Ape Escape Academy Review

Monkeys are fun.  They are mischievous little animals that like to wreak havoc.  Going to the zoo and watching the monkeys is a sure way to get little kids to point and laugh, especially at the ones with the red behinds.  You would think that playing as a monkey would be a lot of fun.  Maybe monkeys don’t get the credit they deserve.  Maybe monkeys are just stupid.  This is what happens when a bunch of monkeys get together in Ape Escape Academy.

Apparently Specter, the leader of the monkeys in the Ape Escape games for the PS2, is sick and tired of losing.  He figures that he needs to whip the monkeys into shape before sending out his minions to take over the world.  He founds the Ape Escape Academy to train the monkeys through mini-games.  Will the monkeys pass the test, or does Specter just wind up with a barrel of monkeys?

The graphics in AEA are disappointing.  While the PSP doesn’t have the graphical horsepower that the PS2 has, it should be able to handle more than what is represented on the screen.  The monkeys have low polygon counts, so low so that you feel like you could count them on one hand.  While the monkeys are animated well enough, there really isn’t anything to distinguish one monkey from another.  Some of the monkeys have headgear or some kind of glasses, while others have different colored shorts.  The variety in monkeys is severely lacking.  The monkeys are animated decently, but they won’t be winning any awards for fluidity.

The environments do have some nice touches.  Textures on the objects look better than those on the monkeys.  These textures do give some depth to the backgrounds.  Still, they are rather weak and don’t contribute as much to the game as they should.

AEA does have a few nice particle effects.  The monkeys have helmets on their heads which are like a police light, circling a red beam of light around the monkey.  Some games like Dodge Ball and Monkey Soccer have a flaming effect on the ball.  They add a hint of velocity to the ball.

The music in AEA has a tropical beat to it.  It’s something you would expect to hear while underneath palm trees, sipping on a pina colada.  While the rest of the music doesn’t have the same exact sound to it, it does have the same feel.  Winning a game has a victory tune, while losing gives a childish tune.  Each of the games does have its own background music, but you won’t be humming any of the tunes to any of the particular games.

Each of the individual games has its own distinct sounds.  Bombs blow up, a loud noise indicates a goal, and monkeys get slapped.  While these noises aren’t bad, they aren’t anything extraordinary either.

The voice acting leaves much to be desired.  While most of the “acting” is left to monkey squeals, the instructors speak.  While you might expect the voices to be a bit over the top, the instructors are really over the top.  It gets to the point where you really just want the instructors to shut up.

Most of the games are simple, so the controls are simple as well.  Most of the games use the D-pad and at most one or two of the buttons.  Unfortunately the game’s simplicity doesn’t mean that the controls don’t get in the way.  The reaction time to button presses was delayed in certain games, not only on the face buttons but also the D-pad.  This became frustrating for certain games, especially when certain games required precise timing.  Some games used the D-pad, and this was fine for some games, but there were times when I would have preferred using the nub.  The nub wasn’t available for controls at that time.  While other games on the PSP have had control issues, I haven’t played anything with such drastic issues.

The premise of AEA is rather simple.  You are training to become a better simian in Specter’s army.  You are trained by six different class instructors, with the last one being Specter.  First you select which class year you want to take.  You can’t advance to the next year until you have cleared the previous year.  Once the instructor shows up, you are shown a 3×3 grid with the mini-games in it.  You select a game randomly and play it.  If you are successful, you get a circle in the box.  If you fail, an X goes into the box.  To pass the grade, you need to get a certain number of “pass lines.”  Pass lines are formed by the games you win with a circle in them, just like Tic Tac Toe.  The more games you win, the better chance you have at forming pass lines.

This would be alright if the games were fun.  Some of the games are simple, like counting monkeys using a counter or playing dodge ball.  However, some are more difficult like diving for treasure and moving with the currents or swinging across chains Jungle Hunt style.  Because of the controls, the rhythm games are more difficult than they should be.  While they should be something like Parappa the Rapper, they end up being nothing like that classic game.  The Monkey Throw game you need to circle the nub as fast as you can, which does not work well with the size of the nub.  Some of the games aren’t explained very well either during the explanation screen.  This means that the loading screen might last longer than you actually play the game.

You can practice a mini-game in the practice mode.  What is nice about this is that you can continue to play the game until you get the hang of it, and it doesn’t have to reload the game every time you play it, only when you select a new game to play.

During some of the mini-games you can earn figurines to check out in your showcase.  They really don’t serve any purpose other than something you can win from other players in vs. mode.

AEA does include a multi-player mode through its ad hoc mode and supports two players.  If you win you get one of the other player’s figurines.  The game also has a multi-player share mode.  In this mode one person uses the D-pad and the other player uses the face buttons.  Both of these modes have slightly modified games for the two players.  The share mode does have one four-player game where four players each have their own face button to make the monkey run the1.00m Dash Track and Field style.  Does anybody think that this was really a good idea? If the controls were a little better, the load times better, and the games a little more interesting, then AEA might be a fun game.  Unfortunately, the game feels like the monkeys were let loose by the developers and created this game.  While you might find some enjoyment in a few of the mini-games, it just doesn’t justify purchasing the game.  Rent it if you are curious, but stay far away from it.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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