Ape Escape: Pumped and Primed (Gacha Mecha Stadium Saru Battle)

The Playstation's answer to the party genre


The Lowdown

Pros: Good game variety, lots of different weapons to master
Cons: Camera cuts away from action, game expects that you've played other ape escape games

Purchase at Play-Asia
Even though the 2 year old Ape Escape to was met with lukewarm reception in its American release, the Japanese market can't get enough of the crazy monkeys. They're known as "Piposaru" in Japan and they've starred in a couple of games now, even making a cameo in Monster Rancher 4. The mischievous simians return, not to take over the world, but to compete in the mecha stadium's Olympic challenge! Besides the monkeys, familiar characters from the series like Kakeru (Jimmy), the hero of Ape Escape 2, his partner Natsume (Natalie) and the professor are ready to compete.

Ape Escape: Gacha Mecha Athlete, isn't a platformer or a sports game. It's really a fast paced party game that lies somewhere between Super Smash Brothers: Melee and Mario Party. When you play the game either in story mode or in versus mode you are given four events to "compete" in. Players are ranked from first to last and are given different point depending on where they place. Whoever has the most points at the end of the four events is the winner. The five events really boil down to four different types of games. There is the "melee" event where you and the other players have their traditional Ape Escape melee weapons: stun baton, boxing gloves and a tree branch for the monkeys. Players simply attack each other using the right analog stick, if you lose all your health you're out. There are the coin collecting levels where the goal to collect the most coins. Then there are the range attack levels where players are only given a slingshot or other ranged weapon to attack other players with. There are the boat racing levels in which players need to rotate both analog sticks as fast as possible to get to the end first. Finally, there are battles between a super powerful monkey and the players. These battles are like the boss battles from any other Ape Escape game.

Even though there are only five "different" events Sony has made good use of level design to make the four tasks seem like new challenges. For instance the melee fighting level has a standard flat stage. The designers also added in an underwater stage and a moving stage, which changes the dynamics of how you would fight. The "range" fighting stage has a variation where you play in large tanks, rather than run around. The coin collecting stage has the most variations. In some coin collecting levels you're given the propeller, which lets you jump higher by rotating the right analog stick. These levels scroll forward and have a lot of jumping, which is why you have the propeller. Other coin collecting levels have coins rain down on players and you have a remote control car that can assist you in collecting coins. The clever use of level design makes a simple game concept into a new experience each time. When you start the game you aren't given a level select, instead players must progress through the story mode to unlock levels. Although you only unlock a level when you win first place, which could take a couple of retries.

One of the main differences between versus mode and the story mode is that in every level you are given a choice of weapons. So instead of being forced to use the stun baton during the melee level you are given four different weapons to attack with, which can be selected by the X, square, circle and triangle buttons. The weapon select is a nice touch to add in the versus mode. Even though there is a small addition the versus mode, which is really the meat of the game has more than its fair share of problems. One of the main problems is less a problem with Ape Escape: Gacha Mecha Athlete, but more with the Playstation 2 hardware. Party games are designed with four people in mind and the game can only support two unless you have a multitap. The game gets boring fast just playing with a friend or even a friend and two computers. The other problem with the versus mode is the camera. Opposed to the player following camera in the single player mode, the camera in versus mode pans out a wide range in most levels. While the camera does give a wide screen view of the battlefield, it rarely zooms back in when all the players are close together. This leaves you looking at small eye straining 3D monkeys. The camera is even worse in the split screen mode, which is used during races. The vertical split screen just doesn't cut it. You can't see enough of what is around you to dodge obstacles or collect power ups.

The camera has its own problems in single player mode too. You can notice this most during the stages where you only have ranged weapons. There will be times that you'll get shot from enemies behind you and to your side that you can't even see. This is because the camera doesn't pan enough away from the player. A similar problem happens in some of the melee levels, where your character will get hit and possibly fall off a platform.

Ape Escape: Gacha Mecha Athlete has moved on from the polygonal look from previous Ape Escape games and switched to cel-shading. Even though the cel-shading may be the trend now Ape Escape's transition into cel-shading isn't great. The graphical level doesn't look nearly as good as the dated Ape Escape 2 or Ape Escape 2001. Part of it is that the characters are small for such large levels. Part of it is also the characters look so different from their polygonal counterparts. Hopefully, future Ape Escape games with either have more detailed cel-shading or go back to polygons.

Of course fans of the Piposaru series will want to pick this game up. They'll feel right at home with the controls and the games, which are all an extension of the Ape Escape series. If you're a Saru catching neophyte you'll have to spend some time getting used to the controls and how to play the games. Ape Escape: Gacha Mecha Athlete doesn't spend a lot of time explaining how to play the games. Instead they intuitively expect that you know how to do so from other Ape Escape games. This of course makes Ape Escape: Gacha Mecha Athlete really for fans of the series or gamers that are looking for a party game.

Import Friendly? Literacy Level: 2

The menus are entirely in Japanese and so are the tutorials. If you spend sometime to navigate through the menus and have played the other Ape Escape games you shouldn't have a problem.

US Bound?

As predicted this game would get a US release. Ubisoft, known for picking up Ape Escape 2 has announced they will release Gacha Mecha Stadium Saru Battle under the name Ape Escape: Primed and Pumped. A release date has not been announced yet.

Overall

Ape Escape: Gatcha Mecha Athlete isn't going to get a game of the year award, but if you're into party games or can't get enough of monkeys pick this up.