Reviewed: February 8, 2006
Released: January 17, 2006
Those crazy apes are at it again in Sony’s latest sequel, Ape Escape 3. You’d have to wonder if there is any life left in a series that revolves around catching a bunch of runaway monkeys, but rest assured, there is more humor and more originality in this game than ever before.
The premise is simple and even a bit original. Specter has joined forces with Dr. Tomoki and unleashed 400 monkeys to take control over our television, or at least the programming, in hopes of subduing the masses with mindless broadcasts and taking over the world - not unlike FOX.
While the underlying premise might be a bit cliché, it certainly offers numerous opportunities for hilariously fun gameplay levels under the guise of wacky programming and unique takes on several familiar TV shows and movies.
New premise aside, the gameplay is just as classic and perfect as ever. Rooted in a dual stick design, you move with the left stick and attack with the right based on whatever weapon you have equipped, which is chosen with face button hotkeys. The camera is controlled with the D-pad, which can be a bit awkward at times, especially with the more elusive monkeys, but it all works as good, if not better than ever.
There are numerous levels, each based on a studio set with a unique theme, usually a spoof of a popular movie. We have the parody of Indiana Jones on one set, and a “Monday the 16th” spoof on another popular horror franchise. Each of these sets has cameras that you can use to record entertaining bits of the film and replay them later.
You have two playable characters, Kei, and his older sister, Yumi. I was hoping for some more diverse gameplay between the two, but both are fairly similar and easy to master thanks to some wonderfully intuitive and responsive controls. The biggest addition to the series however is the new morph modes.
This handy new gadget allows you to shift into any of eight unique and useful forms once you have filled the morph gauge. This happens over time or you can collect Morph Energy. Once you assume one of these new shapes you no longer have access to your regular gadgets, but you do have access to form-specific moves. The Knight has a shield great for defense, while the Genie Dancer is perfect for opening musical doors. The Kung Fu Fighter has a good punch attack while the Ninja is one of the more powerful forms and great for capturing monkeys.
The environments and puzzles are designed in such a way that you are encourage to try and use all of these morphs at one time or another. Admittedly, some are more useful than others, but they all serve their purpose and are unique enough that you won’t have trouble figuring out when to use each form.
We all loved the rowboat from the original Ape Escape. It was the first true use of the Dual Shock’s analog sticks. This game has even more original vehicles and they all make use of the twin sticks to some extent.
The one thing that has always annoyed me with the Ape Escape series is that once you have captured the target number of apes you are ejected from the level. This is still the case. I would much rather be able to continue and get the rest of the monkeys, or at least be given the option to leave, rather than exiting back to the hub and then having to return to the previous level. It's just a lot of needless load screens.
Ape Escape 3 is an uneven mix of action and platforming. For most of the first part of the game you’ll be exploring levels and capturing as many monkeys as possible, but as things start to wind down toward the conclusions you will find yourself in increasingly challenging platform-style levels which jumping puzzles that will test even veteran-level reflexes.
Normally I get to complain about games being too dark but Ape Escape 3 was actually too bright, to the point of being washed out in several of the levels. A lot of the transitions between levels and cutscenes washed out with a bright white light that forced me to look away from the screen.
The art and character design is just as charming as ever, definitely infused with a heavy anime style, and the animation is fluid and charming and quick to match your control inputs. Level design is equally as inventive and matches the themes of some easily recognizable movies and cultural icons.
Sound effects are simple but serve their purpose. The gadgets all have some interesting sounds and there is a surprisingly variety to the screeching of chimps. It’s all given some 3D scope with a Dolby Pro Logic II mix.
The music ranges from good to campy, but it always fits with the theme of the level and the overall attitude of the game. The same can be said for the voices which won’t win any awards but is totally enjoyable and just what you’d expect for this game and its target audience.
There are 400 monkeys you’ll need to capture to complete this game, not to mention countless unlockable bonus items to buy and clever mini-games to play and beat. Just finishing the main story mode only nets you about half of this content, so perfectionists will be coming back for several more hours.
Nothing will top Ape Escape Academy for mini-games but there is still a good selection to be found in Ape Escape 3, plus you can watch all those film clips you unlocked during the main game, check out photo cards, and best of all, play the ingenious Mesal Gear Solid.
This simian-inspired version of Metal Gear Solid has authentic MGS music and eight levels of intense gameplay, thanks to a collaborative effort with Sony and Konami. If it were a bit longer it could have been released as a standalone game, but as it is, this is probably the best mini-game of its kind.
Ape Escape 3 is arguably more of the same, but there is nothing wrong with that when the original games have already achieved cult-classic status. There are plenty of clever enhancements like the new morphing ability, and the spoofing of movies and TV is a great premise for creating plenty of entertaining levels.
And with 400 monkeys, tons of bonuses, and a chance to play a reinvented version of Metal Gear Solid with a simian-twist, this is one ape game that will be nearly impossible to escape.