monkeys are once again trying to take over the world. This time, their plan is simple yet effective. These crazed, yet lovable little monkeys have taken over the airwaves and produced a series of idiotic programs designed to turn anyone who views them into mindless couch potatoes. As one of two young heroes, it's up to you to stop the monkeys from invading the television studios and put a stop to their hi-jinks before they can hit the air. You can play as either a boy named Kai, or a girl Yumi, both of whom have been enlisted to help save the world from the monkeys. Each of Ape Escape 3's levels takes on a distinct theme such as a soap opera or a wedding. These satirical episodes can be quite funny in a bizarre sort of way, though the actual main storyline of the game is somewhat surreal as well, playing as almost a send-up of both television clichés and video game culture, with a famously 'Solid' gaming franchise getting lampooned by the monkeys as they hit a variety of targets.

As they begin to crash onto the production lots of television studios, the crisis becomes more widespread. With some of the heroes of previous games under their broadcasted spell, It's up to you to capture the preset number of monkeys on each level using your powerful net to collect them as they try and run from you. You can also use your stick to stun them temporarily, making them that much easier to collect. In addition, you can use a variety of extra gadgets such as a monkey radar to help you along in each level. To make your life easier, you can assign these extra gadgets to specific buttons as well, allowing you to use these special items quickly and easily. Collecting all the monkeys in a level isn't as easy as it sounds, since they can spot you coming a mile away, and seem to anticipate your moves. You can tell how angry a monkey is by the color of the light on their helmet, which goes from blue to red, allowing you to see how much of a challenge you'll face. You'll also have to find hidden monkeys and some mini-bosses near the end of each level that are much more aggressive and can be challenging to capture.

In addition to fighting a seemingly endless number of crazed monkeys, you'll also face other bad guys such as the cameras and directors who will attack when you get near to the other monkeys. Each time the character takes a hit, you lose energy but can regain some of your strength by collecting cookies and other power-ups. Dodging some of the attacks is simple, though other times the camera doesn't keep up with the action, making for some frustrating points in the game. Most of the game's levels are larger than you'd expect, though their straightforward design means you won't get lost. Each area has enough space to let you wander around and explore. This gives the gameplay an open-ended feel, that makes finding the monkeys quite enjoyable. The majority of Ape Escape's levels are designed like this but there are several areas where you have to battle against a boss character and these can be a bit harder to take over. Ape Escape 3's overall pacing and structure is fairly simple, and most players shouldn't have to much trouble with the game. Adding in a bunch of mini-games and extra features helps to give things a non-linear feel. However, the game's lack of an online or multiplayer component is somewhat disappointing, especially in light of the online modes seen in the PSP editions of the series. So while the solo game is quite enjoyable, there definitely seems to be something missing from the experience.

One of Ape Escape 3's major innovations is the ability of the player to morph into another form and use special abilities and attacks to capture monkeys. In order to morph, the first thing you need to do is power-up your gauge by collecting monkeys. Once the morph energy bar has been filled, you can then perform a special morph jump by pressing down both right trigger buttons. While you can't use the special gadgets while in this form, you can use special attacks. These are only available for a short time, so you have to keep an eye on the timer. Since both characters have different forms, morphing definitely adds a new twist to the series' already enjoyable style. Figuring out the best time to morph your characters makes Ape Escape 3's gameplay more interesting, though it doesn't really throw the balance off that much, you can use these strategically to make boss battles easier. In addition, players can collect and play a number of mini-games throughout their adventure, which increases the game's replay value substantially. Players can also view items and other extras in the game's trophy room, including all the different apes that you have captured. The game flows fairly simply from level to level, and most players should have little trouble making progress quickly.

From a visual standpoint, the game's brightly colored environments and cel-shaded characters give Ape Escape 3 a sunny, cheerful appearance that brings the cartoonish world to life. The worlds are vibrant and colorful and the game looks solid throughout with a consistent frame rate. Ape Escape's production values are excellent as well, with some humorous cinematics that outline the wacky plots of the surreal television shows in the game. The characters have a typically anime-style appearance, and their morphs are somewhat cool as well. During the course of the game, the always helpful Aki will give you advice via the cell-phones scattered around each level. The voice-overs are nicely done as well, and give the game a slightly off-kilter feel throughout. The only problem we faced on a consistent basis was the camera, which frequently failed to keep pace with the action, and was difficult to control while also chasing apes. However, this is something you can adjust to after awhile, and becomes less important as you become accustomed to it. Despite these minor glitches, the game's overall look and feel is fits the humorous and light-hearted approach of the plot effectively.

Some franchises reinvent themselves with every installment, while others like Ape Escape thrive on their consistency. While the developers give players a host of new mini-games and the ability to morph into different forms, most of the conventions and style that made the previous titles so appealing is back this time around. You'll find the same charming cast of simians that made the older games so much fun to play, along with a few surprises as well The controls remain remarkably simple and accessible making the game a joy to play. The new gadgets and weapons add to the fun, but don't hinder this simple concept. While you can morph into more powerful characters at certain points, the basic objective remains the same. The game's light-hearted satirical bent is nicely done with excellent production values with the slight exception of some minor camera issues. The concept is also appealing, since you can't go wrong putting monkeys in silly situations. Add in intuitive controls that are quite easy to understand and use, and you have a solidly entertaining action title. Ape Escape 3 is an entertaining and occasionally challenging game that should appeal to gamers looking for an uncomplicated yet enjoyable diversion.

Grade: B

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