The PlayStation's monkey fixation is alive and well. Not only do you have the various monkey-themed games on the PS2 (such as the Ape Escape games and EyeToy: Monkey Mania), but the PSP will at launch feature its own simian sim in the form of Ape Academy. Nintendo better pump out some more Donkey Kong if it wants to remain top of the tree when it comes to monkey games.
Unlike the platform sensibilities of earlier Ape Escape games, Ape Academy for the PSP is a Wario-like collection of mini-games, all structured around getting your chosen monkey through the various rigours of the aforementioned Ape Academy. Players graduate by completing six 'years' at the academy, with each year featuring a certain number of mini games that must be completed to achieve a pass mark.
Each year is structured in a noughts and crosses-like board of nine mini-games. Win the game and you get a nought -- lose it and you get a cross. Early years will only require you complete one line to pass, while later years will need two or more lines to get through.
There are dozens of mini-games to be unlocked in Ape Academy, although that number is padded out a bit by Ape Academy counting harder versions of the same challenge as a new game. Challenges like the 1.00m dash -- which requires you to be the first to press the Circle button when the game announcer yells 'Go' -- will test your reflexes and your nerve. Spot The Difference -- which asks you to pick the monkey with a different banner than the others -- will test your memory. There are even mini-games to test your general knowledge (Ask Darwin) and maths prowess (Monkey Drill).
These games range from quite fun to not at all. While many are a joy to play, there are some odd selections in the mix -- the trivia-like Ask Darwin and the numbers-based Monkey Drill will probably put off the younger gamers this title is obviously aimed at. Ask Darwin in particular becomes quite difficult and obscure. One of the questions we got was who was England's first Prime Minister after World War II -- that sounds more like homework than a game to us.
All of the mini-games also share a hair-tearing lack of instructions, meaning that you'll be going through a heavy process of trial and error the first time you come across them. Apart from one line explaining what you need to achieve, Ape Academy gives you little to no indication of how to control the mini-game -- you'll fail a lot of the games the first time through simply because you have no idea what's happening. Thankfully all mini-games are playable on their own from Ape Academy's main menu, which allows you to figure out how to beat it in the game proper.
Adding to the frustration is the frequent load screens you'll come across, plus the long and cheesy introductions you'll get from each monkey instructor (which unfortunately can't be skipped). Ape Academy also doesn't allow you to restart a year you're currently playing -- if you're halfway through a year and you've already lost enough times to know there's no way of passing, you're forced to play through regardless (that, or restart the PSP, something you'll be doing a lot with Ape Academy).
Graphically, Ape Academy is a nice looking title, with plenty of bright yet simple character models. Sound and music are passable -- but perhaps it's our own love of funny monkey squeals that gets it across the line.
Ape Academy serves up a decent number of mini-games, but it can be quite a frustrating experience to play due to a lack of instructions, some odd mini-games and too many load screens.
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