Gaming in 1999 was far different than the industry today. At the end of the millennium, developers were mastering 3D graphics and creating experiences far grander than anything ever seen. One game that has defined this time was Ape Escape for the PlayStation. Ape Escape is a 3D-platformer where the player uses an assortment of gadgets to capture monkeys that have gone through time to wreak havoc and alter the timeline for monkeys to rule the world.
Ape Escape is most notable for being the first video game to mandate the use of the DualShock controller. This requirement marked the beginning of games requiring analog sticks. However, Ape Escape’s utilization was a bit crude. It utilized the left stick to move; but in contrast to modern style, the right stick was used to control the player’s gadgets. the camera was controlled, instead, by the directional buttons or L1, which moved the camera behind the player.
The act controlling the player character, Spike, still feels like a joy. His movement feels deliberate despite the bulk of your inputs coming from the analog sticks. Spike’s gadgets range from a stun club and a net to an RC car and a skyflyer. Each gadget is assigned to one of the four face buttons and can be rotated out to solve puzzles, activate switches, and catch monkeys. Each monkey is different and found in a variety of locations that may have you utilize a gadget that you use less often to change how you approach it.
Aesthetically this game is one that has withstood the test of time for me. While the graphics have aged, they have not as poorly as other titles found on the original PlayStation. The character designs are some of my favorite to date, and enemy variety - aside from the varying monkeys - were always a delight to encounter. Though I learned how to handle each type of enemy, I was never bored whenever I returned to face them once again. Likewise, each level in the game has its own charm, representing a variety of time periods. As you progress each world grows and becomes more and more vast.
The charm of this game continues into its three mini-games, Ski Kidz Racing, Specter Boxing, and Galaxy Monkey, all of which allow for two-players to compete. Ski-Kidz lets you play any of the unique characters in the game in a 2D Parappa the Rapper graphical style to race on rocket skis. Each ski is controlled by one analog stick. Specter Boxing pits two monkeys up against each in a boxing ring, controlling each arm independently with one stick each. Galaxy Monkey resembles what the twin-stick shooter genre has become as you control a monkey in a flying saucer shooting aliens in space for a high score.
What brings Ape Escape’s components together and brings me back to it countless times is its soundtrack, composed by Soichi Terada. While an AAA title may feature a full symphonic orchestra, Terada has created mashups of pop music and techno beats. Every stage in Ape Escape, including the mini-games and the main hub area, features a unique composition that has accurately represented what it means to be there, allowing you to be immersed in that stage. Ape Escape has earned the honor of being a soundtrack I listen to on occasion in rotation with my regular western hip-hop tastes.
With the 20th anniversary of Ape Escape, it’s time for the series to return in full force, much like Crash Bandicoot with its latest trio of remakes. This is a prime opportunity to show why Ape Escape is iconic for the games industry helping to shape the dual stick landscape. There is no game in my mind that has stood out to be as unique as the Ape Escape series. The charm of this game could use the 4K graphical treatment and be even more fun than what I had in 1999.