While my interest was piqued when I watched the trailer, I initially wasn’t going to request to review Ape Out. My library of games continues to grow, and my responsibilities as an editor and reviewer have taken over large portions of my life. After seeing the critical response to Ape Out, though, I couldn’t resist. Mind you, I didn’t pay much attention to reviews other than scores and trailers, it seemed like an indie game I had to play.
I’m glad I did too, because taking a glance at Ape Out is what you get at face value. Bashing through a few different scenarios as an angry ape is just what I wanted. Each area feels similar, but wildly unique. This is probably due to the unique aesthetic of blocky neon characters, highlighted by their simplicity. The environments are the same too, but the nuances of each area provide distinction from the last. While the first stage tasked me bashing enemies from room to room, the second one had me descending a large skyscraper and escaping through the lobby.
The concept behind Ape Out is easily as simple. Players take control of an angry ape, destined to escape captivity, leaving countless bodies and limbs behind it. Other than the joystick to move, only two buttons are used. One smashes enemies to pieces, and the other button is a grab. Players can grab enemies which causes them to shoot, and can be used as an attack, or can throw them at other enemies. The smash button hits enemies with a powerful fist, and shoves them back. The utilization of the environment is smart, because unless the enemy gets smashed into a wall, it only stuns them shortly, leaving them the option to attack again.
The ape can only take a few hits before having to restart the stage, and the minimalist HUD often makes it difficult to decipher exactly how much damage you’ve sustained. The only way to tell is by how big the pools of blood are that drip out of your orange ape. In the chaotic levels of Ape Out, it sometimes is hard to figure out. That being said, death isn’t discouraged here. It’s to be expected. Ape Out is a difficult game, and the length of the levels encourages experimentation. Each stage is split up intelligently, meaning death doesn’t come with a heavy price, and you’ll only lose at most a couple minutes of progress each time.
While experimentation of level runs is encouraged, players shouldn’t expect any two runs to be the same, because enemy type, number, and layout is different with each playthrough of an area. The only thing that stays the same is the stage layout. After each death a map of the area appears on the screen showing how close you were to reaching the goal, and often became a challenge to myself, even after four or five deaths in one area. Ape Out is incredibly easy to pick up for an hour or two at a time and feel like you’ve accomplished something, even if it only means completing a handful of levels.
While the basic mechanics always stay the same, the uniqueness of the areas is occasionally highlighted by blackouts or alarms. Some stages have players fumbling around in the dark, only being able to identify enemies through the flashlights on their weapons. Others have alarms that cause the lights to go in and out. These levels proved a bit more difficult to an already difficult game, but broke up the repetition in a smart way.
In tandem with the gameplay is Ape Out’s top notch soundtrack. The jazz soundtrack isn’t just meant to be background music, but instead works to complement the gameplay. Bass drums beat when players smash an enemy, and a crash of cymbals highlight player deaths. These extra points of the soundtrack almost make Ape Out feel like a rhythm title, without the musical portions of gameplay. It’s worth noting too, that Ape Out’s music almost has an identity all its own. Each area is uniquely stylized around a different jazz album, with each split up into two main areas: Side A and Side B. Each side is broken up into many smaller stages, but those aren’t highlighted on the album artwork.
It’s surprising how simple Ape Out really is, and how well that simplicity works. The soundtrack, gameplay, and visuals all work together to provide a stellar experience that, to me, felt better in short bursts. This is a title with extra difficulty modes to come back to, but one that will bring players back in over and over through the intelligent level design and gameplay. After a handful of areas without any new mechanics, I expected Ape Out to feel stale after a few hours. Instead, I felt sucked in to the hyper-stylized areas, brutal gameplay, and stellar soundtrack.
Ape Out is available now for Nintendo Switch and PC. This review is based on a Switch copy of the game provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here.