Sony's Ape Escape series has been a PlayStation staple since 1999, when it wowed the world with its dual-analogue control scheme. Now over a decade later it's trying another control scheme in Ape Escape, (known as PlayStation Move Ape Escape in North America) but is it an evolutionary step or a knuckle-dragging disaster?
The original PSOne outing used one analogue stick to move and another to swing your ape catching net, but here your character movement is on-rails, with X and O offering limited horizontal camera rotation. Move is still your net, with 1:1 control letting you swipe in all directions to nab each of the escaped apes, but there are more weapons on offer: a giant fan and a slingshot, which offers pointer controls as well as a pleasing pull-back motion for generating more power. Collect batteries in each level and you can swap your net for a high-powered vacuum cleaner or lightning banana, sucking up or destroying everything in your path.
Gameplay is a simplistic affair, really. You travel along a set route, shooting as many bananas and interfering enemies as possible, but when you encounter a set of monkeys your movement stops and you must round up the simians before proceeding.
Netting one of the critters is straightforward too: swing the net as they approach and they should magically disappear, with score multipliers awarded for nabbing them before they steal your precious bananas. Each monkey has his or her own attack pattern too: some will leap, some will zig-zag across the screen, some will charge at you and so on, so it becomes a matter of timing, patience and skill to land the cheeky chimps. Once you've cleared an area you proceed until you reach the final boss, after which you're shown your score and moved along to the next level.
While you'll probably start out enjoying the game's barmy charm, the sheen soon wears off as you realise there's not really much to the gameplay: the shooting sections have no sense of urgency, but the series' trademark ape-catching is the most lacking. While it's enjoyable to whack a monkey on the head — history has taught us this, if nothing else — in later levels you must pan the camera with X and O and it becomes increasingly difficult to tell in which order the monkeys will attack. When things get chaotic you'll resort to flailing the controller around, hardly a test of skill.
If you want to clear the top levels of the scoring chart and earn those Trophies, you'll need some serious dedication as the gold challenges are particularly difficult. Here the game most resembles an arcade title; in fact, it's best to consider this as a very child-friendly arcade light gun game, broken up with some net-swinging. With 15 missions to take on there's not a huge amount to do — indeed, you'll finish the story mode in an hour or two — but it's the pursuit of higher scores that'll keep you coming back. Well, that and the Monkeypedia.
Fans of the original Ape Escape will remember the catalogue of collected chimps, detailing their unique personalities that were more than a little inspired by famous celebrities of the day. That feature returns in PlayStation Move Ape Escape, and there are hundreds of the little critters to collect, ranging from Sevenpan — a monkey who wears seven pairs of pants — to members of a fictional Spice Girls-like band. Completing your 'pedia would have been more enjoyable if you had freedom to roam around of course, but there are monkeys hidden during the slingshot sections that will take some finding.
A few minigames to play on your own or with a friend round out the package, with a co-operative shooter/racer hybrid where one player uses a DualShock and the other shoots with Move proving to be the highlight. All three seem to be more proofs of concept than ideas we really needed to play, but at least they provide some variety to proceedings.
Without the game's unique charm and sense of energy, PlayStation Move Ape Escape wouldn't be worth a second look. Younger gamers will probably enjoy it, but without two-player co-op in story mode it's a strictly solo affair, disappointing considering the potential. It's a budget release in Europe and a PSN download in North America, both of which speak volumes about the depth of content to be found here, and while it's fun for a while you'll be on the hunt for something a bit more meaty before too long.