Ape Escape
Japan Studio's dynamic, DualShock collectathon

Review Written by

date published: 12.12.23
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It’s hard to say how much nostalgia affects someone interacting with a piece of their childhood. Of course it’s different for everyone and there are many different factors at play — how positive the memory is, the personal relationships involved, total time spent on the subject, etc. For me, I get emotional anytime I see photographs or video of me or my family when I was young. It’s getting pretty close to Christmas again and I am thinking back to last year, at my parent’s house, when my dad thought it might be a good idea to get out all the beta tapes he shot when my sister and I were kids. First time riding a bike, jumping into piles of leaves, family birthday parties, and of course - every Christmas morning. Almost instantly, I had tears streaming down my face - I couldn’t control them. Sure, I had a great childhood, but recorded on those tapes were intimate moments with family members and friends - some of whom are no longer with us. It’s overwhelming to think the reason why these tapes exist is because of my parents’ unconditional love for my sister and I. All of this is to say nostalgia is a really weird thing. I’m not sure why those videos make me cry, but they do. Maybe I just miss those days? Those people? What I do know is that I don’t just have rose-tinted glasses — I’ve got myself a rose-tinted telephoto zoom lens (for better or for worse). Anyways, this month we played Japan Studio’s

All that talk about nostalgia was because when I was a kid, I played the absolute shit out of Ape Escape. I first played the game at a PlayStation kiosk in my hometown’s K-Mart. I can remember not quite understanding the controls, but loving the game anyways. I suppose I would have been 5 or 6 years old at the time. I guess my Mom or Dad saw how much I was enjoying the game and probably gifted it to me for a birthday or Christmas. As a kid, there was not much I disliked about the game — the characters were cool, graphics were colorful, and gameplay was killer. I know after sinking countless hours into the game, I eventually managed to finish it, but I never 100%’d it and I know there is a proper ending if you manage to catch all the monkeys.

Many Monkeys

The story of Ape Escape starts when a monkey named Specter gets his hands on a special ‘peak point helmet’. When Specter puts the helmet on, he becomes infinitely more intelligent, escapes the zoo he is being kept in, and begins manufacturing more helmets. After more helmets have been produced, Specter breaks a bunch of other monkeys out of the zoo and puts helmets on them. Together, they attack the professor’s lab (the one that created the peak point helmet) and use his time machine to travel through time. Two kids (Spike and Jake) show up and agree to help the professor by going through time and capturing all the monkeys that escaped.

Many Monkeys

In the game, the player controls Spike and he navigates through different periods of history all the way up into the future trying to return all escaped monkeys to present day. Ape Escape is a ‘collectathon platformer’ game, meaning the player moves through large 3D environments while collecting things. Generally in the collectathon genre, the main items the player collects will sit in a static position in the game’s level. One thing to note about Ape Escape is the fact that the player is mainly collecting living, breathing monkeys that move around. The monkeys more or less stay in the same area, but if they see you coming, they will do whatever they can to avoid Spike catching them in his net. It’s an interesting twist on the idea of a collectathon and I think it really works well. I struggle to think of any other collectathon games with this twist.

This is the first and only game on the PlayStation to require the use of a DualShock controller. The game’s gadgets and vehicles heavily rely on the use of the DualShock’s analog sticks. This makes for some interesting and unique gameplay, but by the end of the game I got a little tired of having to spin the right analog stick over and over. Spike’s movement is controlled by the left stick and to use whatever gadget he is holding in his hands, the player either moves or spins the right stick. At the time, I am pretty sure these controls were insane (and they kind of still are). The N64 had a single analog stick, but the PlayStation was the first console to support a controller with two analog sticks. Ape Escape really leaned into that and made the player’s primary action dependent on the right analog stick and used the face buttons to change Spike’s held gadget. An unusual control scheme, but it absolutely worked for the game.

Monkeys jumping on a banana

Ape Escape’s composer is named Soichi Terada. Ape Escape’s composer is named Soichi Terada. Ape Escape’s composer is named Soichi Terada. Are you writing this down? Are you taking notes? Drum & Bass music was certainly popular around the time Ape Escape came out, but it was not a normal genre of music to have in your video game soundtrack, let alone have your soundtrack centered around the genre. The music in this game is SO good! Each track feels distinct and hits the right mood for the setting. The theme for this game is something I have been able to conjure in my mind for the past 23 or so years. That’s how catchy it is (and also, how much I played the game). It also is really impressive to have standout music in places like the level select screen and save menus. Terada put a lot of care into making the music for this game and it shows.

Monkeys eating McDonalds

Ape Escape has and will always have a reserved plot of memory real estate for me as well as a rose-tinted forcefield around that plot of memory. It was one of the first video games I really fell in love with and thankfully it has aged very well, allowing me to enjoy it 20+ years later. The game isn’t perfect though! The English voice acting in Ape Escape is absolutely atrocious (I’m sure the Japanese VA is better) and while unique, the controls can get a little tiresome. I also wish the boss fights in this game functioned more as puzzles that required you to use your gadgets. A few of them do, but more often than not, you are just waiting for the right opportunity to strike with your stun club. That said, everything the game does wrong, it makes up for with character and charm (and fun gameplay). Ape Escape is an easy recommend to anyone interested in the collectathon genre. Truly a unique series of games that have and will stand the test of time.

Well, before I finished writing this review, I managed to catch all 204 monkeys and finally defeat Specter. A goal 23~ years in the making. If anything, finally completing the game has only increased the tint on my rose-colored telephoto lens. It is really nice to have finally checked that off, though. I feel like I can put the figurative trophy up on the shelf in my head and rest easy knowing I’ve seen all that Ape Escape has to offer.

a questionable gif


"Composer did NOT need to go that hard!"

"I don't like it when games challenge me"

"DualShock is the future"