An unexpected treat was the arrival of a review copy of Ape Escape 2 this afternoon, and with precious few decent games left in our barrel o' junk, this went straight to the top of the pile, and five top banana levels later, we thought it was our duty to let you know what this latest load of monkey business was all about.
Those cheeky helmet wearing monkeys are on the loose again, and guess who's got to round these naughty chimps up? Armed with an increasingly bizarre array of gadgets you, as the spiky haired Hikaru, must capture these elusive creatures over 20 rather splendid levels, and face eight boss monsters in the process.
It's nothing new, but hey. It's got monkeys in it
Yes, it's another colourful 3D platformer, where you collect stuff, run, jump and swim, and bash baddies over the head, but it immediately has an advantage over the others thanks to its simian leanings. After all, when was the last time you played a bad game with monkeys in it? Exactly.
Rather like the recently released Ratchet & Clank, it's full of gadgets. To begin with you've got your trusty net and a stick to bop your enemies over the head. As you progress, you get a hula hoop that somehow makes you run faster, an underwater net-firing device to allow you to catch monkeys underwater, and a monkey radar, so you can see where the little scamps are hiding out. With every level, a new gadget appears, and you're given the opportunity to practise your skills with it before you're unleashed into the next section.
Naturally, gold coins litter the environment, and explode out of defeated enemies. For every ten you collect, you buy something between levels in the 'Gotcha Box' a very Japanese invention that provides useless proverbs, concept art, and (hopefully soon) bonus mini-games, including the tempting sounding Monkey Football, Dancing Bong, and Monkey Tightrope, which you'll be able to play between levels if you so wish.
Your health is measured by a bar with five (Oreo?) cookies - take a hit and you lose a cookie, but there's generally a few dotted around to spare you from an untimely death. We're fully expecting the fairly straightforward challenge to ramp up very soon.
Easy controls, naughty camera
The controls are as straightforward as they come, with the left stick for movement, and the right for using your assigned gadget - which are themselves mapped to the four symbol buttons. As you go through the game you can choose which four gadgets go where, and some will only be useful in certain situations. The camera can be controlled dynamically, but is mapped, rather awkwardly, to the D pad, which causes a few problems when you're trying to snare a monkey, and the angle's all wrong.
Visually, it's a cutey. In true platform game tradition, it's all colourful, cartoon fun, and is about as far away from The Getaway as it's possible to get. The scenery is delightfully detailed, and everything down to the tress and the sunflowers have been designed with loving care, giving it a look all of its own. There's nothing exactly groundbreaking about anything on show here, but it all works within the confines of the genre, and those with platform leanings will be right at home with all respects of the game. There's a ton to unlock, including a two-player mode, as well as being able to play as Spike from the original. Mmmmm.
It's looking good, but you'll have to wait, you impatient monkeys
We're only 10 per cent through the game, but looking forward to giving it a thorough run for its money over Christmas. Camera issues aside, it's shaping up to be one of the more interesting games out for the PS2 in the early part of next year - although we're told this has just slipped to March, so you've got a while to wait, unless you fancy splashing out on an import version.