It has been almost a year since Ape Escape Academy was released in Japan. In the ensuing months the minigame compilation has seen release in Europe, but it still hasn't made an appearance in the US. Thankfully, the game will finally be hitting the US next month. Sony recently dropped by our offices with near-final versions of the game. Though you won't see any dramatic changes to this North American version, a number of balance and aesthetic tweaks have added some polish to the appealing collection of simian-themed games.
If you're unfamiliar with the game, we'll give you the basic gist: Ape Escape Academy is based on Sony's popular Ape Escape franchise, which started on the original PlayStation. The series has revolved around the capture of apes sporting intelligence-enhancing helmets. The simian cast has gained liberal doses of personality with each subsequent installment and has now turned into a cottage industry with PlayStation 2, EyeToy, and PSP games featuring their lovable mugs. Ape Escape Academy casts you as one of the furry guys as you make your way through school. It seems Specter, the leader of the apes, is aiming to get himself minions who are better trained, given his defeat in the previous installments of the Ape Escape games. As a result, you'll go through a series of minigames ostensibly designed to make your monkey a more productive member of Specter's army. This is, of course, the perfect setup for playing through more than 40 minigames.
Now, while the game should be pretty familiar to anyone who has a PSP and has been keeping an eye on the import releases for the platform, it will still offer some refinements over its foreign counterparts. The core gameplay and modes remain the same. You'll still find the single-player Academy and two multiplayer modes from which you can choose. Academy is the centerpiece and takes the form of the academy curriculum. You'll go through six years of school, which is broken down into junior and senior levels, and each year you'll be instructed by a familiar face from the series. Each year will offer a different set of minigames for you to try that will be laid out in a tic-tac-toe-style grid. You'll need to complete enough minigames to form rows on the grid. The higher your academic year, the more rows you'll have to complete. The multiplayer mode will break down into share mode and multimode. The share mode will feature a handful of games that you can play with a friend on a single PSP by either taking turns holding the unit or playing at the same time, depending on the game. The multimode will let you share and compete in one of four games using multiple PSPs. In addition to those modes, Ape Academy will also feature game collection and showcase options. The game collection will let you replay any of the minigames without having to hop into Academy mode. Showcase will let you check out the 300 monkeys you'll wind up collecting (yes, 300 monkeys).
There are a number of changes being implemented to the game for the US market that will offer a smoother experience. The most obvious is the addition of the English language. On the gameplay side, the requirements for getting games in your collection have changed to make the experience a little easier. Rather than requiring you to beat the game in order to get it into your collection, games are automatically added as you encounter them.
Based on what we've played, Ape Escape Academy offers the same brand of wacky fun we had with the import versions, but it features some nice refinements to help improve the overall experience. If you're a fan of the series, a monkey enthusiast, or you're just looking for a breezy diversion while on the move, you'll want to check out Ape Escape Academy to see if it suits your entertainment and simian needs. Ape Escape Academy is currently slated to ship next month for the PSP.