Version tested: PlayStation 3
The Ape Escape series has been in mothballs since 2005, but it's not much of a surprise to see it dusted off for PlayStation Move given its history of showcasing new Sony technology. The original game, released in 1999, was the first to demand use of the then-fresh DualShock controller, thus ushering in the glorious two-stick era that has served us so well. Rowing boats, steering an RC car or just moving while swishing a net around, it illustrated the control advantages of the PlayStation's pricey new peripheral.
It makes sense, then, that Sony would want to revive the series to help us see the hidden depths of the Move controller, but if that was the intention, it's backfired badly. The Ape Escape of 2011 is a paper-thin exercise in frustration and under-achievement that would struggle to pass muster as a Wii launch title.
Rather than utilise the Move navigation controller and continue the series' platforming heritage, we instead get a simple on-rails shooting gallery in which you point and click frantically at targets. You have just five gadgets to play with, and must use them to reach the end of 15 short stages of monkey-spanking action while collecting bananas, which act as both your health bar and score currency.
Graphically, it's functional but does nothing to evolve the series from PS2. The monkeys are cute, in a characterless sort of way, and the story is told through anime cut-scenes which spin a bizarrely serious yarn about Specter, an embittered space chimp and his plot to have revenge on... something. For some reason. He makes sad faces and stares out of spaceship windows while sombre music plays. There are two chirpy female sidekicks who want to catch Specter because of something to do with their grandmother. You will not care for the details.
These cartoon interludes gobble up chunks of time that could be better spent playing, and the attempt to inject drama into a game about putting apes in a net is ridiculous and self-important, as futile as trying to make you feel empathy for the Rabbids.
So you slowly chug along your fixed path, through derivative environments ranging from icy plains to Jurassic valleys, using your slingshot to prang apes from afar and a fan to swish up any banana pods that stray within range. Then you'll stop and apes will start to dash towards you in an attempt to steal your bananas. You can stun them with your slingshot, and catch them in your net when they get close enough.
Then you go back to trundling along the path. Then you catch more apes. And so on, for a couple of minutes, before you have to catch a special ape at the end who is supposed to be naughty ape leader Specter, but invariably isn't. That really is the extent of the gameplay. There's a half-hearted Kong-style boss battle, but it's as resigned to mediocrity as everything else.
This lack of variety wouldn't be so bad if it weren't implemented in such a cack-handed fashion. For one thing, this game is frustratingly hard. It's easy enough to reach the end of most stages, but to earn the high scores you need supernatural reflexes and the patience of a saint. The capture mechanism feels flaky, with apes only vulnerable to your net in a very thin area, which often leaves you flailing around while they swipe your bananas as your net passes through them. The slingshot has a spongy pull-back-and-fire control that feels sluggish when you need to be quick on the draw.
Later stages start to throw exploding objects at you, while UFOs shoot at you, and apes begin to attack from off-screen, forcing you to shift the view manually to find them. You could probably make it through these gauntlets reasonably unscathed with hours of practice and the ability to anticipate dozens of random attack patterns, but the core experience just isn't entertaining enough to warrant such dedication. Considering this is ostensibly a game for kids, it's a ridiculously punishing piece of game design, offering virtually no reward for exhausting amounts of effort.
It's not even as if these drab funfair rides are interactive. You can smash crates and signs as you roll past, but the world is otherwise completely dead. You'd think that a vending machine would do something amusing if you hit it, but it doesn't even plop out a single can. Those enormous dinosaurs must surely react when pranged on the nose with a slingshot? Nope, they just keep cycling through their lifeless animation.
A few more gadgets, introduced as the story mode plods along, would also help to liven things up but by the time you've finished the tutorial you'll have seen everything the game has to offer.
To be fair, there are three multiplayer mini-games to pad things out, but these are similarly uninspired and do little to add to the overall package. Worse, only one of them is unlocked at the start - Tag Rally, a fidgety RC racer, where one player steers with a normal controller while another shoots at targets using Move. The others - Slingsniper and Sprayzer Defence Force - are unlocked after a lot of grinding and fail to justify the slog to get there.
As a free pack-in demo released with Move, this would have been more passable. But even at a budget price, this new Ape Escape offers only thin and joyless gruel, and is particularly bad at satisfying its intended younger audience. You can't even play the story mode with a friend, not even taking it in turns, making it a strangely antisocial party game.
The original Ape Escape was charming and innovative, but this entry is as basic as motion gaming gets. What really hurts is that there's no reason why Ape Escape couldn't have been the game to take the waggle genre to the next level, if only it had a bit more passion behind it.
3 / 10