We’re used to seeing our primate protagonists in video games being friendly folk who like nothing more than to help others and eat a bunch of bananas, be it the likes of Donkey Kong in Nintendo’s titular series, AiAi in Super Monkey Ball, or even Winston in Overwatch. Sure, their adventures might be slightly different, but they always feel like good old fashioned video game heroes.
Ape Out changes that up a bit. Sure, you’re still the ‘hero’ of the tale and simply trying to escape your captors, but you do it by smashing them all to bloody smithereens and causing destruction whilst a funky jazz soundtrack plays in the background. Sounds wild, right? It really is, and it also just so happens to be a heck of a lot of fun too.
Ape Out is a top-down adventure where you lead a previously caged primate on a destructive warpath as he looks to escape his captors. This means heading through a series of maze-like levels, all whilst killing anything that comes in your way and avoiding the incoming attacks of your enemies – it’s three hits and your dead, so you’ve really got to be on your toes.
Thankfully, you’re a powerful ape, so you’re pretty handy when it comes to dishing out the hurt too. It’s all kept very simple with Ape Out’s gameplay revolving around two things: grabbing and throwing. You can grab any enemy you encounter and then launch them away, be it into a group of enemies to disorientate them, into a wall to be splattered, or even out of a window. Alternatively, when you grab an enemy you can use them as a meat shield to protect yourself from incoming fire – this is particularly useful because your captor will also fire their gun sporadically too, so you can hit out some damage on any foes in your path in the process. However, having a hostage can leave you vulnerable, especially since your movement speed drops which makes it easier to get surrounded by foes.
It might be pretty simple in design, but there’s a surprising amount of strategy to Ape Out’s gameplay that demands you actually think about what you’re going to do and quickly. With plenty of different enemy types to come across along the way including flamethrower-wielding bastards and explosive experts (who can kill you in one go but can also be used as a human grenade when thrown), you’re constantly keeping an eye out for what your enemies are going to do next.
Levels are almost maze-like in design, with plenty of corridors to head through that are full of twists and turns. They’re procedurally generated too, so there’s no right or wrong way to approach things, though as long as you keep heading in the opposite direction of your cage it shouldn’t take you long to reach the exit. Cleverly, despite being a top down game your perspective of the map shifts as you move along, so you can’t just grab a sneak peek at what might be around the corner at any time and have to make the effort to head into the action instead. Of course, there are plenty of enemies patrolling and as soon as they catch sight of you they’ll be on your tail, so you’ve always got to be on the move and ready to put a destructive plan into place. Some areas throw some tricky situations in the mix too, such as the second environment that has snipers watching you and ready to take you out if you stay in one position for too long.
That being said, you can expect to die a lot in Ape Out anyway – it’s not a tremendously difficult game, but it is one that comes with a bit of trial-and-error as you learn how to approach each situation you find yourself in. With that in mind you can expect to see the ‘Game Over’ screen a lot, but it’s one that’s very creative in design by zooming out of the map and showing the path you took through a level (and how agonisingly close you were to finishing it). The whole procedurally-generated aspect of the game means you can’t scope out different paths to take by looking at the map, but it’s still a good indicator of your progress and just looked really stylish in-game.
Everything comes together nicely to make Ape Out a REALLY fun experience, though it was a little bit disappointing not to see some set-pieces in place during levels. There’s an almost repetitive cycle to heading through each corridor and taking down enemies, and whilst it’s definitely a very fun and satisfying one, you do get into a rhythm where you’re just doing the same things over and over – having a few moments in levels where the game completely changed things up a bit would’ve remedied this. At least there’s a decent selection of enemies and some levels do offer unique features though, so you definitely won’t feel bored at all during your playthrough.
There are four chapters to play through in the game (or ‘Discs’ as the game refers to them) that are made up of eight levels each. However, with the simple game mechanics and the quick-pace that levels play out, it shouldn’t take too long to see the campaign through to its end. I managed to beat it in one session over around two hours and that was after suffering a fair few deaths along the way. There is a harder difficult to unlock as well as an Arcade mode that challenges you to play through without dying to rack up a high score, but with without an online leaderboard in place it’s hard to feel that motivated to spend too much time with it.
I had a lot of fun causing havoc in the game and I’m looking forward to sinking my teeth into the hard mode, but I do think it could’ve done with another couple of Disc’s worth of levels. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t feel short-changed by the length of the experience, but given how fun it is and how fast it’s over you’ll find yourself itching to spend a few more hours grabbing at (and smashing up) your enemies.
Much like the gameplay itself, Ape Out’s presentation is very simple in design but also fun and stylish. Everything is made up out of block colours that have a grainy effect and whilst they may be lacking detail they help convey the warpath of the ape perfectly. They also tie into the gameplay mechanics too, be it simple emphasising the route you can take through a level or even making it more difficult to distinguish a path during the darker areas.
There’s also an incredibly funky soundtrack in place that feels absolutely on point – who would’ve thought that upbeat jazz pieces would work so well with a primate’s destructive adventure? What I was most impressed with though was the way that it reacted to your actions, with drums beating and cymbals crashing with every foe you defeat, door you smash or death you suffer. It’s great and just adds to the personality of the whole game.
Ape Out is a whole lot of fun and it never stops being satisfying to go bananas on your foes and smash them to smithereens. It has such a simple set up, but it’s one that is executed in a way that demands both strategic thinking and quick reactions – there’s definitely a whole lot more going on that screenshots and gameplay videos alone would suggest.
It’s not all perfect though, with a lack of variety and a short runtime being the obvious issues that stand out. Neither problem makes Ape Out a bad game by any stretch of the imagination, but I was left wanting a little bit more when I’d finished all of the levels. Thankfully, most of that was down to the game being so damn fun and me just wanting to just spend more time with it, so it can’t be held against it too much. Add to that a neat aesthetic and a super cool soundtrack, and it’s easy to see that Devolver Digital have something a bit special on their hands with Ape Out’s ultra-violent esc-ape-ade.
Developer: Gabe Cuzzillo, Bennett Foddy, Matt Boch
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC