There are a ton of games that are cartoonish, and most of them are too cute and cloying for me to even deal with. But APE ESCAPE 3 makes me feel like I’m inside the cartoon, probably because the foes have more personality that my character does. They all have a kind of Janeane Garofalo, fight-back attitude—even though they’re monkeys.
Ape Escape 3‘s concept is simple. You capture frantic monkeys with a net. If that sounds simplistic, it’s not. It’s a concept that’s served avid gamers well in the two earlier Ape Escape installments, the first of which goes as far back as the original Playstation.
The fun still tickles after three installments because the concept is so well implemented, sardonically complex and humor-filled. It was also true with the first Ape Escape, which I gave to former Dawson’s Creek actor Michelle Williams to review when I was editing an online magazine. She said it made her giggle and put her in the mood, well, for other things.
There’s a host of reasons that make Ape Escape 3 a superior game. First, all the monkeys you capture are a little different from each other, but they each have an appealingly frenzied waddle and a fuck you attitude. If you miss them with your net, they just might whack you so hard, you’ll fall down. Like the monkey catcher you play, the characters all have the big saucer eyes that are so popular in Japanese anime movies.
You’ll also like the humor mixed with touches of mild satire. The object of the game is to stop the evil monkey Specter from dumbing down all the world’s TV shows. One character, Natalie, says, “These shows are so stupid that anyone watching becomes a mindless couch potato.” OK, TV’s already mindless and stupid (with the exception of 24 and Lost), but these shows are even more inane than The Invention Channel. Throughout the game you’ll deal with a show that’s kind of a reality wedding and even a Titanic-based show.
You’ll be armed with a vast array of gadgets to help you capture your prey, everything from propellers to make you fly to a cowboy gizmo that allows you to shoot your net. You’ll have to watch out for nasty robotic toys and animals who are out to get you. (I destroyed a sly fox after he stole my net in an early level, but it wasn’t easy. I still feel scarred.) Since the monkeys get smarter and more evasive as you progress, you’ll need your wits, and a morphing ability that will temporarily increase your strength and powers. One of the powers, which I dubbed the Outkast morph, allows you to turn your foes into crazy, dancing fools.
But, like those TV infomercial hucksters say, there’s more. You’ll discover a mall which lets you purchase music (some of which is terrific: There’s a ditty that includes a lot of yodeling that’s hilarious). Heck, at one store, you can even make your own monkey videos. As you move from level to level, you’ll unlock various minigames. You’ll locate an area that gives you your monkey horoscope and fortune. It’s not just fun for the entire family: If we got some of our politicians in Washington to sit down for a game of Ape Escape 3, I bet there would be a lot more camaraderie . . . and fewer Alito-type Supreme Court confirmations.
Released in tandem with Ape Escape 3 is a PSP offering called APE ESCAPE ACADEMY. It’s full of minigames like soccer and hockey, which are just OK. But the overall concept isn’t conceived that well. These kinds of games have been done much better on other platforms where they’re more ingenious and more fun. Skip it.
True Swing Golf
After its inventive Electroplankton, Nintendo brought TRUE SWING GOLF for the DS to the shelves. I guess there’s logic to this since the big Bob Hope PGA event happens this week. But to call the game True Swing is really an overstatement—unless you play your real-life links with a plastic gray stylus, and not a titanium club.
While there are some problems with True Swing Golf beyond the name, I have to say it’s often fun to play. There’s a pleasant piano background music that’s a step up from porn music and it helped me relax when I whiffed the ball on the classically designed easiest course, the Bluebird Country Club, one of 15 courses available. And the graphics are better than you’d expect for the DS since the courses look realistic and even lush. (Oddly, it rained on one hole, then stopped, then rained on another, the only unusual thing to happen in this game.) Whacking at the ball with the stylus is something you get used to quickly, and it’s challenging to hit the ball straight (I mean, it’s hard to make a quick, perfectly straight line with the stylus on the touchscreen.) Also nice is a fast, to-the-point tutorial to get you started.
Yet overall, it’s kind of like Emily’s Reasons Why Not, ho-hum and so-so. At least, that show has a star, Heather Graham. There are no pros in True Swing Golf, no big names like Tiger or Vijay. There’s no create-a-golfer, either. You choose from eight male and female characters with the option to make their personalities ‘cool’ or ‘wild’ (of which I’m neither). In other words, the golfers are a bit like those in the well-known Hot Shots Golf from Sony, cute in an anime-inspired way. There’s wi-fi play, but I have to wonder how many people want to play video game golf head to head.
NICKTOONS UNITE! gets many of the Nickelodeon characters together for a sci-fi battle of good versus evil (ho-hum and so-so) with the nastiest criminals in the Nicktoons universe. It’s a variation on the popular console version of the game starring SpongeBob, Jimmy Neutron, and Danny Phantom as forces for good. Professor Calamitus and Vlad Plasmius sneer and pout as the baddies. SpongeBob can use his pants as a parachute and blow bubbles so he can fly through the air.
But one of the things that bothers me here is that you don’t hear the strange, humorous albeit sometimes grating voices of the characters. Instead, you have to read their comments as text. I’m certainly not against reading even if it’s The Devil Wears Prada, but the sounds of the characters’ voices are so familiar and funny, they would have added some joy to the game. Still, I have to like some of the minor baddies here, like the Half-Finished Robots (which you can get by if you watch the patterns they make and move accordingly). Then there are the semi-cute Anti-Fairies who float toward you kind of sweetly (like some of the people you meet at Fat Baby). But if they get you, they place you at the beginning of a level. So watch out.
There should be something really unique about these games beyond using a stylus to hit a ball or a cartoon character saving the world from evil. I mean, evil is so old, so 2001-Bush-speaking-about-the-evildoers, don’t you think? How about next time, they’re good and evil at the same time . . . with a real golf club?