It’s been a while since I played a game like Ape Out. I first got a chance to see it for myself last year during a preview event last year, and even only playing through a few of its levels, I came out incredibly impressed. Having finished the game for review, I’m positively ecstatic. Ape Out is exciting, fast-paced, challenging, sometimes even a little cheap, and I absolutely loved every moment I played it.
Split into four distinct sets of levels in the form of vinyl albums, Ape Out is built to be played repeatedly. Its levels are built to be finished quickly, and allow for plenty of retries along the way with very little frustration. The main goal of each level is getting your silhouette of a simian to the exit, all the while having to deal with armed guards by either pushing them into walls or into each other, or even using them as shields, throwing their limbs or weapons as projectiles.
Differently from Hotline Miami, which also plays from a similar isometric viewpoint, Ape Out allows you to take a few shots before going down. It might seem like a minor addition that would make the game seem much easier than Devolver’s other hit, but Ape Out is anything but a cakewalk.
And even so, you’ll be able to finish it in under an hour. Each of the vinyls takes around ten to twelve minutes to get through (even taking into account a few deaths along the way), but the running time is by no means a fair measure to Ape Out’s quality.
The entirety of the game is spent basically composing a nutty big band piece by adding drum beats with each kill you make, following a percussion track that quietly plays in the background. That, along with the game’s gorgeously simple visuals that manage to convey the violence and absurdity of the action, help keep your blood pumping as you more from record to record.
The variety in the level groups also helps keep Ape Out fresh all throughout. At the outset, you’ll be navigating tight corridors while you learn the ins and outs of how the game plays, but once you move to the second set, you’ll start having to deal with large, open environments that give you little to no room to hide from shots, forcing you to think on your feet much more quickly.
The shift in design also makes it that much more difficult to find the exit, as it might be blocked or obscured, or not even in the place you grow to expect at that point in the game. Then comes the next two vinyls which introduce even crazier twists to the gameplay, like having mortars bombarding your path that can work in your favor when eliminating guards.
Fear not, things aren’t over after you finish it for the first time. After that point, you can start the game over and play it on hard mode, which makes it that much more demanding, forcing you to really be on your opposable thumbs.
Then there’s an arcade mode that runs you through stages and gives you points and combos the faster you kill enemies, as well as time you for how fast you can finish, an absolute blast to play if you’re into speed-running or fighting with friends on leaderboards. I’m looking forward to seeing how badly my times will get mushed when the game goes public!
Ape Out plays incredibly on the Switch, especially in portable mode. The quick pace of its levels make it a great pick up and play while on the go game, but if you do it like me and finish it in one sitting, it also works brilliantly. That is, if your hands don’t go numb like mine, but that’s nothing inherent to the console itself, but my human self. After a quick break, though, I was back to going ape. I no doubt expect it to play just as well on the other systems it’s coming out on, and if you don’t own a Switch, you can’t go wrong playing it elsewhere. Also, be sure to play it with headphones on, it’s something else.
Devolver’s been known to publish incredibly unique games over its short existence, and in all honesty, Ape Out is probably one of my favorites out of their catalog. It’s really cool to see short and sweet games make a comeback, and to all intents and purposes, this is by far one of the best to come out in the last few years. Alongside with it being a lot of fun to play, it’s an achievement in presentation that will deserve all the praise it’ll undoubtedly receive.