Ape Out (Switch)

**Review Copy Provided by Publisher**

In many ways, Ape Out is more of a rhythm game than an action game. You can stumble your way to the end of each level without too much difficulty, much like you can make it to the end of a song in Guitar Hero or Amplitude, but you haven’t really completed the level unless you sounded good while playing.

The dynamic percussion soundtrack reacts to your performance. If you quickly chain kills together, the drums pick up the pace and cymbals punctuate the frequent deaths to create a jazz session that you won’t want to end. Running and hiding might be the best option at times, but the music will fade in reaction to your miserly performance.

You control an ape in a desperate attempt to escape from four different locations, hence, what was presumably the second choice of name: Ape Out. Using just two buttons, smash and grab, you slam enemies into walls or even each other, throw them out of windows, and use them as human shields until you reach the end of the short levels. No new skills are added as you progress; you have the same abilities from the moment you break out of the first cage to your eventual escape.

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The levels are split into four chapters, most of which have eight levels, and take place in locations ranging from a high rise office block to a container ship. The chapters represent a vinyl album, each with an A side and B side, and the music changes slightly between each album. It’s always percussion instruments, but one chapter might be predominantly bongos while another is snare drums.

New enemy varieties are introduced at a steady pace. By the second chapter, you have SWAT teams crashing in through windows, conveniently forming a line so that you can throw one into another, and later on, you get enemies with flamethrowers, rocket launchers, and uzis. Enemies die with an emphatic and bloody splat regardless of whether you throw them into a wall or another person.

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Ape Out is a game of quick decisions. On spotting an enemy, you only have a few moments to decide what to do. You could try to charge them down before they get a shot in, quickly hide behind a wall, or grab another enemy and use his own panicked shot to kill someone else. The enemies won’t shoot you immediately and they all have slightly different reaction times. Snipers need to line up shots. Flamethrowers spray out the flame in an arc that gives you time to run away. Small enemies scarper if you head towards them and even large enemies do this if you happen to be on fire at the time. Not that I would particularly recommend that tactic.

Levels are partly procedurally generated and enemy placement is randomized each time, so you can’t plan your route through levels. Parts of the level are fixed in place, so you’ll always have a steel door to rip off its hinges in a fixed location and will always face an enemy ambush from the lift when half way through a certain level. As is often the case with procedurally generated content, some runs feel unfairly difficult and vice versa. A level might start with you running straight into six guys with shotguns in a near unwinnable situation while others see you running straight to the end with little challenge.

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This can make Ape Out feel a touch too easy at times. Even late in the game, there were multiple levels that I ran through on the first attempt and I completed the entire campaign and the bonus level in two hours. Fortunately, a harder mode becomes available upon completing a chapter. This ups the number of enemies per level and, while I found this tough going, I probably prefer it to the normal difficulty just because of the sheer chaos on offer. There’s also a score-based arcade mode which sets a time limit per level and puts you back at the start of a chapter whenever you die. This is perfect for high score chasing although given how quickly deaths can come if you get unlucky with the RNG, this mode could get a touch frustrating. It’s one thing for bad luck to set you back to the beginning of a level to try again; it’s another thing when it ends an entire run.

Ape Out makes a distinctive visual and audible impact from the instant you break out of that first cage, as you slam through glass and splatter the guard nearby while the credits pop up on screen in time with your actions. I love the visual style. The brightly contrasting colors and font choice make each screen look like a Saul Bass poster.

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Best of all, there’s no HUD to get in the way. Damage taken is indicated by blood patches left behind on the floor as you move. You can survive two hits with the third one killing you. Text appears naturally around the environment when you start a new level and even moves in time with the music. The top-down camera affords you a decent view of your immediate surroundings, however, with walls extending infinitely upwards, you still risk surprise attacks when moving through doors. Even the death screen looks stylish. It zooms out to show you the entire level, with a white line tracing your movements up until death.

Levels can be anything from tense, claustrophobic affairs as you push through corridors and hide behind support pillars to desperate runs through wide open spaces as you frantically search for cover while avoiding rockets and shoving enemies off the edge of a ship. The only misstep is an outdoor level with an orange color theme. Your ape is also orange as is the blood he leaves behind as is the fire that features heavily in the level. With all that orange on screen, it’s tough to know how hurt you are because it all blurs together.

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The real star of Ape Out is undoubtedly the dynamic audio. More than the simple but effective combat, it was the music that made me want to replay levels again and again. I didn’t have to worry about a combo meter or an end ranking; I just focused on sounding as stylish as possible while throwing explosive enemies into walls. There’s no official ranking system, just the jazz soundtrack letting you know how you performed. The quick rhythm of snare drums tells you when you’re doing well, as does the cymbal crash accompanying each kill. These even vary slightly depending on how you kill the enemy and what you slam them in to.

Ape Out might be short, but it’s also thrilling. Even if you only play for three hours, it’s three hours you’ll remember for a long time. However, most players will get drawn into the harder difficulty setting and chasing high scores on arcade mode. On Switch, Ape Out is great for short pick up and play sessions and there’s no noticeable performance drop in handheld mode.

I rarely place graphics and sound on par with core gameplay when valuing the overall experience a game offers, however, Ape Out’s visuals and sound elevate it above what is an otherwise simple, but fun, action game.

4/5

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