The original Ape Escape was released for the PlayStation in 1999 without much fanfare. The game was a great platformer that was very charming but rarely flashy, and it eventually found its place in history as a sleeper. Sony Computer Entertainment, the Japanese arm of Sony's PlayStation business, went on to release another game set in the Ape Escape universe in July 2001. The game, known as Pipo Saru 2001 in its native land, broke from the platform-game roots of the original and took an action-puzzle approach. It was just as cute as the first game, challenging you with the outrageous task of sucking the pants off delinquent monkeys using a vacuum cleaner. Then Sony produced a true sequel in mid-2002. It was assumed that the game would simply be buried and forgotten, with Sony's US arm focusing on homegrown platformers like Ratchet & Clank or Jak and Daxter. Ubi Soft, however, has rescued Ape Escape 2 from the import shop, translating it into English and releasing it in North America. The sequel sticks very close to the blueprint laid out by the original game, but don't mistake its light-on-innovation design for weakness. This PlayStation 2 game is every bit as solid as and even more charming than the previous two games.
Ape Escape 2 puts you in the role of Jimmy, the cousin of Spike, who was the protagonist in the first game. Unaided, Jimmy can do very little. He can double-jump, lie flat, and pretend to be asleep. He gets most of his other moves from a wide array of gadgets, most of which appeared in the first game. Your main monkey-catching tools are a stun club and a net. The idea is to whack the monkeys with the club, knocking them over, and then quickly switch to the net to scoop them up and whisk them away to safety. As you proceed, you'll be granted access to several more toys. Returning from the original game are such tools as a monkey-spotting radar dish, the swimming-helper aqua net, the speed-boosting dash hoop, a slingshot, an RC car, the helicopter-like sky flyer, and the ever-popular magic punch.
The game features three new gadgets as well. The bananarang is a banana-shaped boomerang that can be used to knock over enemies. It also has a secondary function that makes the bananarang emit banana-scented gas, which attracts some of the monkeys. The water cannon is mostly used to put out fires. The electromagnet lets you move heavy metal objects. The game throws quite a few puzzles at you, but solving most of them is fairly easy, as the solution to the problem of which gadget to use in each situation is usually immediately obvious. The game's control is also a breeze to figure out. Ape Escape was the first game to require the use of the dual analog sticks on the Dual Shock controller, and the sequel mirrors that control scheme identically. The left stick is used to move around. The right stick controls your currently selected gadget. You can use this to, say, poke your stun club out in any direction. Some items, like the dash hoop or sky flyer, require you to spin the stick like a helicopter. The face buttons are used to select from up to four active gadgets at once, though the active gadgets can be switched around very easily, both on the fly or in a pause menu. The shoulder buttons handle camera movement and jumping.
The object of the game is to catch monkeys--300 monkeys, to be exact, though you can finish the game with a significantly lower number. Catching monkeys is as simple as finding them and netting them, though the wide array of monkeys requires you to use a bit of strategy as you play. Some monkeys aren't alert enough to notice you sneaking up behind them, making them easy marks. Throughout the game, you'll encounter a bunch of these easy-target monkeys, but some of them put up a fight. You'll also fight ninja monkeys, knight monkeys, Uzi-toting monkeys, and even fire-breathing monkeys.
The game breaks it down even further by placing a few more specialized monkeys in there as well. The matador monkey will wave his cape at you and step aside when you charge, while the mer-monkey is content to swim around in a large tank. There are enough different monkeys in the game to make you feel as though each one has its own personality. The boss battles develop that feeling even further, putting you up against monkeys in the forms of unicycle bikers, J-pop singers, and superheroes. Eventually, you'll run up against Specter, the white-haired monkey leader, who was also the antagonist in the original game.
Ape Escape 2 might not push more polygons than other PlayStation 2 platform games, but that doesn't mean it doesn't look good in its own right. The player and monkey models have a neatly stylized look to them. The game runs at a smooth frame rate and features some really nice animation, especially in the cast of monkeys, who hop and shuffle around to great comedic effect. The environments are large and lush, ranging in design from ice-filled caverns to deserts, beaches, and indoor settings such as dojos, pyramids, and castles. Perhaps the only real graphical flaw in Ape Escape 2 is its age. As the game rapidly approaches its first birthday in Japan, it's just now coming to the States. Lots of great-looking PlayStation 2 games have been released in the last 12 months, so Ape Escape 2 doesn't stand out quite as much as it once did. The soundtrack fits the whimsical action nicely, keeping things upbeat. The game's speech has been translated into English, and the voice acting fits the game's characters pretty well.
While Ape Escape 2 has the gameplay and graphical style down pretty well, it isn't without its flaws. The main issue is that much of the game is quite easy. Anyone skilled at judging platform jump distances shouldn't have any trouble. The game's boss fights consist of pattern recognition at its most basic. Thankfully, there are some things in there to challenge expert players. Collecting all 300 monkeys isn't required unless you want to see the best ending, and a handful of the optional monkeys are extremely well hidden. Trophies can be earned by attempting each level in a time attack setting. There's also some collecting to be done. You'll pick up coins in every level, and those coins can be spent in a vending machine at your home base. Lots of different things come out of the machine, such as concept art, screenshots of some of the game's crazier moments, movies, sound test items, and minigames. Three minigames can be unlocked. The first is a basic rhythm game in the vein of Dance Dance Revolution. The second is a surprisingly deep and responsive soccer game. The third is an insanely difficult climbing game that controls a bit like the Nichibutsu arcade classic Crazy Climber.
The game's relative ease is offset by the sheer number of weird unlockable items, and the end result is a platform game that is, above all, great fun. The monkeys' activities will have you laughing, and the humor is backed up by solid gameplay and level design. It may not look quite as impressive as it did a year ago, but that hardly makes a difference here, and Ape Escape 2 is still a great platform game.