First: this isn't Ape Escape 3. If you're looking for that, you're in the wrong place.
Second: this is an example of Sony's hardware decisions crippling an otherwise playable game. Ape Escape: Pumped & Primed is a chaotic multiplayer beat-'em-up, sort of like Power Stone meets Mario Party, on crack, with plenty of monkeys.
When you get four players together and start your own tournament, Pumped & Primed is, indeed, as fun as it would suggest. Perhaps it is as fun as a barrel of monkeys. I would not know, as I have neither barrel nor monkeys to compare it to.
However, in order to get those four players, you need a PS2 multitap, a forty-dollar piece of equipment that works with something like 0.001% of the PS2's library. P&P is fun, but it's not enough fun to justify buying two more controllers and a multitap.
Even if you happen to have such things lying around already, P&P is kind of uneven. While some of its minigames are indeed awesome, frantic melees with plenty of action and plenty of dirty tricks to play on your friends. Others are pure crap, hobbled by lousy controls or nearly destroyed by quirks in the physics engine.
Pumped & Primed is set against the backdrop of the High-Tech tournament. Spike, the Professor, and Natalie have all come to compete, and a young girl named Helga plans to defend her title. Between rounds of the tournament, which encompasses everything from undersea submarine duels to mad races across spinning platforms, Spike's friend Jake has once again fallen under the spell of the evil monkey Spectre. The competitors' job is to defeat Spectre, free Jake, and if they have the time, win the High-Tech Tournament.
In P&P's Story Mode, you pick one of the competitors and send him or her into the thick of the fray. Each round of the tournament pits you against three opponents, chosen randomly from the other selectable characters, in a series of minigames.
This is where the uneven gameplay comes in. Some of the minigames are a lot of fun, such as Stunclubs (four people, four clubs; fight!) or Dragonfly (a mad four-person race across constantly shifting terrain). Others, like Watermech (an all-out submarine duel that plays a lot like the old PSOne game Critical Depth) or Boats (a river race), are nearly crippled by the bizarre analog-stick controls. I'm still not sure how you're supposed to make ninety-degree turns in Boats, or reliably avoid incoming torpedoes in Watermech.
What complicates things is that each Gadget has its own controls. The Tanks are straight out of the arcade classic Vindicators, where you use both analog sticks simultaneously to move, and Boats require you to spin both sticks in opposite directions. You swing a Stunclub by moving the right stick towards your target, and fire your Slingshot by pushing it away from that target and letting go. This takes a lot of getting used to.
You can unlock a number of things by playing Story Mode. Any stage you clear here will become available for use in the multiplayer Vs. mode, and if you can fulfill certain victory conditions in each round, you'll be rewarded with special helpers, gifts, and letters from your monkey fans.
The further you get, the more complicated each stage gets; Stunclubs, for example, moves from a simple open arena to a constantly shifting gridwork that might fall away at any second. In the final rounds of the tournament, you'll be able to customize your arsenal of Gadgets, use powerful super moves, and call on your monkey helpers to back you up, but at the same time, the environments have gotten surprisingly dangerous and your opponents are just as strapped as you are.
Story Mode, like the rest of P&P, suffers from a certain lack of flow. In multiplayer, you can simply avoid the minigames that suck. In Story Mode, not only do you have to play them, but P&P's AI has a very old, very annoying problem: as far as the CPU is concerned, you're the only target onscreen. It's not unusual to get half your lifebar shaved off at once in Tanks or Watermech, because everyone is shooting at you simultaneously, or for the three computer opponents in Dragonfly to behave as though they're on the same team.
There are also some minor problems with character balance between games. Each member of P&P's cast has slightly different Gadgets. Sometimes, the differences are cosmetic; Spike's Slingshot is exactly that, while Pipotron the devil monkey is wielding an assault rifle, but they do the same thing. Sometimes, two characters' Gadgets have very different effects; Natalie, for example, has a vastly more powerful Stunclub than anyone else's, while Casi's is a long-range missile weapon. You can see the difficulty.
I don't want to make it sound like P&P is all bad, though. It's not. Once you become accustomed to the controls, which may take quite a while, it's a great party game for all ages, with colorful cel-shaded graphics, great voice acting, some weirdly catchy music (especially Casi's theme, which is pure trance), and the potential for a lot of fun multiplayer action.
Before you can get to a lot of that fun multiplayer action, however, somebody's going to have to sweat it out with Story Mode, which is, plain and simple, a serious pain in the ass. Of the available minigames, Boats and Watermech are nearly unplayable, Loops is heavily biased towards the computer, the last stage of Dragonfly has a few glaring collision detection errors, and you'll spend most of Story Mode getting bum-rushed by all your opponents at once. If you plan to win this, you'll need a stress ball and some malt liquor, because it won't come easy.
Once you've done that, though, you'll be able to put together your own multiplayer tournaments, and when you do, you'll have one of the better party games on the PS2. It's a great rental for a slow weekend, and a decent gift for a kid. If you're older, though, Ape Escape: Pumped & Primed will seriously try your patience.