Ape Escape was released for the Playstation in 1999. As an action platformer, it managed to stand out in a crowded genre with a number of unique qualities.
Not least of these being the positively unhinged plot. Our hero, Spike, goes to visit the professor’s lab. He finds the place overrun by a gang of monkeys wearing strange helmets. The professor had developed this intelligence-boosting technology with one ape, Spector. It sadly also gave Spector Planet of the Apes notions, and so he outfitted further monkeys with the tech. Using the newly-invented time machine in the lab, Spector then sends them backward and forward in time to alter history to his ends. Spike’s objective, then, is to catch the freshly ‘smartified’ simians and return them to their own time (and I.Q).
I’d say you couldn’t make it up, but quite clearly someone has.
The monkeys are the stars of the show, and my favourite aspect of the game. Each has their own personality and traits, and some can only be captured with the aid of certain of Spike’s gadgets. They may be in a high place accessible only by Sky Flyer, or in a cramped location only the RC car can penetrate. Returning to previously completed levels once better equipped to flush out every last one of these critters is a joy, if only for each one’s humorous Monkey Book entry.
Ape Escape is also notable for being the first game designed purely for use with the console’s Dual Shock controller. This certainly shows throughout. The twin analog sticks give the player perfect control of Spike’s arsenal in particular. The best example of this would be the scenes featuring the RC car being controlled simultaneously with the character, on parallel paths. The PSP remake of the game, Ape Escape P, suffered somewhat in this area, having to make constant compromises for the absence of the second stick. A great example of new technology as an enrichment, a necessity, not a shoehorned gimmick.
This is one of the titles I remember most fondly from the Playstation era. It didn’t have a big name attached to it to bolster sales, but its high level of polish and innovation ensured the game’s success. As Ape Escape P proves, it still has the quality to compete with any of today’s platform offerings.