The Ape Escape series is one of those for Sony that has disappeared in the shadow of such characters as Jak/Daxter, Ratchet/Clank and Sly Cooper. Although the first Ape Escape on the original Playstation was well received and got a lot of critical lauding because of the dual analog control system, it didn’t sell very well. When the Playstation 2 came to fruition, Sony already had a game in the works with Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy and two other games in the pipe, the original Ratchet and Clank and Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus. All went on to be either modest (Sly Cooper) or huge successes (the other two). Sony decided to leave Ape Escape 2 in Japan until UbiSoft decided it wanted to publish it. The second game came out here and it was also critically lauded, but did not see much in sales.

Now UbiSoft has graced us with Ape Escape: Pumped and Primed. For those thinking this is the 3rd game in the series of platformers, you’ll be sorely mistaken. In fact Pumped and Primed is a cross between the gameplay of the series and the party game atmosphere of Nintendo’s Mario Party series, although it doesn’t do even an admiral job of reaching that latter height. In fact, if you don’t have friends that can play with you, you may not like this game at all.

After being treated to the most odd opening cinematic I have ever seen, you realize the overall graphics package is a cross between Capcom’s Power Stone and Jet Set Radio Future on the Xbox. The characters and cutscenes are done entirely in cel-shading technology and the blacklines are extremely noticeable. It has a very JSRF feel to it, although it is obvious that game is of a far higher graphical quality than this one.

The Power Stone connection is when you are in mini-games where there is a great distance on the level. As players spread out the camera moves out so it can show everyone ala the Power Stone games from Capcom. It does a good job of keeping the game moving nice and quickly, it’s just that the graphics don’t stand out as being anything special or noteworthy versus Mario Party, a game it is obviously trying to emulate.

The best thing I can say about this section is that the voices are well done, although it is obvious that the voice acting group is the same one employed by the Pokemon TV show. Spike has Ash’s voice and Natalie has Misty’s voice…at least that is how I am hearing them. Many of you probably haven’t watched a lick of Pokemon though so you won’t see the correlation.

The music is very techno and it repeats itself over and over and over and…hold on, let me switch the record. A different type of music genre might have done this game good, but it’s easy to see this game was transported straight from Japan and given an English translation without taking out the Japanese techno track.

Control is good when you are either going after coins on foot or in a straight battle with melee weapons. In the latter section the control is much like the rest of the Ape Escape games in that you control your movement with the left analog stick and the weapon and where you strike with the right analog stick. Outside of this section the controls get awfully hairy.

Just in the first section of games you will find difficulty in the 3rd and 4th events. The 3rd event allows you to use the slingshot, although the controls basically keep you from getting anything but last place in this event. You move with your left analog stick and fire with the right one, pulling back or forward depending on which way you want to shoot. You then move to the right or left to target your opponents. Unlike other events, the camera does not pull out to show you everyone on the board, so it is quite easy for the other 3 computer controlled players to get behind you and nail you with their slingshot unbeknownst to you.

The 4th event, which you need at least 3rd to pass the round if you got first (hand-to-hand), first (coin grabbing) and last in the first 3 events is a rowing event. In this event you have to use both analog sticks circling into each other in order to move the boat. You also have to be able to turn left and right with the two analog controls. Now, I’m pretty good with hand/eye coordination, but this round had me extremely frustrated for a long time until I finally got 3rd place in the event and got to continue on to easier sections of the story mode.

The control will frustrate you depending on what types of rounds you are in is the basic rule of thumb here.

Once you get past the headache above, the game starts to become enjoyable until the next round of slingshot/rowing rounds come. The most interesting things about this game is you can have up to 4 humans playing at once in multiplayer and you can get awards in the guise of monkey fan mail and gifts (via story mode), which may include new weapons or outfits for your character. You have to perform exceptionally in order to get the monkey fan mail and gifts and you also have to create your own character and cannot use the base characters, so be sure to create a character first.

Some of the mini-games in story mode can be pretty fun and I started enjoying myself after I got past that first section of rounds and until I had another slingshot/rowing double take of frustration. I met my first boss and got to take him out all alone, which made me think of the cool Ape Escape games again and wishing this one was the sequel and not just a party game.

Where this game fails is for anyone who also owns a GameCube or Nintendo 64 and has ever played one of the Mario Party games. Those games are fun because it is based around a board game with mini-games included and not just a straight mini-game endeavor like this is. There’s really no pull outside of the story for a lone player to play this game. Yes, it probably is exciting with your friends playing, but I just don’t see it having the addiction quotient of the Mario Party games.

Once you get through the story mode, which will take less than 10 hours, there really isn’t much for a player to do in this game. Now if you have friends and you want a quick game of mini-games this is probably a great game to pick up as long as you don’t own a system that has Mario Party on it. If you have a system that does, I recommend going out and buying one of those because you will probably enjoy it better.

The worst part about Ape Escape: Pumped and Primed is that it is not Ape Escape 3.  That game is coming at a later point. This game tries hard to give the lone player enough to play this mini-game based endeavor, which it does in the story mode. Once that is done though there really isn’t anything for a lone player to do. If you have friends this game will probably be enjoyable, but as suggested above if you have a system with Mario Party on it and you have friends that is a far better way to go.