Ape Out is comprised of so many seemingly disparate components that on first glance it seems like it shouldn’t work. Jazz, simple, almost 8-bit artwork, top-down view, ultra-violence, apes.
It’s all a bit weird. But it just works.
You play as an ape in captivity, at least, you start out that way, instantly breaking free of your cage. You then make your way through the procedurally generated levels trying to escape, smashing heads along the way.
It plays much like another Devolver published title — Hotline Miami — but without the guns. As a big, strong ape, you just need to push your enemies into walls to make them explode into satisfying person-goo. You can also grab and hold things, but that’s about it for the controls, simplicity is key, and in this case, this simplicity belies the complexity of the game itself.
Ape Out Review
Some enemies have armour, some have explosives. Some move slow, some move fast. Some fire single high-powered shots, others fire automatic rounds and others still have flame throwers. Often you’ll find one enemy on their own, but sometimes an elevator door will open, and out will pop five enemies at once.
Occasionally a laser will track you, eventually sniping you from a distance. Keeping track of all of this, and navigating your way about the level is what makes Ape Out both challenging and addictive.
Dying (and you will die) brings up a map screen displaying the map and how far you got before you died. While the map is procedurally generated (meaning it’s never the same twice), each “track” (i.e., level) has its own theme, so it’s often worth examining to see if there’s a certain landmark you should keep an eye out for.
You’ll notice I referred to the level as a track. Each chapter, which tells the story of one escaped gorilla, is referred to in-game as an “Album”. This album has a Side A and Side B (for little purpose other than artistic licence, I believe), and each side consists of 4 tracks.
There are four albums to play through, each with different environments and challenges.
Skeepa dee Beep Boop Jazz
But why are they referred to as albums? Ape Out has a strong musical component, which itself has an impact on the game.
Much like the levels are procedurally generated, the music is also procedurally generated, based on player movement and activity. In fact, the music doesn’t kick in until you get your first kill and then it’s hectic unstructured jazz drum solos from there on out.
Personally, I’m not a fan of jazz, but I have to admit, it suits this style of game perfectly. Each level is manic and tense, much like the music that accompanies it.
Apart from the standard levels, you can play them in Harder mode, or unlock an Arcade mode, which pushes players to play through an entire Album without dying. Each level has a time limit though, so look out. All of this makes for even more frantic play, but I enjoyed the original playthrough the most.
I personally don’t see a lot of replayability down the line, but that’s just me. And what there is upfront is more than enough to justify the purchase if you like this kind of game.
Can I Play the Piano Anymore?
Visually, Ape Out also carves its own path, opting for fewer colours and reduced detail, almost feeling like a silhouette. Still, a lot of atmospheric detail can be included with this method; blood splats permanently stain the plain floors, while lights pierce the darkness.
Continuing with the simplistic form, there are no damage indicators. The amount your gorilla avatar bleeds on the floor indicates the amount of damage you have taken. Take too much and you need to start over. It all feels very “film noir”, which is likely the intention, and this only works to increase the charm dramatically.
All told, Ape Out is a blisteringly fun game, albeit a violent one. However, you can’t help but feel the ape’s frustration at its captivity, and I must say I was ecstatic each time I found my freedom.
Is this a game with something to say, politically? I don’t think so, to be honest. Maybe tangentially, but at its base, it’s a simple premise that makes for a great game. For a game that prides itself in simplicity, there is a surprising amount of depth.
Couple that with charming visuals and blood quickening drum beats, and you’ve got a hell of a lot of fun on your hands.
Ape Out was reviewed on Switch using a digital code provided by the publisher.
Game Title: Ape Out
The Ape is a champ - 9/10
Distinct visual style - 7/10
Highly playable, Highly addictive - 8.2/10