Love/Hate: Ape Escape

It’s time for a new Love/Hate series on IC2S! For those who have been following my Resident Evil playthroughs, don’t worry – I intend to resume the Resident Evil entries this year. In the meantime, we’re going to look at one of my childhood favourite franchises which has been dormant for far too long now, Ape Escape! And what better place to start this analysis, than with the game that started it all?

Also, just a note: there are a ton of random Ape Escape spin-offs. Maybe I will get to those someday, but at this time I’m only really intending to cover the mainline games.


  • The Core Gameplay – First, and most importantly, it has to be said that just playing Ape Escape is a blast. Chasing apes around and trying to catch them is fun and compelling in a similar “gotta catch ’em all” manner to Pokemon. Levels have been constructed so that each ape you encounter is a mini-puzzle you have to approach and overcome using the terrain and tools you have at your disposal. This is the foundation that Ape Escape really had to nail in order to even become a franchise, and this original perfected it out of the gate.
  • The Gadgets – The second key, fundamental piece of the Ape Escape puzzle is the variety of gadgets it puts at your disposal. All of them are really useful, with only the R.C. Car being somewhat situational, but it’s such a cool gadget to have at your disposal that it doesn’t even matter.
    • Special mention needs to go to the Sky Flyer. Video game power-ups that upgrade mobility and traversal are always 10/10, and the Sky Flyer just feels amazing to use.
    • Also, I really need to give props for how well-designed the Stun Baton and Time Net are. The Stun Baton is your all-purpose, close-attacking weapon, while the Time Net is what actually catches 99% of the apes you encounter. In a worse-designed game, you’d just run around with the Time Net to catch every monkey, but the swinging animation for the Stun Baton is much faster. As a result, it is actually better to stun the apes first and then quickly swap to the net to catch them, incentivizing more strategic gameplay than just wildly flailing about with your net.
    • I also want to give a shout-out to the Monkey Radar, which allows you to switch to a “Monkey camera”, which shows you what each ape is doing, its stats, and gives you a little description for every single one. It lends each individual ape a bit of personality, which is a nice touch and incentivizes getting a peek at each ape to learn a bit of their story… before you chase ’em down and catch them in your net.
  • Innovative Controls – It’s easy to overlook this now, but Ape Escape was the first dual-analog console game and was largely intended to be a showcase for the brand-new Dualshock controller. So many games designed to demonstrate new technology end up feeling like tech demos which get in the way of actually playing the game (looking at you, Uncharted: Golden Abyss), but Ape Escape absolutely succeeded in demonstrating that dual-analog controls were not just a gimmick. Moving with the left analog stick, and using gadgets with the right stick feels natural and works very well at facilitating this kind of gameplay.
  • Iconic Character Designs – The cartoonish ape design in Ape Escape is instantly iconic. That said, there has to be special mention for how much thought went into the way that each ape is designed and how this conveys information to the player. For one thing, the colour of their pants denotes how they will behave and gives you information about how they should be approached effectively (yellow pants are “standard”, blue are extremely fast, light blue are timid, red are aggressive, white have high alertness, black have submachine guns, and green have high alertness and missile packs). This also extends to the lights on the monkey’s helmets, which communicate their level of alertness, as well as letting you know whether they’re on the lookout or not. It’s an extremely efficient and effective way in which to communicate complex information to the player so they know how to deal with each monkey they come across.
  • Stage Variety – Levels in Ape Escape are usually split into three “zones”, which share a unifying theme based on whatever time period you’ve travelled to. Despite sharing the same theme with two other levels, each individual stage tends to be very distinctive and well-designed to provide platforming and capturing challenges.
  • Music – Ape Escape was in that era of really evocative and iconic video game soundtracks, and stands strong amongst its peers.
  • Galaxy Monkey – Ape Escape established a precedent that these games will always have some mini-games and easily the best among these is Galaxy Monkey, which is a simple-yet-fun twin-stick shooter.


  • Very Basic Story – On the one hand, it’s as functional and unobtrusive as it really needs to be, giving you the setup of “Apes messing with time travel to change history, go catch them” and only interrupting for more story infrequently. On the other hand, it starts venturing into some really generic anime trope territory (one character literally says “You didn’t need the gadgets, you were strong all along!”). Like, I get that it’s a game for kids, but even as a kid I thought this message was really corny.


  • The Camera – During the first couple generations of 3D console games, developers were still “figuring out” how to effectively do a camera in a 3D environment. Unfortunately, Ape Escape often suffers from this as well. The camera is sufficient during about 95% of gameplay, but that remaining 5% can really stand out in your mind. Camera manipulation is mapped to the D-pad, which is really inconvenient to use unless you stop playing in order to move it around. There is also the ability to re-orient the camera with the L1 button, which works most of the time, but every once in a while you’re going to be chasing an ape into a corner and the camera will completely lose track of everything, which can lead to some frustration.
  • Magic Punch vs Stun Baton – The Magic Punch is an endgame gadget you get, which effectively replaces the Stun Baton: it’s twice as strong, has longer range, and can break more objects. However, the one thing it cannot do is be spun around to hit things repeatedly… which is a pretty frequent thing you need to do to turn wheels throughout the game’s environment. It’s really annoying to give me a straight-upgrade gadget, but then have it be massively inferior in one particular way, necessitating me menu diving to go get by Stun Baton and then swap back immediately every time. The devs clearly agreed, because this was changed in Ape Escape 2 so that a hit from the punch would make wheels spin faster.
  • Boss Fights – Bosses are very basic in this game. They almost always require you to do some sort of action twice, then move to a second phase where you have to do some other action twice… that’s it. Very simple and boring affairs.
  • Ski Kidz Racing & Specter Boxing – Unfortunately, the other two minigames in Ape Escape are not very fun. While you could potentially dedicate time to them trying to improve your skills, they are ultimately brought down by really annoying controls which make them more frustrating than they need to be.
  • Goggle/Missile Pack Monkeys – Oh my God, these types of monkey are SO ANNOYING. You either have to slowly crawl towards them, or you get constantly bombarded. If you get spotted, missiles fly incessantly, making these by far the toughest enemies in the game.

And that is Ape Escape in a nutshell! Easily one of my favourite games of all time, I heartily recommend it if you have never played.

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