reviews\ Apr 5, 2005 at 8:00 pm

Ape Escape: On the Loose - PSP - Review

When Ape Escape was first introduced to the original PlayStation crowd it offered loads of platform gaming fun featuring a spiky haired kid attempting to catch some really crafty monkeys that were pretty tough to catch. Call me crazy-bananas but I’m a sucker for a good platformer and anything with a monkey in it, so a game that combines both is pure gold in my opinion. So imagine my surprise when Sony’s PSP lineup of titles included a portable version of the first game. That’s right, Ape Escape: On the Loose is here and fans of the series couldn’t be happier.

If you’re not familiar with the Ape Escape series, allow me to tell you the tale of a boy’s quest to net a collection of wily monkeys bent on wrecking havoc through the timelines. The story puts you in the role of Spike, a kid who finds out from an esteemed professor and his friend Natalie that one of his smartest test monkeys named Specter has put on a Peak Point Helmet and thus became smart enough to free other Pipo Monkeys and used the professor’s time machine to fool around with the timeline. Specter’s goal is to make the world his personal Planet of the Apes so he must be stopped at all costs. Armed with a stun club and a giant time net, Spike sets out to capture each monkey and put a stop to Specter’s plan.

Using the professor’s time machine, you’re given mission specifics from Natalie, who tells you how many monkeys to capture in each stage. From there you must seek out each monkey, but you can’t just walk up to a monkey and net him. You see the monkeys have sirens on their helmet and if they see you the alarm lights up. Spike can crouch and sneak up to a monkey but for the most part, you’ll be chasing monkeys who put up a good fight or toss banana peels for Spike to slip on. Thanks to the sun club, you’ll be able to zap a monkey long enough to net them. Each environment has a number of collectable coins called Specter Coins, but we’ll get into that in a moment.

Between levels, though, Spike can go into different rooms that lead to tutorials where Spike learns how to use an underwater version of the time net or play a collection of mini-games. These mini-games require a certain number of Specter Coins but believe me when I say they’re worth playing. To move the game’s story along you’ll go back to the hub and go back to hunting down monkeys. While the game isn’t as overwhelmingly deep as some of Sony’s recent platform games On the Loose adds plenty of variety to the platformer. For one thing, Spike will be able to use a rowboat in one stage and then a tank in another. He’ll even get to control RC cars and get a hold of the professor’s newest gadgets, such as the Monkey Radar or the Slingback Shooter.

As fun as the game is, it’s not without its share of problems and this one has two major faults that are just way too bothersome. We’ll start with the controls, which are just way too gawky. To move Spike around you use the analog stick and use the directional pad to move the camera around. This just makes for a frustrating control and it’s the reason capturing monkeys underwater becomes nearly impossible. Secondly, because we have to use the directional pad to move the camera you’ll find yourself stopping in the middle of the action to manually move the camera to your liking. This results in losing sight of the monkey you were just chasing. Thankfully you can assign what buttons your stun club or net can be used otherwise you’ll lose even more time. While they’re seriously glaring flaws, these things don’t really keep you from enjoying the game’s overall appealing action, but you’ll wish they had worked out these problems during certain segments in the game.

Thank you, Sony, for placing much emphasis on the portable system’s ability to play wireless multiplayer matches. Like many of the launch titles already available in stores, On the Loose features multiplayer mini-games you can share with a friend. Using the PSP ad-hock wireless LAN connection, you can play mini-games such as Ape Ping-Pong, Specter Boxing (basically monkey boxing), Snow Kidz Racing (a snowboarding race complete with tricks and jumps). There’s also a mini-game called Jake Attacks where Spike and Jake compete with each another to reach a designated goal area first. The mini-games are a real blast to play and they run at a smooth framerate. In short, they’re the reason you’ll still be playing this game months after you’ve beaten the game.

Visually, the game isn’t bad looking at all but as far as PSP games are concerned don’t expect some genuinely spectacular graphical facelift. On the Loose, though, is still a colorful game with great backgrounds and sharp-looking characters that look great during action and cutscenes. There are also plenty of cool visual effects, especially when Spike sends captured monkey back through time. I also love the way the PSP renders water.

Well, what do you know? The game not only looks like an Ape Escape game but also sounds a lot like it including the charmingly upbeat tunes that play during each stage. It’s a soundtrack you’d come to expect from early platform games and the fact that it doesn’t get on your nerves is a big plus in my book. Even the voice acting is pure Ape Escape. The sound effects are done right and listening to the monkeys go wild is still pretty hilarious.

Ape Escape: On the Loose is still platform gaming goodness despite its bothersome flaws, so if you’re a fan of the series this is a PSP game worth your money. With plenty of monkey-catching levels and a nice assortment of mini-games you can share with a friend it's good to see all the things that make the series loads of fun present and accounted for in this portable version.

Review Scoring Details for Ape Escape: On the Loose

Gameplay: 7.0
All the things we love about the Ape Escape console version is here in the PSP game, but with some really clumsy controls and a camera you’ll be struggling with throughout the game this isn’t exactly a perfect version of our monkey-catching game control-wise. The mini-games are really fun and even more so with a friend.

Graphics: 7.2
This is one colorful game with characters that look just as good as they did on the PS2. While this game doesn’t show off the PSP’s true graphics power, it does look sharp and contains some really cool effects. The backgrounds look great as well although it’s the monkey shenanigans that will have you chuckling.

Sound: 7.0
There are a variety of tunes here that give the game its cheerful platform game vibe and that’s not bad at all. There’s even some pretty decent voice acting here and, of course, the wild monkey sounds. The sound effects are also straight from past Ape Escape games.

Difficulty: Medium
The more you advance the more monkeys you have to try to catch and because they’re good at slipping away it’s really quite a challenge. You’ll find plenty of environmental hazards and other enemies to pounce on and just try to catch a monkey underwater in one try.

Concept: 7.5
Aside from the game’s main objectives, Spike can participate in a number of neat little mini-games that alone are worth the price of admission. You can even play said games with a friend using the portable’s wireless ad-hoc connection so there’s plenty of fun to be had long after you complete the game’s main mode. I mean, are you really going to pass up monkey boxing?

Multiplayer: 8.0
Did I mention there’s monkey boxing? Oh, right, I did. Well there’s also Ape Ping Pong; a snowboard racing game and a mini-game called Jake Attacks. The multiplayer games against a friend moves along smoothly.

Overall: 7.5
While it has its share of flaws, Ape Escape: On the Loose is still one really entertaining platform game on the PSP. Had the controls been tightened and the camera more precise, we would have been looking at portable platform gaming at its finest, but this is still fun enough to keep fans of the series happy.





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