Sunday marks the 13th anniversary of Ape Escape: On the Loose, the PSP and (via backwards compatibility) PS Vita port of the iconic PS1 platformer Ape Escape. To put it simply, Ape Escape: On the Loose is one of the best platformers on both systems, so let’s dive into why I rate it so highly.
On the Loose shouldn’t work. The main lure of the original game was its unique, dual analogue stick centric control scheme, something that has been removed in On the Loose due to the PSP only having one stick. Yet, while the new scheme is a downgrade, it’s still very intuitive and something players quickly get used to. Moreover, the movement has been touched up compared to the original which would be clunky by 2006 standards, and that too helps in making the game easy to play and fun to control. Tight controls are the cornerstone of every good platformer, and Ape Escape’s PSP and Vita outing nails it.
The game makes good use of these controls through its superb levels. Each stage has a unique, time travel based theme that leads to creative ideas and excellent level design. While they were originally designed for a home console, they fit the portable systems perfectly and, outside of a few longer levels near the end, they’re very accessible in a “pick up and play while headed somewhere” way. The great level design works, in part, because of the various gadgets you’re given, including an RC Car, the Sky Flyer (which allows you to, well, fly in the sky for a few seconds) and the Dash Hoop (which is a literal hoop that… you get the point). All of the gadgets are used in innovative and smart ways that keep levels from being repetitive, and some like the Stun Club also have usages in multiple situations.
What really cements the game is its fantastic personality. Apes aren’t just generic collectibles, but relatively fleshed out characters with their own names, backstories, personalities, outfits and more. The humorous execution of this, in conjunction with how they play off the themes and/or layout of the levels, makes the entire experience all the more enduring and entertaining. It fixes the big issue all entertainment formats have (games, movies, etc.) of all “large quantity of” enemies feeling like faceless, irrelevant goons, meaning every encounter feels special.
Attentively, the game is packed with fun minigames. This is the area that On the Loose most differentiates itself from the original, as all of the minigames from the PS1 release have either been reworked or replaced completely. For example, the original Ski Kidz Racing minigame, which entailed skiing around a small course with both analogue sticks, has been replaced with one where you race down large slopes with just one analogue stick. While the original minigames are slightly better due to the dual analogue stick novelty, the replacement minigames are a lot of fun and provide incentive for original players to pick up this remaster. Moreover, the new minigame, Ape Ping Pong, is just as addictive as the others, again adding to the replay value beyond the core gameplay.
All of this is tied together by solid graphics, a colour scheme that pops even on the small screens, a phenomenal soundtrack that features very few forgettable cuts, and an overall experience that has aged very well even in 2019. The only real weak points of the whole game are the story and voice acting, which I’d say are mostly irrelevant anyway given the type of game it is – it doesn’t need a good story to maintain your attention because the rest of it is so good.
Through and through, Ape Escape: On the Loose is a brilliant port of a brilliant game that only excels on the PSP and Vita. If you’re looking to revisit this classic but can’t access a PS1, you won’t be missing out on much by playing it via portable means instead (and some sections are probably improved, such as the boat sections which control horribly in the original). In light of the original having its 20th anniversary at the end of this month, there’s no better platformer to add to your collection than this right now.
If you’re looking for more Ape Escape reviews, check out yesterday’s Ape Escape 3 review below. What are your thoughts on On the Loose and the Ape Escape franchise in general? Let me know in the comments or via my social media pages noted below. And make sure to engage in the #ApesWillEscape hashtag on Twitter if you’re looking for discussion on this great series.