Ape Escape: On the Loose Update

Sony shows off an updated version of its upcoming PSP conversion of the PlayStation classic.

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SAN FRANCISCO--At a press event this evening, Sony showed off a near-final version of Ape Escape for the PSP. The game is a conversion of the PlayStation classic that's being reworked for Sony's upcoming portable system. While we were only able to see a small sampling of the game at Sony's press event at CES, the game on display tonight was the whole banana (pun intended) and should be a real treat for platformer fans when it hits store shelves and fruit stands.

We were able to start a game from scratch to ease into the rousing monkey-bashing adventure, which seems to mirror the PlayStation game to a tee. You'll start out as a spunky and spiky-haired youth, named Spike, who winds up getting drafted into capturing monkeys. Hijinks ensue, and a gaggle of the critters get strewn throughout the time stream. You're charged with recovering them before they wreak havoc and disrupt the natural order of things. While it's a bit of a daunting task, since there are a lot of monkeys loose, you're not completely on your own. You'll be helped out by some friends back home who'll provide you with a number of different gadgets that will be invaluable in your monkey catching.

The game will use a standard objective-based structure that will charge you with exploring an area and catching a set amount of monkeys before moving on to the next one. In some cases, you'll have to revisit areas once you've earned the gadgets needed to go further in to snag those hard-to-reach monkeys. You'll find the areas are progressively larger and will require the full complement of platforming skills you'd expect from a game that requires you to nab spry monkeys.

The version on display featured the full single-player game, which also features a two tiered multiplayer component. The single player game features several different multiplayer games that you'll unlock by collecting coins on your adventure. The games will pit you aginst AI controlled opponents in such monkey friendly past times as boxing. In addition you'l find the same games open and playable in a separate multiplayer mode that supports Wi-Fi multiplayer with human opponents who offer a different sort of challenge from your AI controlled competition.

As far as control goes, the game has been reworked since its PlayStation days due to the different number of available buttons on the PSP. Whereas the first game was developed to accustom people to using the PlayStation's Dual Shock controller's pair of analog sticks, Ape Escape on the PSP takes a much more conventional approach with its control scheme. You'll still move Spike with the left analog stick, but this time, you'll perform his attacks with the PSP's face buttons, which will now trigger the different gadgets assigned to them. The shoulder button will let you center the view behind Spike by quickly tapping it, or you can shift to a first-person-look mode when you hold it down. The lack of a second analog stick to interact with has resulted in reworked sequences that take into account your inability to control the game just like it used to be controlled.

The visuals are looking sharp and clean, with the original game's graphics significantly improved. The game features a cleaner, much more solid look than its predecessor, and it does a fine job of creating the quirky Technicolor worlds you'll be hopping through to nab those monkeys. The graphics in Ape Escape are ultimately most impressive because of their solid performances and smooth frame rates. There are a few blemishes to the package, which namely present themselves in the forms of a few problematic camera angles you'll find over the course of your adventure that will make getting around a challenge. The awkward angles make it hard to both gauge jumps and target enemies.

The audio is shaping up fine. You'll hear the expected sound samples from the human and ape cast that reflect the onscreen action with a goofy charm. The tunes are of the thoroughly bouncy Japanese variety, which befits a game with this many monkeys in it.

Given how well the near-final version we played handled, we'll say the retail version of the game will be a gem worth keeping an eye out for. The winning ape-heavy charm and addictive play mechanics have a timeless appeal that should impress mightily. Ape Escape: On the Loose is slated to hit this March, alongside the launch of the PSP. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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