A nice catch.
Just what about their small furry bodies and fake laughter makes monkeys so darned hilarious? I mean, midgets are small too, but Midget Escape: Little People on the Loose
isn't funny. Or it is, but not in the same family-friendly way. And that's when it dawned on me - monkeys are funny because they are tiny, stupid, hairy people that you can laugh at without the least twinge of remorse. Because animals don't feel shame.
But there is nothing shameful about this most recent Ape Escape release. If anything, Ape Escape 3 rights the floundering franchise, reminding us why Ape Escape ever became a franchise in the first place and allowing us to forget the forgettable Ape Academy. It doesn't pave any new ground, but Ape Escape 3 is a solid, formidable and yes, funny new monkey in the platforming barrel.
The basic premise remains the same as in Ape Escapes past. You play as the spiky-haired Kei who must hunt down and net hundreds of renegade monkeys. Their leader, an evil albino monkey named Specter, is once again plotting world domination. His motives are unclear, but that goes for most albino monkeys in positions of power.
This time, Specter has taken over network television. And just like reality TV, this evil plot throws a bunch of monkeys into prime-time slots. The upshot of the bizarre television motif is that each of the levels is designed around a television or film genre. Soap operas, Westerns, military aviation films, nature documentaries, and even Hong Kong kung-fu movies fill out an impressive array of levels. During the filming of a Western, you grab monkeys on a dusty street and in saloons. During the Titanic episode, you will nab a Leonardo Di Caprio monkey from his own personal ice floe. Kate Winslet, too.
At first you are only armed with a net, but as the game progresses, you acquire tools such as the slingshot, the monkey radar, the radio-controlled car, and the ever-useful stun stick. These made their appearance in previous Ape Escapes and are just as handy and fun in this one. The D-pad buttons equip the tools, and the right analog stick uses them. The directional capability of the right-stick is a welcomed help, as the monkeys tend to zig-zag more than a nerd playing dodgeball. The basic control is comfortable, and the ability to move the camera around using the directional pad is absolutely essential. The game is relatively light on jumping puzzles, but when they occur, the camera seems more helpful than in versions past.
It also helps that many of the platform puzzles are designed with specific gadgets in mind; shooting a rock through a window to open a door is always a classic, but there are more inventive challenges as well. In one case, you run on a glass surface while simultaneously guiding your RC car through an obstacle course below. The gadgetry suits the puzzles, but the puzzles all seem to involve hitting a switch of some sort - indeed, there are as many switches in this game as there are monkeys, and they are nowhere near as cute. While the door-opening and switch-hitting is still kind of fun, some new goals or more complex puzzles would have been better.
The big new feature in Ape Escape 3 is not the gadgets, but the "morph" capabilities of your anime hero. Morph energy lets you transform into various genre heroes, like the "Wild West kid" or the "kung fu child." While morphed, you have certain special abilities and defenses. For example, the Wild West kid shoots a six-shooter like a machine gun and the samurai has the ability to walk on tightropes. The strangest might be the "genie dancer." This morph summons a friendly genie who dances with the monkeys, allowing you to capture them while they are shaking their proverbial laffy-taffy.
Joining the new morph abilities with the television genres provides welcome thematic consistency. While earlier Ape Escapes focused heavily on the gadgetry, this one relieves some of that pressure with morph-specific puzzles. Even if some of these seem like rehashes of earlier gadget puzzles, the variety is immense.
As is the game itself. With more than 400 monkeys and 18 levels, Ape Escape 3 is a giant action game. Tons of unlockable content, such as mini-games, purchasable songs and movies, and even a strange fortune-telling feature make the game even larger. And, if that weren't too many monkeys in one barrel, the game can be played with either Kei or his sister Yumi.
And most of the experience is enjoyable. Pop-culture humor finds plenty of satiric outlets in the interesting level designs. The bright colors, variety of puzzles and gameplay types (you will drive tanks, ride in boats, and drive giant robots before the game is through) change gears often enough to keep it lively.
Still, the game only seems catchy for about twenty minutes at a time. While the levels and monkeys result in a lot of cuteness, it isn't long before every monkey seems exactly the same and the tongue-in-cheek humor goes from clever to predictable. It's a long game, and one that is genuinely fun, but not very addictive. Besides the gadgets and the morphing, the experience stays pretty much the same from start to finish.
The lead characters, Kei and Yumi, just aren't that likeable, and their abnormally busty aunt, Aki, simply sexes up the instructor role that used to be held by the wizened professor. Most of the charisma is found in the monkeys themselves, who are each doing something cool and genuinely inoffensive until you come along and poach them. What's wrong with a monkey climbing a mountain? Or hanging from a hot-air balloon? Or painting a picture? No wonder the monkeys get so pissed when you come along.
The delivery is pleasant enough. While each song matches the theme of its level, all of the compositions are bright and happy renditions of generic soundtracks. The game looks like it sounds, so colorful and giddy that it must have been dipped in Prozac and sugar.
But sweet and deliriously happy is only compelling for so long. If you're looking for a good investment for a ten year-old, Ape Escape 3 will do the trick. Its relatively short playing segments paired with its huge overall scheme gives a lot of bang for the buck. However, those with more than a tamarin's attention span might find this monkey a little under-evolved.