Ape Escape Academy
by Johnny Bray
Having not played any other Ape Escape games, it's hard for us to make an accurate comparison to other games in the franchise.
What we can tell you, however, is that Ape Escape Academy, now available for the PSP, is a pale comparison to Mario Party, Shrek Super Party, Monkey Ball, or even the lackluster Fuzion Frenzy for X-Box.
Specter (we're assuming he's the resident bad guy in the Ape Escape series) has failed over and over in his attempts at taking over the world. All because of the lousy, stinking monkeys. But now, he's created the Academy, so he can whip these monkeys into shape and get them to do his bidding. In the game, you go through a series of increasingly difficult challenges to eventually graduate the Academy. The game also features modes that allow you to play games you've completed, and play against others via wi-fi.
The game was clearly not designed for those with minimal patience. As a game is selected at random, you must wait several (sometimes as many as 20) seconds for the game to load. Meanwhile, it gives you a very basic explanation as to how to play the game. Once the game starts, you have one chance to do what it says. If you fail, you have to wait for it to load to the main screen again, select another game, and then load the next game. Repeat all steps as necessary.
Needless to say, if you're easily frustrated, Ape Escape Academy will not make things easy on you.
The mini-games themselves range from kinda fun to downright annoying. Bullfighting can be fun, unless of course you can't figure out how to actually move out of the way of certain bulls. Juggling can also be fun, unless of course you can't figure out if the instructions are referring to your right or the monkey's (yes, we tried both, and still couldn't figure it out). The games that are fun don't last long enough to make up for everything else.
From a technical standpoint the game is fine. The graphics are pretty solid, with plenty of bright colors and lush, 3-D backgrounds. The animations are fun and amusing, and the game clearly has a sense of humor. The control depends really on the specific mini-game you're playing, and it ranges from easy to figure out to intensely frustrating. Even the sound is good, with catchy tunes and humorous sound effects.
Ape Escape Academy is clearly for the kiddies. Older folks will likely just get frustrated (as we did) by the lengthy load times and less-than-stellar mini-games. It's probably ideal if you're on a road trip and want to challenge your friends to some quick-fire action, but as far as party games go, this is certainly no Mario Party.
Also available now is Ape Escape 3 for Playstation 2. We can speculate that the console versions of the game are far superior, due to more of a focus on multiplayer. Ape Escape Academy may be the only party game available for PSP, but you could have more fun challenging friends to games of Lumines or Battlefront 2, games that require more skill and less random luck. The victories would be so much sweeter.
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
We welcome your comments!