Oh how I long to relive those days chasing danger, and launching stealthy attacks on those damned dirty apes of Ape Escape on the PSN. Sadly, I'm still waiting for that release. In the meanwhile, the primates of Ape Escape 2 can terrorize me instead.
I hold the first Ape Escape in high regards. Until my nostalgia is proven wrong, I'll keep on with that belief. Ape Escape 2, on the other hand, I've always remembered as being significantly less fun. When the PlayStation 2's sequel recently got re-released on the PSN, I wanted that notion to be proven right. But I recognise that memories are funny things, and tastes can change. That's the excuse I came up with when Ape Escape 2 proved me wrong — at least partially.
The original Ape Escape had a weird premise: helmet technology increased monkeys' intelligence (not so weird, actually. Seems like a plot we've seen once or twice. Maybe?), and with their new found awareness, the monkeys unleashed havoc on the world throughout various periods in time, lead by Specter — a vastly intelligent monkey bent on world domination (of course!).
Havoc, in this comedic game, meant fashioning the world in their likeness. The only way to stop the monkeys from doing exactly what humans did when we dominated the planet, was to send a spiky-haired fool with a time net to hunt and return the monkeys to captivity.
For as uninteresting and unoriginal as that sort of sounds, Ape Escape was a heck of a lot of fun for the little details it employed. Visiting different time periods was a cultural trip to faraway lands I knew nothing about. Some of the trips were best guesses of what the past looked like, with woolly mammoths lumbering in the Ice Age and dinosaur-filled jungles of the Prehistoric Era. All of the destinations were probably simplified representations, warped further by monkey antics...but it didn't matter back then!
Catching the monkeys was fun. Listening to the music was fun. Utilising the full capacity of the Dualshock controller was fun. Some monkeys were more loveable than others. And sneaking around to achieve heroism against hard punching monkeys was definitely fun.
Replaying Ape Escape 2 highlighted that it missed some of those marks but it also stays true to the silliness of the series, in some ways.
Pipotchi, The New Mascot
The game introduced Pipotchi — a baby monkey enslaved by the Professor, Natalie and the game's new protagonist Hikaru (Jimmy). Oh yeah, sure Pipotchi seems happy to be wearing a newly made Peak Point Matrix helmet (the sort that sent the monkeys into disarray for increasing their intelligence, and the same that caused the stresses of the second game). But he is still paraded around as this cutesy little mascot, when he is not.
And worse, he is a tutorial for Hikaru, just in case players couldn't figure out where to go. Honestly, he's a less invasive version of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword's Fi. He does, however, provide bonus life-giving cookies to Hikaru if gets knocked out (a first time, anyway), and helps him up onto ledges. But Pipotchi is ultimately useless, and later, a weak plot point in a game that needs no plot points or driving forces to encourage players to go out and catch monkeys.
The locations in Ape Escape 2 were a mixed bag but better than I expected. I honestly didn't remember how lovely Ancient Greece was under the rich, night sky blue. Nor did I remember how fun Castle Frightmare was, with its banana researching versions of Jekyll and Hyde monkeys. They can both be found dissecting and eating its patient banana in the bowels of that wretched place. So gross.
While not every area is a hit — the dojo isn't nearly as cool as Ape Escape's version of the Great Wall of China or its Sushi Temple — they are decently interesting, when they do not feel like re-skins of familiar levels from the first game (I'm looking at you, jungle-type area).
The monkeys themselves have descriptions that read like a bunch of groan-inducing monkey and banana puns. Some of them even give warnings on how'd they'd act, which sometimes, is a little too on the nose, as well as mini-tutorials on how to approach them. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't take extreme pleasure in capturing the helpless, panicked monkeys who buried themselves in the sand as part of their beach vacation.
Other monkey descriptions did make me laugh. Although, will anything ever make me guffaw like Ape Escape's monkey who, "Ate some yellow snow"? I'll probably never experience that greatness again. To be fair, that's a very high standard to meet.
To its credit, Ape Escape 2 also has the awesome bananarang, a gadget in Hikaru's arsenal, which lures hungry monkeys to its delicious smell. The scenes involving monkeys going bananas over it is something that I won't ever forget about it again. There's joy to be had in the simpler moments of life.
The Capsule Machine
Ape Escape 2's capsule machine is a treasure trove of happiness. The prizes consist of bizarre fortunes, educational tidbits, warnings from Specter, and monkey parables (my favourites!). The parables are as off-kilter as a game about catching monkeys, with a mix of well-known parables that insert nonsensical stories about monkeys in them instead. Capsule machines are one of my greatest weaknesses. It's almost as if this game knew that. Hmm...
Musically, this is where Ape Escape 2 pales in comparison to its predecessor. There's no alteration in the tracks when Hikaru sneaks around, and the music just gets quieter. It's mostly disappointing, and not nearly as varied, endearing or characteristic of the areas visited as Soichi Terada's Ape Escape soundtrack is. Ape Escape 2's music sounds like game-infused and manufactured pop, but it's mostly rote. There are a couple of tracks that are alright but nothing hits the personality of the first game's music.
Here's Ape Escape 2's "Ninja Hideout", for example:
It's just ok. The "Zombie Nation" vibes in the breakdown are cool. But it's not as natural, dynamic or flowing as "Sushi Temple" from Ape Escape:
And nothing is nearly as great as Ape Escape's "Wabi Sabi Wall".
The music made everything that much more exciting in the first game.
The Freaky Monkey Five
One of the biggest upsets I remembered of Ape Escape 2 when I played it in the past, was that I really hated the Freaky Monkey Five — a group of monkeys that act as bosses, and possess higher levels of intelligence than the majority of the monkeys in the game. Encountering them again, I have to say that I didn't mind them as much this time around. They made for relatively fun challenges, and it was nice to see monkeys other than the main villain Spectre, have more personality and a higher conscience.
Even if that pink pop star demon spawn Monkey kicked my arse, and the blue monkey annoyed me to no end.
Playing Ape Escape 2 felt natural after all these years. I picked up the controls as if they were ingrained in me. The camera work gave a little bit of trouble when I first started, but in all, I'm happy I played the game again. I still may not have incredibly high praises for it but I have more respect for it now than I did years ago.
And best of all, I spent some hours scaring monkeys with my RC car, knocking them over with my speedy hula hoop of doom, or getting pummelled by their well-timed and placed fists. Like I said, there's joy in the little things.
I'll probably pay them a visit again soon.