Ape Out (Switch) Review
By now we’re all pretty familiar with the idea of a gorilla wreaking havoc in games and movies. King Kong, Donkey Kong, Ape Escape, Kongo, Mighty Joe Young, Rampage (the games and the movie)… But Ape Out, a game by Gabe Cuzzillo and published by Devolver, has added a new ingredient to the recipe: jazz.
Ape Out is a visually and aurally striking experience that wonderfully blends chaotic escape attempts with procedurally-generated jazz loops, effectively improvising the soundtrack to the actions of the player. The game is split up into four “albums” which essentially depict a different environment/theme for the player make their escape. Each album has an A and B side, with both sides featuring their own number of “tracks” (stages). Each track is procedurally-generated to a degree, with some obstacles and enemies being shifted around upon each try; the overall shape of the stage, however, is somewhat predetermined so as to give the player some sense of direction.
But the real hook of the game is its minimalistic art style and musical accompaniment. Each album has a set of distinct sounds and styles to pull from, and prompts from the player influence its energy. Controls are simple: ZL grabs humans to use a shield, and ZR thrusts them out of the way (creating violent explosion of blood and limbs), with the left and right sticks used to move or look in different directions, respectively. The premise is to make your escape from captivity, and take out any humans who get in your way.
The game felt tight from the moment I busted out of my cage and threw some dirty scientists into a bloody mess of themselves. And with every symbol crash, snare hit and gong smash as a response to my actions, I felt like Ape Out was working with me, not against me. That is, until the second-to-last track of album 4, which took me about 45 minutes to complete compared to regularly clearing others in one or two minutes.
In fact, one of my main complaints is that the game is quite short (bar that one track), and can be easily played through in one sitting. That wouldn’t really be much of a problem if there were some extras to come back to for replayability. But other than an arcade mode which only adds a score counter to each stage, there’s no real reason to come back unless you wanted to show the game off to others. Though, to its credit, speedrunners might find themselves coming back to beat their own times. There’s also a hard mode for each stage to return to, but again, it doesn’t really give you anything new to do.
On the whole though, I had a great time and found the varying enemy types throughout each album really challenged me to change the way I barrelled through stages. For example, the second album is set in a 30-storey building, and to make your way down each floor you have to deal with weak scientists wielding pistols who run away when you get close, SWAT troops armed with machine guns, and other generic soldiers found throughout the game.
At first I just tried charging through the stages like I did previously, but since I was in an office building, SWAT troops would burst through the window when I got close to them and forced me to either retreat to a new path or take one out at the risk of being shot up by another crashing in through the next window. Other albums feature enemies with flame throwers, grenades and other weapons which force you to change strategies: grabbing the flamethrowing enemies with means risking being set ablaze yourself if you’re shot at; but if you successfully throw them at a group of enemies you’ll instead set them on fire. I never really felt bored by the waves of enemies coming at me, because there were plenty of creative ways I could handle them.
Ape Out is great fun and a really engaging experience for people who enjoy arcade-like action. And for the music-lovers out there, this game’s (in)direct control of the soundtrack gives all of the on-screen action feedback that’s unique to this experience. It’s a shame that Ape Out is so short and replaying the game doesn’t present much in the way of new experiences/rewards, but for the 1.5-2 hour duration, you’re in for a real smash.
- The procedurally-generated soundtrack is super cool
- Controls are simple and feel great
- Wonderfully violent
- Super short
- The penultimate stage almost made me go bananas
- Final stage has some real optimisation problems