Ape Escape: On the Loose & Daxter
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Australia
Mon, 26 June 2006
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Another Multi-review article from old Sammy. Only the 2 games this time though, rather than 4 like I did with the last one. These two beauties for PSP are both published by Sony themselves. Ready, set, Go!
Ape Escape: On the Loose
I know it, you know it and Jay and Silent Bob know it: Everyone loves monkeys. Especially monkeys that star in really cool games, like the Ape Escape (AE) series. The world's greatest (and, to the best of my knowledge only) monkey catching simulators, the Ape Escape games on PSOne and PS2 are bursting at the seams with monkey lovin' fun. And now, the franchise has become portable. Actually, there was already an earlier Ape Escape title for PSP, called Ape Escape Academy (there's a follow up to that on the way too), but that version was a collection of mini-games, rather than a "real" AE adventure. On the Loose is the first handheld title featuring the cheeky little chimps back where they belong; in a platform style action game.
Basically, One the Loose is a port of the original PSX game, with improved graphics and a few other updates and alterations. Automatically, there's a hurdle to deal with in putting the PSOne's Ape Escape on PSP, which is; the handheld system doesn't have dual analogue sticks. The excellent way the control method of the original version of this title used both of the Dual Shock pad's sticks (and the PS2 Ape Escape does the same) was/is one of coolest things about it. You use the left stick to run/move and the right one to swing the net and catch monkeys, or operate one of the numerous other gadgets you collect throughout the game. Running one way, while swinging/striking/shooting in a different direction, all at the same time was (and still is) a great and innovative way to make the most of the Dual Shock's design.
Mind you, Ape Escape wasn't the first game to do that sort of thing; titles like Robotron and Smash TV used a similar control scheme many years ago (I noticed that you can download both of those at Xbox Live Arcade, incidentally).
Could Sony manage to keep the game's mechanics tight and gameplay smooth, despite the PSP's control limitations? Well, sort of. Ape Escape is definitely not quite as good, control wise, with only the one analogue stick. But the developers have gotten it about as close as seems possible. Since there's no right stick, the net & other gadgets are each assigned to one of the face buttons, you simply press the corresponding button to use the tool you want. While this means you can still run and use gadgets at the same time, the ability to simultaneously swing them in any direction has been lost. It is a compromise that basically had to be made. While, unfortunately, this does make catching the monkeys feel clumsier, you do adjust eventually and it isn't enough of a detraction to ruin the fun completely.
Just as well, because this game still has plenty to offer. Graphically, it sports a crisp, clean look - while there's not an abundance of detail, everything is sharp and easy to see, with a great cartoony quality. I'd describe the aesthetics as being similar to Super Mario 64's only with much higher resolution and cleaner textures (as you'd expect really, given the age difference). The character animation is particularly good, instilling both Spike (the character you control) and the monkeys with charm galore. It can be quite fun just watching the monkeys really, they're such amusing little buggers. All in all, it is significantly better looking than the original and makes for pleasant viewing.
|Monkey magic |
The music and sounds all back up the goofy, fun filled, sugary atmosphere nicely. You get the sort of up tempo tunes that are synonymous with platform games, well voiced main characters and some lovely little squeaky noises for the banana eating simians. All nice and silly, it will put a big smile on your kisser. Unless, I suppose, you're one of those Goth dudes, or another of those types going around with sticks apparently lodged permanently up their arses.
The gameplay is where Ape Escape: On the Loose really shines though. It is just a lot of fun. Exploring all the many and varied landscapes and trying to hunt down each and every monkey (and all the hidden secrets) is addictive, for those prone to enjoying such endeavours (like me). There are many clever touches to the game that make it stand out from the platform/adventure game pack. It does work well as a portable game too, since you can play a level at a time and save as you go.
On top of that is the vast array of mini-games, for both solo men and those who like to play with others. It'd be nice if I could say I've tried them extensively, but that'd be a lie. In fact, I haven't tried them at all yet. Not because I don't want to, I just haven't had time. I imagine they're pretty sweet though and, even if they aren't, it doesn't hurt to have 'em there.
The biggest bummer is that the camera gets stuck sometimes and is not as well implemented in this port as it used to be (on PSX). That basically goes hand in hand with the other control issues I mentioned earlier. 3D platformers are pretty notorious for shitty cameras though, so we hardcore gamers are kinda used to that by now. This one is not nearly as bad as some others I've had to put up with.
Even if you've played Ape Escape to death on PlayStation, you might just fall in love with the game all over again with this sweet updated PSP conversion. If you've never played Ape Escape and like the sound of it, what are you waiting for? PSP owners that dig quality platformers, with some originality and humour to them, oughta snap up Ape Escape: On the Loose right away.
I'll score it 8 out of 11. It is a shame that the original's most outstanding aspect, the control scheme, got a little lost in translation, (though it was really unnavoidable) - otherwise I'd give it a 9.
Naughy Dog (this game's developers); clever bastards aren't they? Whatever it is they drink, I wish they'd share it around. They really know how to get all the juice out of the hardware they are developing for, to the extent that it almost seems like (as far as presentation, at least) they are about a generation ahead of most others. Crash Bandicoot may have wound up being something of a hackneyed and annoying character, but his first couple of PlayStation titles made that system's processors cook, to produce finer eye candy than most other games came close to, at the time. Naughty Dog basically repeated that result with the original Jak and Daxter on PlayStation 2 standing head and shoulders, graphically, above most other PS2 games of its day.
Well, guess what? They gone and done it again on PSP. Oh Naughty Dog, you bunch of show offs, I could kiss ya! Daxter is nothing new or innovative to play, but it is plenty of fun and I'll be damned if it isn't about the prettiest PlayStation Portable game there is.
Many gamers would already know Daxter. He was meant to be Jak's annoying sidekick and constant companion, in the appropriately titled Jak and Daxter series. Only problem there is that Daxter was a little too good at his job, the annoying part that is. While he was amusing enough at first, before too long I wanted to kill the little prick, and I know that I wasn't the only one. So the thought of playing a game solely as the irritating Daxter didn't seem like a terribly inviting proposition. But, he's kind of won me back over, just by starring in such a well made game. Mind you, he's clearly still trying to be aggravating in this one and he is still quite successful at it. Either I've suffered some recent brain damage, just grown a tolerance for him, or he's toned his act down a little; because I actually quite like him in this game. In fact, a few times he even made me laugh. Maybe I'm just getting softer.
Daxter actually plays quite a bit like Ape Escape, so the 2 games fit together in this article rather well. You have a variety of gadgets to use in this one too, only instead of using them to catch monkeys, Daxter is exterminating bugs. I don't believe I need to say a great deal about the gameplay really, since it is pretty standard fare. You go running and jumping through 3D worlds, figure out ways to interact with the environments to progress and squash (or shoot) a bunch of critters as you go. Nothing you've not done before, but entertaining all the same. Platformers are old Sammy's favourite kind of game (though, generally, I prefer the 2D kind) when they are done well. Daxter is done well.
I was just saying, in the Ape Escape review, that it is pretty well par for the course to have some camera problems in 3D platform games. Well, that is also true of this one. One of the main reasons I believe the game's camera isn't so hot is, again, because the PSP could really use another control stick on the right. One stick for moving the character and the other to move the camera works best in these types of titles, but you can't do that on PSP. The system's directional pad is sitting just above the analogue stick, so that too is less than ideal for camera control.
In Daxter you can rotate the camera left and right on the fly by using the shoulder buttons and that usually works well enough, I just found it a little slow at times. There also were some occasions when I couldn't get the camera positioned where I wanted and was forced to play with an awkward viewing perspective. Overall though, the camera troubles were not major. It didn't piss me off constantly; just caused an aggravating moment here and there.
The only other complaint I can think of is that some gamers might find it too easy, particularly veterans of the Jak & Daxter games, since they were pretty tough nuts to crack. I think they've eased things up a bit here because they want kids to be able to enjoy it, but I don't know for sure. I wasn't put off by the lower difficulty level personally, as it isn't like the game is ridiculously easy. Besides, there is a heap to see and do in the game; surely enough content to last most people quite a while.
|Where does he get all those wonderful toys? |
As I said, this game looks superb. It has very similar aesthetics to the PS2 Jak and Daxter titles, which is logical enough since they're set in the same "universe". This is every bit as attractive as them (if not even better), and they were/are beautiful games, therefore Daxter looks damn impressive running on a portable system. Right now, I'd say this is probably the most graphically stellar game on PSP (I say "probably" because Wipeout Pure is still a favourite of mine to look at and there are a few other contenders you could also argue in favour of, when it comes to that claim).
As usual Naughty Dog have packed Daxter full of bonus content and numerous extras for keen gamers to get stuck into. Particularly cool are the bonus levels that take place in Daxter's dreams and humorously parody several well known movies.
The game's levels are constructed very well, which makes it more compelling to check every nook and cranny of them in an attempt to collect all the bonus stuff. They've put a good amount of variety into the action also, breaking things up before you become bored. The icing on the cake would have to be all those crazy weapons and devices Daxter gets to use.
I'm always pleased to see original games on PSP, rather than just ports. Having fantastic games like Daxter exclusive to the format will surely attract even more fans to Sony's handheld. Daxter is the best title of its kind for the system and an outstanding 3D platform game in its own right.
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Engaging, varied gameplay and good level design make it great fun to explore Daxter's vibrant world. It is supremely attractive (as usual from Naughty Dog) and full of personality. Daxter deserves to be seen, on your PSP screen.