Game development and design have been evolving since the first collection of pixels moved around on a monocolor screen nearly three decades ago, and as you'd expect, a few "natural laws" have been uncovered during that evolution. One such law is you can never go wrong with monkeys. Whether they're threatening plumbers, fighting among themselves, dancing with maracas, or flinging psychic feces at us, monkeys improve a title simply by being in it. And while the amusing apes are always welcome members of a game's cast, it's always a treat to see the little guys score their own game. The latest monkey-centric title to grace a console is Ubi Soft's upcoming Ape Escape 2, a game that very nearly didn't make it to the US. The sequel to the 1999 PlayStation platformer Ape Escape, Ape Escape 2 was released for the PlayStation 2 in Japan last year. Unfortunately, Sony of America opted not to localize the game for North America. But, as luck would have it, Ubi Soft swooped in, possibly on a vine, and snatched the title up. We recently checked out a preview build of Ape Escape 2 to see how the monkeys' localized shenanigans are coming together.
For the uninitiated, the Ape Escape games pit you against a simian army led by Specter, an albino chimp who's smarter than your average monkey and who really gets surly when furnished with a special brain-power-enhancing helmet. Unfortunately, this is just what happens at the beginning of Ape Escape 2, when the main character, Jimmy, accidentally mixes such helmets up with an order of pants set for delivery to Monkey Park. The end result? Pants-wearing supermonkeys in Specter's thrall who must be stopped.
The gameplay in Ape Escape 2 roughly follows the structure of the original. You'll be required to capture a set number of monkeys in a level to move on to the next one, and you'll be able to return to levels you've already completed to catch every monkey in them. In addition to capturing monkeys, you'll be collecting gold coins, which you can use in a vending machine in the game's main hub to collect items. You'll also find a minigame corner where you can play the minigames you unlock and an entertainment center where you can view monkey and level data. As you progress through the game, you'll acquire more gadgets and have a chance to try them out before moving on to the next level. The game's learning curve is about as mild as the original's, keeping things basic in the early levels so you can accustom yourself to each new gadget you receive.
As far as control goes, Ape Escape 2 handles almost exactly like its PlayStation predecessor. You'll move the main character with the left analog stick, jump with the R1 and R2 buttons, and manipulate the camera with the L1 and L2 buttons. The various gadgets you'll use in the game are all accessed by the square, X, triangle, and circle buttons. The right analog stick will let you use your selected gadget. You'll find many familiar gadgets such as the net, the stun club, the monkey radar, the aqua net, and the dash hoop. Each gadget functions just as its PlayStation predecessor did. The net catches the monkeys, the stun club incapacitates them momentarily, the monkey radar helps you find hidden monkeys in a level, the aqua net lets you catch monkeys underwater, and the dash hoop serves as both a speed dash and special attack.
The graphics in Ape Escape 2 won't blow you away with a slew of polygons or special effects, but they have a simple charm, thanks to the game's unique art style. The game's overall look stays true to the original, serving up a world of odd angles and helmet-wearing monkeys. Jimmy's model is a modest collection of polys enhanced by some spartan detail. The monkeys in the game follow suit, although they look a bit more fetching, thanks to their sporty monkey hats. The environments in the game feature a higher level of detail than the character models and are a patchwork collection of various influences. You'll find the traditional jungle levels with trees and waterfalls, as well as Venetian-style waterways and Romanesque columns. The one constant in the levels is a sense of whimsy, with parodies of Planet of the Apes' ruined Statue of Liberty, in this case a monkey, and other little tongue-in-cheek monkey-centric touches.
The game's audio consists of a bouncy selection of tunes and a satisfying assortment of monkey cries. The localized text and speech are good, although we have to admit to missing the eccentric inflections used in the Japanese version of the game. Fortunately, the monkey cries are plentiful and amusing, so all is well.
From what we've seen so far, Ubi Soft has done a fine job of localizing Ape Escape 2. As we've mentioned, it's hard to go wrong with monkeys, and the game features solid graphics and polished gameplay to back them up. With a ton of monkeys to capture, each with his or her own unique temperament and stats, Ape Escape 2 should be an engaging and addictive experience worth checking out. The game ships this July for the PlayStation 2.