It would be very easy to dismiss Baboon! based on its first few levels. Initially, it adopts the guise of yet another 'earn three medals' challenge game, only this one is specifically built around dropping bombs to propel your ape avatar from ledge-to-ledge, until you reach the top goal – all while collecting bananas along the way. But while it's true that the majority of the game is focused on repeating this action over and over again, peel back its skin, and you'll find much more ambition lurking beneath its surface.
This hidden depth is hinted at early on, serving up a narrative slightly more sophisticated than many other titles of its ilk. A baboon pirate has unleashed the power of his anti-gravity ray gun, causing all of the bananas on your island home to float into the sky. It's your job – nay, duty – to retrieve them, and, of course, things escalate from thereon.
Equipped with your grandfather's old helmet and a bunch of bombs, you must go about collecting the floating bananas by propelling yourself through the air using explosions against a tight time limit. It's a challenging experience; the height that you reach is determined by a power bar that yo-yos up and down as you place your bombs, and the direction that you're flung depends upon the bomb's placement relevant to you.
With platforms at different levels, impenetrable barriers, harmful enemies, and other environmental dangers that kill you and reset your progress with one hit, we can't stress enough how difficult this game is – especially seeing as once the tutorial's over, you don't even get a trajectory guide.
This sharp, almost parabolic difficulty curve means that the title very quickly becomes frustrating, and it's this challenge that will threaten to turn most people off before the game even really gets started. But, with a little perseverance, you'll uncover some of the title's nuggets of clever design; it's packed full of content and deceiving depth.
Over 60 stages are included, and they offer far more variety than just a different layout to explode your way through. New features are gradually introduced that enhance the levels, from tricky platforming to physics puzzles and tests of dexterity. The layouts soon grow in complexity, and beckon with a 'try if you dare' taunt as they demand more speed and accuracy from you. Even new items that change how your bombs work are introduced.
The 'earn three medals' opening is very much suppressed as you find yourself facing the increasingly creative challenges, becoming immersed in the story, and being pleasantly surprised by experiences that you didn't expect. Boss encounters are present at the end of each uniquely themed world that you visit on your journey, and they're reminiscent of the 8 and 16-bit days with their design and difficulty. You'll even come across a vertical-scrolling shooter section, a Breakout clone, and much more.
Baboon! makes a poor first impression, but it's far more impressive than it initially seems. The core concept of platforming with the aid of bombs is frequently revised with enhancements and new challenges, and it's a delight to see what new feature is next on the list. However, its extreme difficulty will put people off, so many will miss what makes the game special. This is a clever and likeable release, then – but one that you'll need to work at to etch out its underlying enjoyment.