When it comes to games, there are plenty of factors that make a good game great. In my opinion, you can have a relatively simple gameplay loop or relatively simple mechanics in a title and still make the experience incredible by adding your own style to it, giving the game personality, or by working with an interesting art style, nice animations, or even by working more on the soundtrack, the sound design, and the environment. A game that is doing all of that really well is Ape Out. Here’s my review!
Developer: Gabe Cuzzillo Publisher: Devolver Digital Genre: Beat 'em Up, Top-Down, Action, Indie Release Date: February 28th, 2019 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC, Switch Copy was purchased.
Ape Out is a beat ’em up game developed by Gabe Cuzzillo and published by Devolver Digital. As far as I know, it’s the first title by Cuzzillo but his work on the art and game design is phenomenal, to say the least. Some of the art was made by Bennet Foddy who you may know from VVVVVV, QWOP or Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy. And well, the soundtrack has been composed by Matt Boch, the former creative director of Dance Central. I’m starting here with the team because Bennett Foddy has been involved in plenty of interesting games and I kind of like that guy. Similarly, Matt Boch’s work on the game’s soundtrack is incredibly important for the game’s feel and presentation because of the way that Ape Out utilizes “emergent gameplay” and more importantly improvisation.
In Ape Out, you control a gorilla who’s running through a maze while pushing, grabbing and evading gun-wielding enemies that are pursuing you. You’ve been caged and mistreated, so now you try to break out and achieve freedom. It’s simple but a lot of fun. The controls utilize only the AWSD keys for movement as well as the mouse buttons for your attacks. Gamepad controls feel good, too, although I preferred the keyboard controls. When you encounter enemies, you can simply run away, grab them and use them as a shield or you simply push, punch and slam them into walls. The Free Jazz soundtrack that accompanies you throughout the game interacts with your in-game actions, resulting in the experience becoming even more fun. Be it the drums, the piano or the sax, there are plenty of instruments in the soundtrack and they all seem to improvise and work together, blend together and have their own little solos. Free Jazz is amazing. It’s creative and innovative at times, which is why I personally absolutely adore this game’s soundtrack. The snares that you hear when you kill enemies, when you push them or when you slam them into the wall make it seem as if you’re part of the crew that is playing there on a stage. It’s fun and engaging. This is what emergent gameplay is about. Games like Untitled Goose Game did it before and honestly, it still works and brings life into a world that seemingly is only inhabited by you and your pursuers. But the emergent gameplay aside, the soundtrack is even more important because it reflects the gameplay quite well. Free Jazz is all about improvisation and creativity, just like Ape Out.
In Ape Out, there isn’t just one solution to all of your problems. Levels are similar but there seems to be a procedurally generated element to it. Each time you restart, die or pick the game up again, levels are slightly different, enemy placements change and the game feels different. Because of that, you’ll need to reevaluate your strategy non-stop. Do you slam enemies into the wall or do you just run leaving your enemies behind? Do you tackle them head-on or do you strategically take them out one by one? In one case, I grabbed one of the shotgun-wielding enemies and used him as a shield. Enemies that you grab, fire off a shot that can hit their allies. I used that to my advantage, taking out enemies with machine guns before eventually pushing my human meatshield into a crowd and taking out more enemies. I then proceeded to hurl legs, arms and torsos at enemies to give me some time to grab them, throw them, punch them again. Improvisation is key. Not everything goes to plan and while the game can be difficult at times, I never found myself getting frustrated. I got closer and closer to my goal and re-evaluated my strategy, reflected on what went wrong and more often than not spend many more tries to get that perfect goal.
But not only does the soundtrack add to the experience, but also the art direction that the game was taken in. Ape Out is incredibly stylized. Blood splatters are colourful while the world is dark at times. There are bright and vibrant colours wherever you go. The game changes colours frequently, plays with the environment and adds different mechanics to the game that add a different look to the game. The top-down perspective makes it easy for you to enjoy this art style a lot more while you’re still able to discern enemies, weapons and the like. There are 32 levels in total and they all are connected in one way or another. Instead of featuring a world-map of sorts, the game celebrates the jazzy soundtrack by splitting the game up into four disks with an A-side and a B-side, each. The four disks are presented with four different album covers, thematically tied to the chapters covered in the disks. The art style that the album covers have been taken into, or maybe even the whole game, kind of reminds me of 60s movies and Saul Bass’ typical graphical work. I love this minimalistic approach to the game. I really do. It’s amazing.
And, well, Ape Out is frankly a great game. It combines destruction and percussion, adds style to it, and lots of satisfaction… and it does it bloody well! I can highly recommend it. Try it out!