Reviewed: March 2, 2006
Released: January 17, 2006
Pac-Man Fever, Mario Party, Chef’s Luv Shack,Twisted, and countless other party-style games have all helped to create one of gaming’s more popular genres, especially when it comes to multiplayer. And when we think of these party games the last format we usually think of is the handheld system, but with the PSP’s wireless capabilities a game like Ape Escape Academy makes perfect sense.
Ape Escape Academy embodies everything I love about handheld gaming. It’s short, sweet, you can play a few mini-games or tackle the larger academy mode, and it doesn’t require a huge investment in time.
There are 45 mini-games in Ape Escape Academy that all pay homage to the previous Ape Escape titles on the PS2. You’ll see all your favorite heroes and villains along with new characters and an entirely new concept in “monkeying around”.
Your first day at the Academy kicks off with some basic training on the beach where your drill instructor will have you practicing your analog pad skills as well as your ability to hit the various face buttons in a DDR-style dance pattern game. From there its off to a six year stint at the Academy where you will try to achieve high scores and unlock all of the included mini-games for solo play later.
Each year at the Academy is presented much like a game show. You get a giant tic-tac-toe board and each square on the board represents a randomly assigned mini-game. You pick the square, play the game and if you meet the challenge you earn a circle. To graduate you have to complete the prerequisite amount of “lines” on each tic-tac-toe board. There are also hidden gold medals on the board and when the year is complete, if you have circles over all three of these medals you unlock a secret bonus stage.
But all of this is merely window dressing for the mini-games that you will be playing over and over and over…and over again. Some of these games are very easy and others are very very hard. Often, the difference between me getting a perfect score was simply the random assignment of mini-games to the board.
There are far too many games to cover in detail individually, but I will cover a few of my favorites to give you an idea of what to expect. Games range from tests of knowledge to tests of observation and even reflexes. Knowledge tests come in the form of trivia and math challenges, and while 5+1–3= might seem like an easy problem, just wait until the numbers start shifting and the + turns into an x and you aren’t sure if you should be adding or multiplying or calling your math tutor.
Trivia challenges include all sorts of knowledge testing and even more fiendish is the country flag quiz where the game will put up flags from all these “obscure” countries and ask you to name the flag. It’s all multiple choice so you have a one-in-four chance of guessing, but just when you get into the groove of answering with country names they throw you a curve and take away the image then ask you what the symbol was in the middle of the flag or what color the stripes were.
Observational testing comes in the form of games where you simply count monkeys that are walking by on the sidewalk. Press the X to click your counter as each monkey passes. It’s easy at first when you only have 12-15 monkeys but soon it will be 30, or 40, or more and they will be coming in from both sides of the screen and doubling back on themselves so you aren’t sure if you counted the one in the blue shorts twice or not. Monkeys will be behind each other and you can only barely make out the fact there are two of them. Then you have the more traditional puzzle where they show you one monkey then put him in a group of similar monkeys but you must pick him out quickly.
Reflex tests include getting the jump off the start of a track race, or circling a campfire throwing rocks and boomerangs at invading monkeys until the sun rises. Or you might have to move back and forth catching bombs on a plate tossing them to your accomplice on either side, or how about freefalling a few thousand feet, catching parachutes and distributing them to other freefalling monkeys.
Then you have other random games like a futuristic Rock-Paper-Scissors, bullfighting, air hockey, soccer, and even a game where you think you are going to race a car but end up “washing” it instead. There’s a shooting gallery, sumo wrestling, DDR dancing, and even a very cool “crane game” where you rotate the PSP 90-degrees and go diving for deep sea treasure on a vertical screen.
Some games are fun, some games are stupid, some games are easy, some games are impossible. And even if a game starts off easy it gets gradually harder as you replay them through the higher years at the Academy, and when you play them in solo mode you keep playing until you lose, with your highest scores being recorded.
Multiplayer is limited but fun nonetheless. You can either pass your PSP around the room to compete or you can link-up wirelessly for some limited game modes. The multiplayer isn’t as much as I had hoped for, especially for a genre whose core audience it multiplayer party gamers.
Ape Escape Academy exudes all the style and charm of the ape games that have come before it. Once you see a monkey in a red or blue hat you just know what to expect. Each mini-game has a very distinct look about it whether you are merely reading large text questions and math problems, or flapping a red cape at a charging bull.
Animation is simple but more than adequate for this type of game. Some of it is purposely primitive while other animation like the monkey dance party is really fun to watch. The overall presentation, menus, and tic-tac-toe academy mode is simple to grasp for young and old alike.
Everything about the game is designed so you can pick it up, play it fast, put it away, and come back to it as time permits.
The music and sound effects are firmly rooted in the Ape Escape legacy. You’ll hear familiar music that ranges from upbeat and cheery to intense and sinister depending on the game you are playing.
A don’t forget plenty of screeching monkeys. The campfire level is particularly loud and I attracted several curious stares while playing without headphones. There is nothing revolutionary in the audio department but all of the sound and music are perfectly matched to the mini-games and the overall presentation.
You can probably make your way through the six years at the academy in about 6-8 hours depending on how smart, fast, and observant you are. Perfectionists will at least want to get all the gold coins if not perfect tic-tac-toe boards for all six years and that could take some time.
The mini-games are great as standalone quick fixes when you have five or ten minutes and don’t want to play anything serious. There are some load time issues so you probably won’t want to choose Ape Escape Academy unless you already have it loaded and your PSP is in sleep mode.
The multiplayer will offer a bit of extended replay. The wireless is pretty much barebones, but as long as you don’t mind others “touching” your PSP you can have a lot of fun passing this game around the room or in a car.
Ape Escape Academy really grabbed me at the start, but started to lose me about three years in. Some of the mini-games are just impossible (for me) and it usually seemed to be those games that were on the squares I needed to make the required line(s) to graduate.
Even so, I still go back and regularly play the mini-games in the standalone modes, trying to get better, and Ape Escape Academy has become quite popular as a “pass around the room to compete for high score” title. And I hope to graduate some day.
So if you love brainteasers, reflex testers, and games that will test your observational awareness, you might want to enroll in Ape Escape Academy. It might not stack up with the rest of the Ape Escape titles but I dare say it’s as much fun as…oh…a barrel of monkeys.