Love/Hate: Ape Escape 2

Welcome back to the Ape Escape Love/Hate series! In this entry we’ll be looking at the PS2 sequel, Ape Escape 2! I remember seeing this game on shelves when it was new and immediately snatching it up for more ape-catching fun. Did it live up to it predecessor? Read on to find out…

Love

  • Monkey Soccer – I’m not even kidding, this mini-game elevates Ape Escape 2 so much in my eyes. It’s exactly what it sounds like: a basic soccer mini-game with apes, but it is so much more than that. You see, your teams are made up of apes that you capture throughout the game, so every captured ape is expanding your roster. This both incentivizes capturing every ape you can find so you can get new players, while also incentivizing you to check-in on Monkey Soccer every once in a while to see what new options you’ve caught for yourself. In addition, each individual ape has their own unique stats, so there’s lots of room for personalization and team-building. My brothers and I used to spend hours playing against each other with our hand-picked teams of simian strikers and it is by far the best memory we all have playing this game… and I don’t even mean that in a way to disparage the rest of the game, it’s just that Monkey Soccer was that much fun.
  • HUGE Graphical Leap – Compared to the very rudimentary PS1 graphics of the original Ape Escape, Ape Escape 2 is simply breath-taking. Between the much-improved graphics and the expressive, fluid, and charming animations, Ape Escape 2 straight-up feels like a Saturday morning anime brought to life. Further reinforcing this feeling, they even managed to get the English voice actors for Ash and Misty from Pok√©mon involved!
  • Gotcha Box – Fostering addiction in children since 2002! The Gotcha Box is an inspired addition to the formula and a major upgrade from the stars and Specter coins you collected in the original game. Here, coins you collect can be spent for a capsule from the Gotcha Box, which gives you some sort of random reward: extra lives, cookies, coins, concept art, mini-games, new RC Cars, etc. There are also rewards, like monkey fables, which are strangely compelling. Like, they’re usually just monkey-based parodies of popular fables and fairy tales, but I always legitimately finding myself reading them and looking forward to my next Gotcha spin to see if I’ll find out the next part of the story.
  • Themed Monkeys! – In addition to the colour-coded apes we got in the previous game, Ape Escape 2 introduces a slew of monkeys whose appearance and actions mirror the stage they are in. For example, in the Spain level you can encounter a matador monkey, the haunted castle has knights, the Vegas level has disco dancers and clowns, the winter level has Monkey Claus flying on his sleigh, etc. There are plenty more cool variants and it’s always fun to see what sort of new ape type you might encounter.
  • The Magnet – Ape Escape 2 brings back all the gadgets from the original and adds some new ones, but the best of these is definitely the Electro Magnet. This basically lets you attach to, or pull in closer, certain metallic objects, which is utilized in several creative applications to facilitate traversal, open up enemies to attack, or solve environmental puzzles.

Mixed

  • Really Leans into the Anime Elements – Look, I know I praised the game for looking like an anime, and your mileage will definitely vary on this one, but Ape Escape 2 leans harder into anime tropes than its predecessor. Like, for some reason, you now have a flying, baby monkey companion named “Pipotchi” who is basically just Pikachu (a feeling which is reinforced since the main character is, again, voiced by Ash’s VA). Then there’s some of the bosses, whose designs and characterization just scream “anime”. For one thing, there’s Pink Monkey, who’s this demure little pop-star wannabe, but when she gets angry, she glows with energy and becomes this psychic monster. Worst of all though is Yellow Monkey, who is… problematic, so say the least. Like… just imagine the gay/drag queen anime stereotype character. That’s what Yellow Monkey is… which brings me to…
  • Freaky Monkey Five – Specter has some help in this game in the form of a group of monkey bosses. On the one hand, it’s not a bad idea to give him some henchmen who can give you more regular, and varied, boss fights. On the other hand, they just kind of show up, fight you, and then go down, having very little time to actually make an impact. They also side-line Specter for most of the game’s runtime, reducing the importance of the game’s actual villain.
  • Dance, Monkey, Dance! – Basically a monkey-based Dance Dance Revolution, Dance, Monkey, Dance! is functional, but was not particularly compelling to me. Again, there’s enough here that someone might want to dedicate more time to getting good at it, but I find that these sorts of frame-perfect timing mini-games don’t hold my interest.

Hate

  • The Story – Unfortunately, the story of Ape Escape 2 doesn’t work quite as well for me as the original game did. For one thing, the stakes are far lower, with the apes just causing mischief around the world, instead of threatening to change history if they aren’t stopped. For a lot of the game, we’re basically just cleaning up the mess we made. It’s not until late in the game when Specter re-enters the picture and we get information that he’s building a super-weapon to take over the world once and for all, but this “lethargy laser” is barely elaborated on. As a kid, I sure as hell didn’t know what “lethargy” meant, so I was really confused about why exactly everyone was so worried about this weapon.
  • Control Changes – Ape Escape 2 seems to have been rebuilt from the ground up for PS2 and, as a result, it doesn’t play quite the same as the first game, much to my chagrin. I know that some of this is just me being grumpy that “It’s not the same!”, and that I wouldn’t even have an issue with it if I hadn’t played the original first, but… shut up. I can be annoyed that the Stun Baton has shorter range, that you have to spin the stick faster to actually do a Stun Baton spin successfully, that your jump doesn’t travel as far, that the Sky Flyer doesn’t let you travel as far, and that you have to jump up every set of stairs you come across.
  • Apes Can Shrug Off a Stun Baton Hit – That’s right, my mainstay strategy from the first game got nerfed and I’m salty about it. That said, is there any real justification for them to have even the timid monkeys be able to take a hit from a Stun Baton and keep going? I’m not even exaggerating – in the second level of the game, I nailed one timid monkey six times as I was chasing him around the level and he didn’t get knocked over once, it was really frustrating and just artificially makes capturing apes take longer.
  • Rehashed Stages – Look, I get that there’s only so many types of levels you can do in your platforming game, and the original Ape Escape covered a lot of them already, but does it not feel a little derivative when we visit another ninja temple, sandy beachfront, icy tundra, spooky castle… and a dinosaur level…? Again, this game is supposed to just be apes running around in the present day, why the hell is there a dinosaur level?
  • Bananarang and Water Cannon – Unfortunately, the other two new gadgets, the Bananarang and Water Cannon, are kinda useless. The Bananarang acts as a mid-range weapon that you can use to draw in monkeys closer… but it’s rather difficult to use accurately and we already have the Slingback Shooter, so you’ll only really ever use it during the tiny handful of situations where the game explicitly forces you to. Similarly, the Water Cannon just kind of… exists. There are a couple parts of the game where you’ll be encountered by a bonfire… that you could very easily just fly over, but the game arbitrarily prevents you from doing this. There are also water wheels which you occasionally have to shoot the Water Cannon at in order to progress. So… it’s basically as useful as a progression-gating Key Card from Metal Gear or Resident Evil. Oh joy, another gadget that I’m never going to use unless you force me to.
  • Monkey Climber – Okay, this mini-game straight-up FUCKING SUCKS. It describes itself as “extremely hard”, but it’s only “hard” in that it controls awfully. I’m sure you can get better at it and get your monkey to climb higher, but the time investment is not worth it.

All-in-all, I really enjoyed Ape Escape 2. Ape Escape 2 is basically the same as the original, only with some higher highs, but also more things that annoy me at the same time. I think I prefer Ape Escape overall just a bit more, since it’s a tighter experience, but you really can’t go wrong with either.

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