Ape Out (NS) - ReviewStephen LaGioia , posted on 01 March 2019 / 1,345 Views
Take a Hotline Miami inspired top-down shooter starring an ape, dial back the complexity to minimalistic, melee-based combat, and throw in jazzy drum fills cleverly interwoven into the action, and you’ve got Ape Out. The fast-twitch gameplay you’re pummelled with from start to finish is predominantly satisfying, though can at times feel a tad basic, as well as unpredictable. This stylistic indie is simply bananas - if you'll excuse the lame pun. The gameplay is as action-packed and straightforward as it is maniacal, which serves as both a great quality and detriment to the experience.
Ape Out’s gameplay is distilled down to a simplistic core of running and gunning - or in this case, running and swinging your gorilla fists around and pummelling gun-toting baddies - as you navigate through largely procedurally generated areas. On paper at least the experience is rather basic; you play as an ape, who busts his way out of barred confinement, and must scramble through a handful of environments containing grids of rooms, pillars, and diverging corridors.
Your abilities boil down to 2 basic moves - a lunge-swipe attack, which instantly mashes your enemies into a pile of blood and limbs, and a grab move. The grab is essentially the source of any semblance of depth, as you can utilize it to hold onto a gunman while sauntering ahead. This allows you to turn your captor into the captive, making them a makeshift human shield, as well as granting you an additional weapon, as you can toss them into other baddies, squashing them both. Walking with these guys will also sometimes cause them to fire their weapons into the chests of others for a bit.
You can even break off the occasional door with this move and heave it at your opponents, plowing through a whole line of them. The grab provides plenty of laughs, as well as an additional layer of enjoyment, extending the “run around and bash dudes” into something a bit more dynamic and nuanced.
The actual environments you’ll be scrambling through are a bit more basic, however. While the simple top-down, silhouetted 2D art style is a neat one, it also means that each environment looks and feels largely the same. Still, there are tinges of diversity - you’ve got a corporate highrise, military vessel, and an outdoor zoo, for instance. Each comes with different colored overlays, along with a sprinkling of unique environmental hazards.
For example, the ship stage is rife with explosive barrels, which you can utilize to work to your advantage or your demise, by blowing yourself up or your unfortunate foes that are standing nearby. You can even light yourself on fire, leaving a trail of flame and prompting smaller baddies to flee. The office building stage is flanked by destructible glass windows, which you can utilize to satisfyingly smack or toss a guy out of, turning him into naught but a smatter of blood and broken glass on the pavement several stories below. Little environmental interactions like these prove to be subtle, but nonetheless enjoyable game mechanics which add a dash of strategy and variance to the seemingly basic gameplay.
With that said, there’s a limit to all of this. Since most of these areas are randomly generated and contain a convoluted mess of various twists and turns, working with the layout of each area for a strategic edge can be tricky. Dancing through the ever-changing landmines of obstacles and shifting level layouts can feel as though things hinge on luck almost more than raw skill at times. Because of this, and the fact that you’re only given 3 hits before dying and being dropped back to the beginning of the area, you’ll often find it behooves you more to just make a mad dash to the exit.
This is especially true in the later stages, where you'll run into larger clusters of foes scurrying about and pointing guns or flamethrowers at you. You'll often be forced to run, cover, and weave between walls, pillars, and corridors to narrowly escape gunfire. It’s at this point where the game sort of devolves into a basic exercise in stealth and evasion. While this is an enticing strategy in terms of its relative ease, it proves less exciting than taking the action-oriented approach of plowing through environments and facing foes head-on.
It doesn’t help that the sheer chaos can lead to frustrations and countless deaths in the later portions of the game, which can be difficult to anticipate or properly prepare for. The explosive elements in particular become a bit too abundant, between the barrels, bomb-strapped baddies, and rocket-launching troops that can take you out in one hit and are tough to avoid. The vital enemy-tossing mechanic can also feel a touch finicky and not always reliable when it comes to aiming. Still, the difficulty usually resides in a sweet spot, and I found that proper use of my mitts and my wits was sufficient to power through most of the 2-3 hour campaign relatively smoothly.
While the game is pretty short - even after dying several times during my first run - you are given a smattering of additional content to help extend the shelf life a bit. This comes in the form of an unlockable hard mode, which revs things up to an almost insane degree, as well as an arcade mode that puts you on the clock and generates a score following your demise. Since the hard mode proved to be a grind, I found myself returning to arcade mode the most following my completion of the campaign, as it was exciting to try and claw my way to a higher score.
The simplicity of the cool art style compliments the basic nature of Ape Out’s gameplay quite nicely. The game uses a Flash-esque flat cartoon imagery and augments it with a flair of grittiness and choppiness you might see in old film reels. The developers have even cleverly put a creative twist on the stage select screen, giving the appearance of the backside of uniquely designed album covers for each of the 4 stages. Each one lists the individual 7-8 areas within them as if they were song titles.
This music theme is prominent throughout, as the game contains a pounding jazz-inspired soundtrack which is heavily based in drum and cymbal-laden rhythms. While those who appreciate melody might find it lacking, I appreciated the intensity these fast-paced and often erratic drum beats brought to the experience. I especially enjoyed the sound ques of smashing enemies against walls, which triggers loud cymbal crashes, adding to both the soundtrack and the impact of these kills.
Ape Out is a fun little action gore-fest to bust out on your Switch for bursts of 10-20 minute gameplay sessions during a train commute or the like. Its slim content and lack of depth doesn’t lend itself to longevity, but it certainly scratches that itch for a fundamentally solid and entertaining adrenaline-pumping romp in the short term. It manages to be simple, yet interesting and subtly nuanced, both in terms of its appealing art style and enjoyable gameplay.
This review is based on a digital copy of Ape Out for the NS, provided by the publisher.