If you’ve been a gamer for a while, you know that games inevitably get ported from one console to another, particularly if they’ve been successful. While some of the titles that have launched with the PSP have been original games, a large number of them are continuations of or re-imagined versions of older series. So it’s no surprise that Sony would take one of its more critically popular platforming series and bring it to their recently released portable. So fellow gamers, I hope you have a bunch of bananas at your disposal, because here comes Ape Escape: On The Loose.
For those of you who haven’t picked up the original title released six years ago, take heart, because On The Loose is essentially a retelling of that PlayStation title. You see, lab monkeys under the control of The Professor have escaped their cages, the confines of the lab and even the limitations of time itself, thanks to a malevolent monkey named Specter. Specter, having gained super intelligence from one of The Professor’s many inventions, decided to gain a measure of revenge upon humanity by sending his fellow monkeys back in time to rewrite history. Gamers play as Spike, a 4th grader who’s accidentally swept up into Specter’s plot when he goes to hang out at the lab. It’s now up to this unlikely hero to recapture the monkeys and brink Specter to justice.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, since many of these monkeys have subjected themselves to similar treatments under Specter’s watchful eye, developing separate personalities in the process. Some of them will simply run for shelter, but others wield weapons such as machine guns, laser pistols and rocket launchers. This also doesn’t count the numerous environmental or creature hazards that populate the levels Spike travels through. Fortunately, Spike won’t be sent out after these simians without any help. The Professor has provided him with a number of helpful gadgets designed to quickly detain the monkeys without harm. Some of these include a radar to help him find these elusive animals, an assortment of nets to put them back into captivity and a stun baton to immobilize troublesome monkeys.
Once Spike has collected a certain number of monkeys, the level will be considered “Cleared,” and he can return to his base of operations, The Professor’s Time Station, to access the next area. However, if he really wants to ensure his success, he’ll need to return a couple of times and make sure that every single primate has been snared. Doing so will net him additional items, newer gadgets to catch monkeys with, and coins that can be used to unlock mini-games. There are four separate mini-games that can be unlocked and played with another player via Ad Hoc (or localized) Wi-Fi multiplayer.
While On The Loose has managed to distill the original Ape Escape into a portable format, it has also managed to lose quite a bit of the magic that made the initial game so impressive. The initial game separated movement from use of devices via the analog sticks, with the right analog stick used to wield gadgets. Unfortunately, the lack of an additional analog stick has forced an over dependence upon the triangle, circle and square buttons, which not only select gadgets but also operates them as well. This not only forces some significant pounding upon the buttons, but it also restricts the fluidity of movement of any tool. It does take some getting used to, but considering how responsive the older title was, this is a significant issue that messes with the style of the game itself. Similarly, the included mini-games, although diversionary, aren’t really enough to continually play over and over again. The same is true with the limited multiplayer, since only two players can engage in a match at one time.
At least the technical merits of the game are much more solid than some of the gameplay issues. Much of the sound found within the game gives you the sense that you’re playing an interactive cartoon instead of a game, which meshes well with the visual aspects of the title. The transfer over to the PSP screen has made the details of the game appear much cleaner and sharper than on the original PlayStation. The anime influence on the game characters really stands out in this version, which makes the game feel fresher than the content is. You might pick up on a few flubs here and there, such as some slowdown that happens during play. The camera also gets hung up on some objects during play, which can be tricky when you need to make certain jumps.
Hardcore fans will probably snap this game up immediately, and if you’ve never played an Ape Escape title, this is a good place to catch up on the platforming that other gamers have enjoyed for years. However, you’ll have to take part of that with a spoonful of salt, because some of the magic just hasn’t crossed over from the console version to the portable rendition.