Monkeys, weapons, 3D worlds and cool mini-games. Ape Escape: On the Loose has all the elements of a great platformer.
Back in 1999, Ape Escape hit the original PlayStation platform, and was one of the first titles to employ the dual analogue controller. It offered a rich 3D world, fast-paced game play and an entertaining plot for countless hours of fun. The new version for the PSP features updated graphics and sound, but the original mayhem from the first incarnation shines through.
The plot is pretty whacky: a white monkey called Specter has managed to steal a genius helmet and is trying to use a time machine to reverse evolution and ensure that monkeys end up on top of the food chain. The only thing standing in his way is a boy called Spike, who must travel through time and capture Specter's helper monkeys. The whole scenario could be reminiscent of a LucasArts adventure game, but the game play is fast and furious.
The game is fundamentally a platformer, and you have to use a variety of weapons to help capture the monkeys in a series of 3D worlds at different time periods through Earth's evolution. The worlds are well crafted, and each makes use of a cartoonish colour palette along with cute music and sound effects to give a slick, polished finish.
While the first few levels are quite easy and allow you to get a feel for the controls, the difficulty ramps up quickly. Gadgets play a huge role in the game, and you can assign a specific weapon to any of three buttons on the controller. You start the game with only a "Stun club", which temporarily disables the monkey so you can net it, but earn more tools as the game progresses. Slingshots, hula hoop shields, and a hang-glider-like device all add extra elements to the game and boost the long term appeal.
Unfortunately, during the game, some of the controls become a little complex, and it's quite difficult to get the hang of attacking monkeys - especially later when you start to encounter levels full of water. The main reason for this is the separate movement and camera controls. Like a number of 3D platform games, you have to move the camera manually as well as control the main character. The result, while effective on a PlayStation controller with two analogue sticks, is a little kludgy on the PSP. Often you find yourself trying to move the camera as monkeys attack, and Spike can get jammed into tight spots that are difficult to overcome.
That minor gripe aside, the game offers plenty of action and enough weapons and scenery to prevent the concept from becoming stale. As you progress through the game, you unlock two-player mini games that prove almost as entertaining as the main quest. Not surprisingly, the games are all focused around monkeys, and you can play ping-pong, snowboard, and even boxing.
Ape Escape: On the Loose is everything a platformer should be: fast-paced, fun, and immersive. The controls are a little frustrating at times, but this isn't enough to detract from the game play. Anyone that played and enjoyed the original would be satisfied by the PSP reincarnation.