If you've played any of Sony's Ape Escape games before, you'll find much that's familiar in Ape Escape: Pumped & Primed. Essentially a collection of minigames for up to four players, Pumped & Primed features many of the same characters and gadgets that have graced previous entries in the series, but this one sees you going up against other competitors in specially designed arenas rather than pursuing mischievous monkeys and attempting to thwart the plans of their evil, white-haired leader Specter. Pumped & Primed's minigames are all quite simplistic, and the single-player portion of the game can be completed in five or six hours. However, with a multitap and the right group of friends, there's no reason you shouldn't have some fun with it.
Ape Escape: Pumped & Primed's story mode features a total of 52 levels, 44 of which can be played competitively against other players (once you've unlocked them) and eight of which are boss battles against a number of different enemies, including Specter's impressive-looking Goliath armor--a giant mech that bears more than a passing resemblance to a gorilla. Although you have to defeat each boss by yourself, none of the boss battles in the game are particularly challenging once you learn the employed attack patterns and provided you go equipped with the right gadgets, which are invariably selected for you by default.
Most of the gadgets in Pumped & Primed have appeared in previous Ape Escape titles, but those on offer here actually only represent a fraction of the arsenal that you might be expecting if you've played those games. If you choose to play as Spike (the hero from the first Ape Escape game), for example, you'll be able to employ a stun club, a dash hoop, an underwater propulsion system with missile launcher, a slingshot, a remote-controlled car, a sky flier, a rubber dinghy, and a tank. Each of the playable characters in the game (including the monkeys) has a very different-looking arsenal, but each character's gadgets all serve exactly the same purpose as Spike's--and each gadget is controlled in the same manner.
Although there are 44 different games for you to play against friends, many of them are really just the same events played in different arenas. Distinct types of minigames in Pumped & Primed include: deathmatch-style battles on foot, in tanks, and underwater; races on foot and in boats; and coin-collection contests that take place in small arenas and over large obstacle courses. All the game types feature numerous power-ups that you can collect to improve your chances of success, and we've found that the most effective power-ups are those that allow you to perform special attacks without having to first charge up your attack meter. The special attacks in Pumped & Primed are quite different from anything that's appeared in the series previously, and they range from the ordinary to the downright bizarre. When battling underwater or in tanks, for example, the special attacks at your disposal are simply more-powerful projectiles. When playing one of the games that allows you to run around on foot and switch between multiple gadgets on the fly, though, you can execute some pretty devastating moves by pushing two of the gadget selection buttons simultaneously (all gadgets are selected using the face buttons and used with the right analog stick). And this is where your monkey fan club comes into play...
That's right! When you play Pumped & Primed, you'll get your very own monkey fan club. Primates impressed with your performances in various events can apply for membership, write you fan mail, and even send you gifts. In terms of gameplay, the monkey fan club basically replaces the gold, silver, and bronze medals that you might usually expect to be awarded in games of this kind. Just winning an event won't be enough to guarantee you the equivalent of a gold, though, because monkeys clearly aren't that easily impressed. There are 52 monkeys potentially interested in joining your fan club--one for each level in the game. If you beat a level, there's a good chance that a monkey will apply for fan club membership, at which point you'll be able to view its profile. Beat the level convincingly and the monkey will often feel compelled to write you a letter telling you how great you are. Beat the level even more convincingly (without taking damage or completing it in under a minute, for example) and you'll receive a gift from your new, number one fan. Most of the gifts in the game are simply different outfits for your chosen character to wear, but you can also unlock more-powerful gadgets, and, if you're really lucky, you can unlock a monkey that's willing to fight alongside you in the levels where it's appropriate to do so. The monkey sidekicks actually just represent special attacks that last for a few seconds, but there's something way more satisfying about summoning a monkey ninja to attack your opponents with shuriken than just performing a whirlwind attack with your stun blade.
Like its predecessors, Ape Escape: Pumped & Primed features visuals and sound effects that are charming rather than cutting-edge. The game's cel-shaded characters are certainly easy on the eyes, but the environments that they compete in aren't very detailed. In fact, they look especially dated when the screen isn't being split into four viewable components for multiplayer events. The game's soundtrack is particularly disappointing, and it loops so frequently that you'll almost certainly end up switching it off at some point, for fear of it driving you insane.
It's a shame that the various playable characters in Ape Escape: Pumped & Primed aren't more varied, because, as it stands, it's difficult to imagine that anyone would be willing to play through the game's story mode more than once--particularly if a point is made to repeat events until everything is unlocked for a chosen character. As a party game, Pumped & Primed is nice insomuch that it should be easy for even your nongamer friends to pick up, but its appeal (despite the fact that it boasts such an impressive collection of monkeys) is limited, and it's certainly not a game that would justify the purchase of a multitap if you don't already own one.