Love/Hate: Ape Escape 3

Welcome back to the Ape Escape Love/Hate series! In this entry we’ll be looking at the final, mainline Ape Escape game, Ape Escape 3! For whatever reason, despite loving the first two Ape Escape games, I never got the opportunity to play this game as a kid. I remember hearing that it had made some pretty big changes to the formula though, so I was always intrigued to find out how it played. Could it live up to its predecessors’ legacy? Read on to find out…


  • Two Playable Characters – One of the bigger changes in Ape Escape 3 is that you now can play as either a boy or a girl character, Kei and Yumi. This is already pretty cool just for being able to play as the character who appeals most to you, but they’ve gone way further with this than they really needed to. The character you play as gets unique cutscenes and dialogue, they get wildly different costume designs (for example, Kei’s fantasy knight costume is a knight with a sword and shield, whereas Yumi’s is a wizard with a wand and arcane shield), and different gadget designs. Furthermore, Yumi’s character is a popstar in this game’s universe, and some monkeys you will encounter can become star struck when they see her, making them easier to catch. It’s a cute bit of extra differentiation, and it gives some extra incentive to replay the game.
    • I also really want to emphasize how much this change broadens the appeal for Ape Escape. Kei is very much in the vein of a traditional Ape Escape protagonist, with a cool, kid-friendly, edgy look. Yumi, on the other hand, gets to indulge in cuteness, while simultaneously being strong and sassy, making this game more appealing and approachable to girls as well.
  • Gadget Quick-Swap is GREAT – Easily the simplest and best change in the whole game is that you can now quick-swap equipped gadgets. Simply equip a gadget and then press that button again to start cycling through all your gadgets on the fly. Not only does this eliminate the pace-halting menu diving of previous Ape Escape games, but it also means that being forced to use less-used gadgets is less annoying too! This is a fantastic bit of design and I wish it could be retroactively put into every prior Ape Escape game.
  • Costume Designs Are Adorable – A variety of selectable costumes are this game’s main feature and the effort put into their aesthetic design really shows. The aforementioned fantasy knight costume is absolutely adorable, the miracle ninja outfit is really cool, and I like how the cyber ace costume turns Yumi into an anime magical girl (think Sailor Moon). Special shoutout as well to the genie dancer costume – I don’t care as much for the actual costume, but its ability is incredible. You can use it to force everyone to dance: apes, enemy creatures, even the coins and cookies littering the area will dance! You just can’t help but get a huge grin on your face every time you use this thing.
  • Some AMAZING Level Designs – After how derivative most of Ape Escape 2‘s levels were, I wasn’t expecting much from this game. However, imagine my surprise when this game had not one, but two of my favourite levels in the entire franchise.
    • First off, Monkey Expedition Sets Off! is incredible. Starts out fairly unique (for Ape Escape) with a mountain-climbing-themed first area. This results in a vertical level design, which is pretty fun to navigate on its own, but it also shows off the newly-acquired Sky Flyer gadget. Then it moves into a mysterious temple area, which then continues upwards until you end up in the clouds at ape heaven, complete with flying angel monkeys and further vertical level design! An absolute delight of a level, I was blown away with every new twist and turn this level threw at me.
    • Secondly, there’s Ape, Ape, and Away! This level is breath-taking, with the entire level taking place across the backs of a squadron of flying airplanes. You’d think that they’d run out of ideas pretty quickly and force the level to progress to the ground at some point, but no, there are some very creative and unique uses of this space and concept.
  • Mesal Gear Solid – As a huge Metal Gear Solid fan, I was totally primed to love this cross-over, and man did it deliver. The team here have straight-up gotten assets and music from the three Metal Gear Solid games that had released up to that point, they’ve got homages to the games, they mimic the gameplay and style of those games, while also making it simpler and accessible. The referential humour in Ape Escape 3 can be pretty shallow, but they’ve gone so hard into it here that it works great and a lot of effort has clearly been put in to make this a full-fledged experience. My only real complaint is that the controls are really weird (right analog stick to prime your gun, but then you need to use left analog stick to aim it and hold L1 or L2 if you want to aim in first person).


  • TV Show Theme – Ape Escape was themed around time travel, Ape Escape 2 was a global ape hunt, and Ape Escape 3 is themed around a bunch of TV show sets. While this gives us a few really cool levels, it only really seems to exist as a vehicle to allow the devs to make a bunch of movie references. The referential humour of this game is very of its era and it reminds me of the sort of “comedy” that I was making back then, where the “joke” starts and ends with “oh hey, that’s Darth Vader monkey”.
  • Apes Can Steal Your Gadgets – Ape Escape 3 goes a step beyond Ape Escape 2‘s nerfing of the Stun aton. Not only can they shrug off a hit from it, but now they can get pissed off and then whack you, knocking whatever gadget you have equipped out of your hands. Not only does this force you to have to grab them back, but they can then steal your gadgets and use them on you. It is objectively hilarious the first time an ape catches you with your own Monkey Net, sending you back to the starting hub. However, it gets old quick and it REALLY sucks when it happens late in a level, forcing you to replay big chunks of a level to get back where you were. It makes the basic “capturing apes” gameplay a lot more dangerous, but not in a particularly fun way.
  • The Shops – The Gotcha Box is gone, and its replacement is a mixed bag. In its place, we get a suite of shops which give you all the same items as the Gotcha Box, but you get to pick and choose what you want. On the one hand, you’ll always be able to get what you want, but on the other hand, given the choice, I’m never going to spend my coins on the silly bonuses (concept art, enemy photos, monkey fables, etc) which made the Gotcha Box so charming. In addition, the prices of the shop items tend to be pretty high, so it makes splurging on these bonus items even more ill-advised.


  • Costume Implementation – On a conceptual and aesthetic level, I really like the costumes in Ape Escape 3. However, the way that they’ve been incorporated introduces a lot of issues and becomes major flaw for the game at large:
    • First-off, the energy/time limit sucks. You get 30 seconds per charge to use your costume, which immediately turns these things into anxiety-inducers. You can get up to 10 charges to ease the anxiety and extend this time limit, but I’m not convinced that this is entirely necessary because the game showers you with energy pickups whenever it expects you to use the costumes (think the useless oxygen upgrades in Dead Space: the game still has to be balanced for anyone not using the time limit upgrades, making them kind of pointless). The simple solution to all of this is that the game should just let you use your costumes at all times, buuuut…
    • The costumes are game-breakingly overpowered. All of them give you some sort of powerful, room-clearing attacking option, some sort of additional mobility option, and can capture apes at a distance and some even let you capture multiple apes at once. The cyber ace in particular can literally just fire off attacks and fly across an entire map in the process, making entire platforming sections trivial. Which leads to the further problem that…
    • The gadgets are completely invalidated by the costumes. The core gameplay of Ape Escape revolves around chasing apes and using gadgets to deal with challenges. With the way costumes have been introduced, they feel like they’ve been stapled awkwardly on top of the existing system, while also making the conventional gadgets feel entirely outclassed. Why would I risk using my Stun Baton and Monkey Net to catch an ape (who might dodge the attacks or steal my gadgets), when I can just stand in their general vicinity and automatically capture them in a fraction of the time with one of my costumes? The core gameplay has been shot in the kneecap by this decision. They REALLY should have just removed the gadgets entirely and made their functionality a part of each of the costumes’ abilities. That way you would still be incentivized to switch between costumes and you wouldn’t need the time limit.
  • AWFUL Vehicle Gameplay Sections – Ape Escape games tend to have short sections in levels where you need to use some sort of vehicle (rowboat, tank, robot, etc) to get through an area. The row boat and tank actually control a bit better than previous games, but there are two recurring, gimmicky set pieces which absolutely suck:
    • Firstly, there are racing sections which are abysmal. You drive a car where the left analogue stick controls the speed and direction of the car, but then the right analog stick controls the rear wheel steering. It’s supposed to facilitate easier drifting, but in practice it makes you want to throw your controller at the wall. Any section with racing requires you to hunt down two or three apes in cars, and you’re better off sitting and waiting for them to pass you and then ram them three times. This is a tedious waiting game, but it’s far preferable to actually trying to drive this stupid car.
    • Secondly, there’s the robot, which also controls awfully. To illustrate what I mean: WHY THE HELL IS “JUMP” DONE BY PUSHING BOTH STICKS OUTWARDS!? WHY CAN’T I JUST PRESS A BUTTON!?!!! Making matters worse, one of the late-game bosses is fought in the mech, making the entire boss fight pure agony. Thankfully, you can just hop in another mech when yours inevitably explodes, but it doesn’t make the fight any more fun.
  • Weak Story – Story is one of the least-important elements of Ape Escape, but my God, Specter is the least-threatening he ever has been in this game. He was at least sinister and legitimately threatening in prior games, but here he seems like a cartoonish moron… despite basically having already won by the time the game starts.
  • Super Monkey Throw Stadium & Ultim-ape Fighter – The other two mini-games in Ape Escape 3 are, unfortunately, very weak and uninteresting. Super Monkey Throw Stadium is an awkwardly-controlling hammer throw game. On the one hand, it’s like Monkey Soccer, where the apes you catch while playing have different skills you can use in the game. On the other hand… you’re throwing a hammer every time. It gets boring after your first throw. Ultim-ape Fighter, on the other hand, has some potential. It’s basically a simple fighting game, and even has a mini-story mode. However, the controls are really strange, with all actions being input on the left and right analog sticks… I wasn’t a fan of this and dropped it really quickly.

Ape Escape 3 is fun, but it’s a pretty big step down from its predecessors. This is mainly due to the half-baked inclusion of costumes, which compromise the core gameplay and end up making the whole game feel gimmicky. If they had integrated these costumes into the core gameplay more organically, then Ape Escape 3 could have had a shot at being at least on-par with the first two games. As-is, it’s enjoyable, but flawed.

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