Ape Escape Academy
If there's one fundamental truth in this world, let it be this: monkeys are awesome. And how can they not be? They're creatures that freely jump around in an entertaining fashion and fling their excrement with no thought to a universal moral code; plus, they're so gosh cute. So it's no wonder that the Ape Escape franchise has really flourished on the PS2 and PSP, to that point that a completely generic mini-game title that features the wacky primates is making its rounds on the PSP.
For Ape Escape Academy, think Mario Party minus the entire board game. So, really it's just a bunch of mini-games strung together in a haphazard and random fashion. Doesn't sound super compelling, does it? Granted, to add some structure to the game, a game of tic-tac-toe is thrown in between mini-games, but it's poorly implemented and makes the game feel entirely too random.
To add insult to injury, the mini-games themselves aren't all that hot. There's a few entertaining ones, sure, but they wear out their welcome far too soon because of the small amount of mini-games there actually are. The rest of the lot, conversely, is just plain ol' shoddy. They rely on age-old gameplay mechanics that offer nothing new or exciting, and in some cases, it seems like the games are just broken, allowing you to bully your way to victory by abusing certain strategies.
Worse yet are the load times, which hinders the pick-up and play flow of the game. Ape Escape Academy, by nature, is a on-the-go kind of game with its simple mini-games that don't require a lot of attention, but with the load times, that quick, action-packed flow is severely hindered.
And with the lackluster visuals, it's a wonder why the load times are so horrendous. With such a limited gameplay format, the charm and energy other Ape Escape titles have is lost here, and instead we have a few poorly constructed monkeys dancing around (though that is still fairly entertaining in its own right). The audio fares a bit better with some entertaining voice acting, but if slightly average voice acting is a game's saving grave, then there are problems all around.
If you're looking to have an awesome time with monkeys on your PSP, I'm afraid that Ape Escape Academy won't be your best bet. It's too short, too frustrating, and too unpolished to warrant a look over, awesome monkeys or not.
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As a perennial reviewer of Mario Party and a committed follower of WarioWare, I'm pretty open-minded when it comes to bundles of minigames. I understand that stupid silliness in 12-second bursts can be wildly amusing and addictive. But Ape Escape Academy makes me appreciate those successfully silly games all the more. Some of the minigames here are OK--I'm not sure you can mess up bowling or rochambeau. But the bad ones are just painful, because they're either weirdly esoteric (quick, identify the national flag of Macedonia!!!), have awful controls (good luck on the monkey totem pole one), or are too confusing (Simian Suplex? I can't even pronounce it right!). Plus, the single-player mission structure is unnecessarily limiting. You have to complete rows on a tic-tac-toe board, which was probably supposed to add a little challenge but ends up wasting time if you don't win in the right spots. A game like this ought to excel in multiplayer, but the wireless mode gives you just a small handful of lame minigames to play. If you're absolutely desperate for some mediocre entertainment on your PSP, this provides glimmers of fun. But you have to wade through a lot of frustration to catch them.
Maybe I've been spoiled by the channel-surfing short attention span of WarioWare, but Ape Escape Academy seems so very slow. When a game takes 30 seconds to play, load time, which is wrapped around each short game in Academy, is a total buzz kill. Many of the games themselves are so convoluted they require several tries to understand, slowing the pace further. Others simply go on much longer than they should. Academy has a few really good games (the bullfight and rock-paper-scissors battle), several fun games (soccer and banana bridge), and several not-so-fun games (the quizzes are a real bummer). But if you need a PSP minigame fix, this'll tide you over.
Where Ape Escape Academy should feel like a festive minigame extravaganza, it comes off as more of a collection of half-assed prototypes due to the overly complex challenges, unresponsive controls, and complete lack of coherency. It's a sad state of design when a game like WarioWare can teach you how to play a scene with a single word of instruction, while Academy falls flat on its face after both an instructional loading screen and video tutorial. Toss in sometimes-choppy graphics along with a gimped local wireless mode (only four games? Are you kidding?) and you have yet another failure of enjoyable pick-up-and-play gaming in your hands.