I think I need to start this review off by first making something very clear: for me, the joypad is, and always will be, king. Having evolved over many, many years to become what it is now, whether you use the traditional PS3 version, the Xbox360 pad with slightly wonkily-positioned sticks (presumably designed like that to prevent breaching Sony’s patent), or the Wii’s ‘let’s divide the controller into two bits so it looks even stranger’ version, the reason that the joypad has evolved into the form that it has is that it makes it possible to play just about any game – shoot-’em-up, flight sim, footie game, racing title… you name it, the joypad will handle it.
I’ll admit, there once was a time when first-person shooters were actually better on the PC, because a keyboard and mouse was the most effective way of handling moving, shooting and weapon selection, but then the addition of dual sticks and some extra buttons to the joypad changed all that, and these days you can have at least as good an FPS experience on a console as you can on a PC.
Why all this hyping up of the humble joypad you ask? Because I think it’s only fair before I go on to critique this latest offering from Sony, to get it on record that I am NOT a massive fan of the motion controller. I’d like to be able to blame Nintendo, with its magical Wii ‘ooh look, I’m waving my hand and Mario is moving’ dedicated motion controller, but in reality it’s Sony that kicked the whole thing off with their EyeToy ‘wave your hands and makes things move’ games, back on the PS2.
I don’t actually hate motion control, you understand – and in fact for some styles of game the motion control system is perfectly suited – Time Crisis and it’s ilk of light-gun style games for instance, were practically begging for a way of you being able to play the game simply by pointing at it. And when it comes to party-style games, motion controllers are always good for a laugh, for an hour or two, with friends, as everyone marvels at how you’re playing tennis, or popping balloons, or doing whatever it is you happen to be doing just by flailing your limbs about. Great, brilliant, awesome fun… for a while. But when it comes to precision control of movement and weapons in that FPS, or making that perfect pass in Pro Evo or FIFA, or losing hours of your life to some online role-playing game… when it comes to that, you need the joypad. And the scary thing is that games companies now seem to be forgetting all that and rushing headlong down a road where more and more games are motion-controller focussed. Which brings us to Ape Escape – see, I got there in the end.
12 years ago, the first Ape Escape introduced PlayStation owners, still getting to grips with the novel concept of the dualshock controller, to a comical adventure where the player had to roam far and wide to chase down a bunch of mischievous monkeys with flashing lights on their heads. The game was humorous, it was fun, it had freedom and replayability. Now, in this latest game for PS3, the monkeys are back, in what I can best describe as an ‘extended PlayStation Move themed minigame’. In all honesty it feels like some games designer at Sony was messing around over lunch with a PlayStation Move controller and the Ape Escape characters, came up with this, intended to use it to as a bolt-on addition to a full size Ape Escape 3D adventure title… and then just forgot to write the rest of the game.
Starting off reasonably well, the game introduces us to a world beset by flying saucers, flying saucers filled with our simian friends. And before you can say ‘why, exactly?’ you’re out and about catching the little illuminated monkeys. This is done by using the PlayStation Move controller (look! I’m waving my hand and playing the game! Wow, etc) to control various devices with which you must smack, entice, hoover up and – of course – net the monkeys. Well, I say that, but actually the game basically consists of waiting for an ape to run towards the screen, then when he’s certain distance away, grabbing him with the net. Once you’re used to this, and have figured out how you switch between the various devices which can be used to poke or entice the simians, it then comes down to a first-person viewed on-rails trip through a variety of different environments, your task along the way to grab bananas, bash a variety of bad guys and net yourself a whole zoo-load of monkeys. It’s actually quite good fun to start with… and then you realise that this is the whole game. After which it stops being quite so much fun. There have obviously been some attempts made to add a little variety, in the form of special ‘bonus gadgets’ that you can access which will – for a short period of time – aid you in your monkey-napping (by the way – yes, I know that monkeys and apes are different creatures, but I’m trying really hard not to keep repeating the word ‘ape’) and there are also a number of minigames to try your luck at, but still what you’re left with is a game that feels like it should be part of a Move selection pack – ie: just one of a number of games designed to highlight the ‘wondrous’ potential of the movement controller (and yes, those quotes represent sarcasm).
Now had they created a free-roaming adventure where the Move controller was simply a clever way of catching the monkeys, but which otherwise aped (pardon the awful pun) the original Ape Escape gameplay, then we might be looking at something special here, but as it is this is only a game for young children and those strange individuals who showed no interest in videogames until they were suddenly able to play them by waving their arms in the air. About the only thing to really recommend it is that it’s at a budget price, so it may be one for the bargain hunters out there – but my advice would be buy a second-hand copy of Ape Escape 3 on the PS2 instead! For those who measure everything by numbers – Ape Escape gets a below average 4 out of 10 from me.