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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Ape Escape Academy (PSP)

By Michael Palisano

Taking the popular monkey chasing series onto the PSP once again, SCEA's Ape Escape Academy offers a portable feast of more than 40 unique mini-games. While these games differ in quality, depth and, challenge, Academy's overall frenetic feel creates a somewhat satisfying experience. There are multiple levels of challenge and a variety of mini-games ranging from bowling to skydiving along with brain challenges such as matching and kids stuff. It isn't overly taxing, and the load times tend to become annoying, but this charming game is a good one for short bursts of entertainment.

In Ape Escape Academy, the evil Specter has built a unique school that he's using to train a bunch of monkeys so he can use them for his evil means of taking over the world. There are several play modes in the game, including Academy mode, where you have can unlock mini-games to use in other modes. This is the main part of the game and the school has different 'grades' to complete. It starts simply enough where you begin with basic training where they learn the basic mechanics of the game. After this is completed, players can compete in a variety of mini-games in random order, selected on a grid. Successfully completing a mini-game earns the player a square on the board, which are used to create lines as in tic-tac-toe. Completing a certain number of lines allows you to graduate that level and move onto the next. In addition, hidden behind certain squares, you'll find bonus coins which can then be used to unlock additional mini-games and prizes. Once you've graduated from a grade, you can then play more elaborate versions of the mini-games in the game save mode, which can be played at any time in any order. Since Ape Escape Academy's mini-games appear in random order, playing through the same grade again can open additional games. By completing the grades, you can also earn additional rewards such as tokens and small statues which the can see in the viewing mode. While the approach is relatively simple, Ape Escape Academy's strongest suit is its accessibility, since most players will be able to jump right into the game without looking at the manual. This makes for an enjoyable game that isn't really complicated.

This approach might seem limiting, but there are more than 40 different mini-games included on the disc, giving players plenty of variety to choose from. These games are divided into different themes such as reflex games, brain games and challenge games with multiple play styles and mechanics. Players will find themselves skydiving, boxing, playing air-hockey, and answering simple questions in flash quizzes. Ape Escape Academy also includes games where you need to react almost instantly in a sprinting game or a dice challenge mode. These walk the line between challenge and reflexes while challenging tasks such as balancing a group of monkeys on their head while walking or trying to catch falling fruits on a skewer in the right order require some brainpower to beat. With such simple game mechanics, its surprising that the directions offered to players are somewhat vague. This makes the game occasionally frustrating, though figuring out what to do is most of the challenge in these types of games. While some games are entertaining and challenging, this approach makes others extremely frustrating to get the hang of, making them almost certain defeats. However, the majority of these mini-games seem to work well, and most players should find the majority of Ape Escape Academy an enjoyable experience. The controls themselves are relatively simple and easy to use with almost no learning curve, making for an accessible title that should appeal to gamers of all ages and abilities. Most of the games are designed for solo play, though Academy supports two players in wireless mode, so you can compete head-to-head against a friend, giving the game at least some added value.

Academy isn't a true Ape Escape title and those looking for that will probably be better off checking out Ape Escape: On The Loose, also for the PSP. The biggest problem the game has is its load times, which interfere with the flow and pacing, making it hard to gain momentum during play. Most of these mini-games offer a fun burst of energy while others are confusing and difficult to play. The game's limited directions and options doesn't help, either. Many of the mini-games are over in just a few seconds. This uneven quality gives the game a high annoyance factor. The mitigating factor comes when explore the game's other modes which usually offers a slightly deeper experience. For example, the bowling section offers only a single ball in Academy mode, but go back to play it again and you get a full three frames, which makes for a more enjoyable experience. Despite these added variations, some of the games still feel under-developed, making them mindless twitch exercises lacking in long-term appeal. The charming characters and design of the game are appealing. The screen comes alive with bright colors and upbeat music makes for an appealingly cartoonish aesthetic. Its humorous voice-overs and silly animations also add to AEA's appeal. Despite the fact that this isn't as polished as it could have been, Ape Escape Academy is still a solidly entertaining title that should appeal to younger gamers and those looking for a quick fix of hyper-active action.

Grade: C+

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