Monkey Biz


The 13th commandment of playing Asteroid, according to Craig Kubey’s The Winners’ Book of Video Games, published in 1982, is “hunt beaver.” Although beaver here refers to that game’s “smaller saucer,” sophisticated readers will notice the word’s phallocentric overtones. (Phallos, incidentally, is Greek for “unidentified fucking object.”) Is today’s industry trying hard enough to target humanity’s better half? Responding to a study showing that as many college-age women play games as men, Wired recently suggested that the males who dominate gaming’s supply side cannot capture the female audience. “Not enough designers are women—they are only slowly penetrating production and development teams,” Suneel Ratan writes. “Press the Thrust button gingerly,” Kubey tellingly advised beaver hunters in ’82, “and if at first you don’t succeed, get the hell out of there.”


For PS2

Developer Sony

Publisher Ubi Soft

Rating 9 (out of 10)

Throughout recorded history, humans have insisted that something special—consciousness, possession of a soul, cooler weapons—sets us apart from animals. What creatures play on our insecurities better than those strong, smart, poo-flinging primates, the apes? Just last week, Washington resident Steve Wiebe grabbed headlines (or, at least, a headline in The Seattle Times) when he earned a record 947,200 points fighting Donkey Kong‘s namesake barrel-tossing ape. Sadly, the game is impossible to beat, and Mario’s girlfriend, Pauline, squirms forever in Kong’s hairy clutches. The psychodrama continues.

The cartoonish Ape Escape 2 pits man against modified monkeys. As precocious teen Jimmy, you must round up the bug-eyed critters, who’ve gotten a hold of the Professor’s intelligence-boosting “Monkey Helmets” and are running amok under the direction of monkey militant Specter. (Think of it as a classical gorilla, er, guerrilla-type campaign.) Your clever, adorable enemies possess characteristics—cowardice, speed, bad eyesight, boxing skills, and pure aggression—indicated by the color of their pants and the gadgets they tote.

Jimmy relies on the stun club and monkey net, but can easily switch to zoom-in monkey radar, an underwater net, a turbo-boosting “super hoop,” slingshot, remote control car, “sky flyer,” water cannon, an obstacle-moving magnet, or the “bananarang,” which attracts monkeys with its aroma. When not climbing, swimming, scurrying madly, or crawling up behind potential captives, you may jump into neato vehicles like the snowmobile. In order to see the game’s best ending, you must spank 300 monkeys, many well hidden. (Or you can speed toward an unresolved finish, leaving behind pockets of resistance.) Several diverting mini-activities unlock along the way, like a remarkably in-depth soccer game. These are only the largest unexpected bonuses in the game’s cascading series of thrills, which rely on aesthetics as much as action. That’s what sets humans apart: art.

Ape Escape 2, oops, I mean Charlie’s Angels

(image: Ubi Soft Entertainment)


For GameCube

Developer Sony

Publisher Ubi Soft

Rating 2

There are many ways in which I’d like to interact with the ladies of Charlie’s Angels. This game is not one of them. If you play a more egregious licensing cash-in this year, I promise to throw out every Drew Barrymore photo spread I’ve saved, except for the one in Vanity Fair‘s June issue. The game’s plot is better described as plop. Thieves, apparently inspired by David Copperfield, are stealing world monuments, including the Statue of Liberty, the Lincoln Memorial, and Stonehenge. (“Their size and weight seem of no concern to the robbers . . . “) In the opening scene, Manhattan’s lights go out momentarily, and when they come back on, Lady Liberty’s gone. If you see a more tasteless reference to 9-11 this year, I’ll take down my framed poster of the smoking twin towers.

And so Charlie orders the Angels to go out and fight legions of thugs ambiguously associated with the perpetrators of these senseless crimes. Playing each of the three essentially indistinguishable characters in turn (there is no multiplayer option), you punch and kick slow-witted enemies and pick up equally indistinguishable blunt objects to use as weapons, while desperately attempting to follow the “action” through shitty camera angles. Also, Drew looks busted.

Meanwhile, in Iraq they’re working hard to beat Conflict: Desert Storm II

Afghanistan’s post-Taliban regime shut down more than 300 video game shops in Jalalabad last week, claiming they were “corrupting the morals” of young Muslims, the AP reports.