Ape Escape PSP Hands-On

Superintelligent apes continue their siege of Sony's hardware as the PSP is overrun. We assess the aftermath.

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LAS VEGAS--It was hard to miss the PSPs at Sony's press event, which featured images of superintelligent monkeys wearing special metallic hats running about. There, Sony's Ape Escape franchise and one of Japan's underrated gems for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, extended its reach with the playable debut of Ape Escape PSP, a portable remix of the original Ape Escape. While the game, currently due in spring 2005, was far from complete, there was enough on hand to give us a sense that the game will proudly further the presence of monkeys in games.

The modest demo on display offered two levels set in the New Freezelands and Medieval Mayhem worlds, along with a boxing minigame. For those unfamiliar with the original Ape Escape, the premise is simple: You play as a young boy named Spike, who's tasked to set things right after a surly monkey named Specter gets ahold of a special helmet that increases his intelligence and drives him a little loony in the process. The end result? A power-mad monkey who decides to take his brethren, who have had their intelligence boosted by helmets, back in time to change history. Your goal amid all the chaos is to follow the monkeys into the past to catch more than 200 of them.

The two levels featured a mix of ape catching and platforming, the staple gameplay elements from the original, and retained the fun factor of the original. While we were a little concerned as to how the game would control, since one of the signature control mechanics of the original was its innovative use of both analog sticks on the PlayStation Dual Shock controller, the game appeared to handle well despite its incomplete state and the PSP's lack of Dual Analog sticks. The PSP's face buttons appear to have some added functionality, however.

The boxing minigame is a retooled boxing game seen in the previous game, which offers some simplistic boxing mechanics with which you can take on an artificially intelligent or human opponent. Besides the basic set of moves, you can perform power attacks (essentially powered-up punches) on your foes when they're dazed. Getting the punch off turns into a battle of button mashing between you and your opponent as you try to get an onscreen meter filled in with your color while your opponent tries to stop you from doing the same. If you win, your foe will be dazed and will take the powerful punch right in the chops. The graphics in the game, while handily surpassing those of the original, aren't terribly flashy and stick to the very basic and sparsely detailed look of the original game. While it's hardly pushing the PSP's graphics hardware, the game has a clean visual style and runs smoothly. More importantly, the game maintains the charm and personality of its predecessors. The audio is consistent with the original PlayStation game, as far as we could tell, and features bouncy tunes, voice from Spike and company, and a hearty helping of monkey cries.

While the demo of the game showed off some of the changes and enhancements being made to the game for its PSP debut, we were able to dig up some new information on the tweaks being applied to it. The game will contain a total of four minigames. Two, boxing and skiing, are revamped versions of the games seen in the original titles, while another two, ping pong and the tentatively named "obstacle course," will be brand-new. All four of the games can be played via Wi-Fi against a friend. Other tweaks slated to be implemented include new monkey graphics in Spike's monkey book, and a scrapbook that holds info on all the monkeys you've collected so far. Whereas the original game used static graphics for the monkey book, Ape Escape PSP will use 3D models you can examine. The game will also add a new book, a monster book, that will keep track of all your foes in the same manner. Finally, you'll be able to collect seeds you can use to decorate the hub area in the game by planting them.

Based on what we played, Ape Escape PSP should capably fill what will likely be a gaping monkey-sized hole in the PSP's software. The tweaks to the original gameplay appear to make up for the loss of a second analog stick well, and the Wi-Fi minigames are a good addition as well. Ape Escape PSP is currently slated to ship this spring for the PSP, so look for more on the game in the coming months.

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