I’ve often said I’m a fan of short games. Especially if they are unique, but would obviously wear out their interesting style if they stuck around too long. Sometimes though, things can be short and still become uncomfortable. Other times the price doesn’t quite justify the length. Then there’s Ape Out, which finds itself uncharacteristically trapped in the middle of all of that.
Break These Chains of Love
Ape Out is maybe one of the most literal games ever created. As a gorilla, your role in this game is get out of your captivity and to make anyone in your way… not in your way. This presents without any real interface and with simple controls that have you only moving, grabbing your enemies, or punching them. The simplicity does hide a small layer of tactical grace in the way that you have to play the game. Knowing what each enemy does when you grab them or throw them can be the difference between racing through the game unscathed and dying in a hail of gunfire ten seconds from the starting point. In general, though, the gameplay is all about pure unfiltered action from start to finish. There’s no real benefit to going slow, and when you combine that with the aesthetic and frenetic music, it’s hard to really put the game down.
The Art Part (Part d’Art)
Presentation is the name of the game. Well the name is Ape Out but if it had a subtitle, it would be “Presentation”. Everything about it revolves around the jazz drumming that plays during the levels. All of your actions dictate the rhythm and pace of the songs. Each time you throw or punch someone into a wall, they explode into a pool of blood and limbs as a cymbal crashes seamlessly within the flow of the music. It creates a glorious blend of audio and visual feedback. Aside from the carnage of blood and body parts, the environment design is overall fairly simple. The blocky procedurally generated levels work more as a vessel to make you and your enemies stand out. Functionally, they do have some tactical elements such as getting out of the line of sight of guns, but the backdrop and it’s shifting grainy texture (also matching the hiss of the record-played music) isn’t the star of the show here.
When this game was first shown, it drew a lot of comparisons to Hotline Miami and from some basic points of view, it certainly inspires that. Personally, between the aesthetic and jazz music, it reminds me much more of the intro to Cowboy Bebop, but that’s just me. Regardless, while the twitchy gameplay and instant kills of enemies is evocative of the 2012 classic, Ape Out is much more about the chaos of it all rather than a more strategic or puzzle-like approach that Hotline Miami delivers. It’s much more about delivering something cool and entertaining in the short-run than something with much depth, and that’s where we get to the rough parts.
The Hairy Parts
The biggest hurdle here is that Ape Out is short. Probably two hours on average. That’s not saying it’s useless after that period though. You can still go back in on a harder game mode and have that frustrating experience. There’s also an arcade mode that lets you go straight through on a whole level (eight areas) to get as far as you can without dying, racking up points along the way with kills, speed, and taking minimal damage. Finally, there’s an epilogue level that’s even more challenging called “Break In”, but I won’t spoil that tiny bit for you in its details.
My biggest issue is that the game seems to realize it’s short right at the end and buries you in a mixture of tough enemies and wide open levels where even the most minor misstep means you fail and restart the area. Sometimes it ends up feeling as if you were rolling the dice as you try to get a good procedural setup that won’t kick your ass because you ran in to three flamethrower guys and in avoiding them, a rocket launcher guy one-shots you. The fact that you get to see how far you’ve made it only after dying with a zoomed out map overview really makes each death feel in these scenarios feel like a punch to the gut. It can punish you for enjoying the fast flow and pace of the gameplay, and the frustration that creates takes away from what is overall an enjoyable short duration experience.
Ape Out is as cool as the unique jazz drumming that features throughout. It has a design that makes it stand out from virtually everything out there and it thrives on that. It lacks anything resembling longevity, but the game would certainly get old if it dragged out too long, it just doesn’t have enough complexity to justify it. The real issue here though is that it costs $15. That’s a bit much given how little time you could put into it. It’s definitely a game you want to pick up for $10 at the most. That being said, it’s one of the more memorable indie titles I’ve played in a while, so it is one that I recommend.
Ape Out is a shining example of combining visuals with music to make something unique and entertaining. The simple mechanics and excellent flow of the game usher you to an end that feels like it comes too quickly, even with some of the frustrating parts of levels in between. However, it is still a good purchase if you can get it for the right price and are willing to supplement your game time with h harder difficulties and arcade modes.
- Unique low detail character and environment designs
- Dynamic and interactive music
- Great gameplay flow and engagement
- Simple mechanics with a light layer of tactical gameplay
- Short for the price
- Procedural design can lead to some frustrating levels late in the game
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