Currently scheduled for release in North America and Europe later this year, Ape Escape: Million Monkeys is a game that--at least judging by its title--promises to be far more epic in scale than any of its predecessors. Ape Escape 3 had only 400 monkeys, so can we really expect Sony to increase that number to a million in its latest offering? We recently imported the Japanese version of the game, titled Saru Get You: Million Monkeys, to find out if the game is as ambitious as its title suggests.
If you're thinking of importing it, the first thing you need to know about the Japanese version of Ape Escape: Million Monkeys is that its numerous menu screens can take a while to figure out if you don't understand the language. In addition to the requisite story mode, the game boasts a 40-stage survival mode and a number of multiplayer options that support up to four players on a single screen. For the purposes of this preview we've been playing the story mode exclusively, which is much more combat oriented than any of the previous Ape Escape games and can be played as any of six different characters from the outset.
The story mode can be played either in Kakeru mode, named after the game's hero, or Specter mode, named after the villainous white-haired simian who's attempting to conquer Earth with his army of monkeys. When playing as the good guys, you can choose to play as Kakeru, a boy with blond spiky hair; the professor, a scientist who specializes in time travel and monkey-troubling gadgets; Charu (or Casi), an artificial girl created by the professor; or Natsumi (or Natalie), the professor's feisty granddaughter. When playing as the bad guys, you can play either as Specter or as one of his monkey minions. All of the missions that we've beaten have played out the same way regardless of our faction choice (as a monkey, you go around beating and catching other monkeys), but the cutscenes in between missions appear to be putting a slightly different spin on the story.
From what we can gather, Ape Escape: Million Monkeys' story revolves around a large-scale invasion of Earth, which Specter has masterminded with help from a mysterious alien race. The only time we've actually seen an alien thus far is in the story mode's intro movie, but many of the weapons and technologies that the monkeys have access to in the game--which include tanks, walkers, and flying saucers--certainly look like they might have come from another planet. The monkeys in Million Monkeys aren't only better equipped than their counterparts in previous games, but they're also more aggressive and intelligent. In previous Ape Escape games your primary concern has been capturing monkeys using your net, and although this is still the case to some extent, you'll be spending the majority of your time battling with the troublesome primates rather than chasing and netting them.
Your arsenal at the start of the game when playing as Kakeru will include a lightsaber-like stun club, a net, a gun, and a pair of roller skates that can be used both to evade enemy attacks and to charge into enemies at speed. The appearance of these gadgets changes according to which character you choose to play as, but functionally they're no different. When playing as Specter, for example, the stun club is replaced with dual stun batons and the roller skates are replaced with a jetpack. The professor, on the other hand, wears a giant frame at all times, which incorporates twin guns and replaces the stun weapons with a large hammer on the end of a robotic arm. It's also worth noting that many of the monkeys in the game wield similar gadgets, and they're never shy about attacking you when you're already in the middle of a fight with one of their colleagues.
All of the environments that we've seen have been set in and around Tokyo, and they've typically felt like quite sterile re-creations of shopping areas, warehouses, and such. The art style employed for the environments is quite subdued and leans toward realism, which makes the cel-shaded characters and weapons stand out. Although the majority of the monkeys that you encounter will attack you on sight, a number of them in each level are quite proficient at hiding, and often the only way you'll even know that they're in the area is because they show up as red dots on your radar. You'll occasionally catch monkeys who are sleeping, using public telephones, or fishing, but on the whole the monkeys in this latest offering appear to lack the personality of those in previous games. It's conceivable that the monkeys will become more interesting and varied as you progress through the game, of course, but the appearances of those that we've encountered lead us to believe that Specter has amassed his army using some kind of cloning technology.
One of the few things in Ape Escape: Million Monkeys that doesn't represent a significant change over previous games is its control scheme. Ape Escape was the first PlayStation game to require a dual analog controller, because you used one stick for movement and the other for controlling whichever weapon or gadget you had equipped. This is still the case in Million Monkeys, where you'll have a different gadget mapped to each of the four face buttons and will use shoulder buttons for jumping, guarding, and targeting enemies.
We've enjoyed our time with Ape Escape: Million Monkeys, and we're pretty intrigued to see how the game progresses. One thing we're certain of at this point is that, unlike previous entries in the series, this isn't a case of "more of the same," which may or may not be a good thing depending on how you feel about its predecessors. We'll bring you more information on Ape Escape: Million Monkeys as soon as it becomes available.