With a July 12th, 2002 Japanese release, Ape Escape 2 is fast approaching its 16th birthday. Having only played Ape Escape 3 and Ape Escape: On the Loose in my youth, this is my first time experiencing Ape Escape 2. How does the 3D platformer hold up sixteen years later?
Ape Escape 2’s Problems
It has plenty of inventive ideas and charm, but the camera and jumping mechanics are stiff and unrewarding. Its dual analog control system, which consists of moving the character with the left stick and manipulating gadgets with the right stick, restricts camera movement. It’s an inherent trade-off as a result of its innovative control scheme. Though that doesn’t mean more couldn’t be done with it. Assigning jumping to both R1 and R2 wastes an entire button that could have been used for more refined camera control.
Gadgets are assigned to the four face buttons, leaving the shoulder buttons to tackle most camera and game actions. Unfortunately, Ape Escape 2‘s camera feels like it belongs in a mid 90’s platformer rather than an early 2000’s game. Developers were still getting the hang of 3D camera systems during the early years of the PlayStation 2 and Dreamcast, but that doesn’t change its awful implementation.
Where it Went Wrong
As discussed, two buttons handle the same action: jumping. Why? Its redundancy makes no sense. The L1 button snaps the camera behind the protagonist. This logical move could have been a useful tool to further expand the sense of control. Unfortunately, it becomes a necessity due to everything else the game handles poorly. L2 activates a first-person free-look camera. With such wonky stick sensitivity, even scanning the environment in a first-person is a hassle.
This extends to gadgets, like the slingshot, which are also used from a first-person perspective. Lining up shots isn’t as intuitive as it should be for a franchise that touts such an active control scheme. Ape Escape 2 recognizes the awful first-person camera, with flying enemies moving slowly as a result. Coupled with generous hit detection, the slingshot works for what it needs to. Yet, it’s still nothing more than compensation for a finicky first person camera.
R2 and L2 should have been mapped to rotating the camera left and right. A dedicated first person button makes no difference when many of the game’s sections feature fixed angles that lock out the first person view. Additionally, the slingshot functions no differently than a first-person camera. If anything, you get the added benefit of its ranged attack. The free-look camera is useless.
Platforming Isn’t So Hot
Beyond the poor camera, jumping feels disgusting. No amount of description can represent how unresponsive the jumping mechanics are. Prior to acquiring the Sky Flyer gadget, I missed simple jumps that would have given me no trouble in any other 3D platformer save for Bubsy 3D. Hikaru’s movement, jump height, and momentum don’t provide the level of control you’d want from a platformer. Again, much like the slow-moving aerial enemies, platforming obstacles are simplistic to account for this.
The developers knew how inadequate Ape Escape 2‘s movement and camera systems were, building simple levels around its restrictions. The end result is a charming, but easy platformer. Even when wrestling against the controls, Ape Escape 2‘s level design and enemy encounters remain basic enough to offset frustration. It’s a double-edged sword.
Ape Escape 2 is a mixed experience. It suffers from simplistic level design and boring bosses with basic patterns. Designed with children in mind, the game never puts up a challenge even when its camera and jumping wrestle against the player. When all is said and done, though, catching monkeys with that net never gets old.