Howling at the screen, like the muscular captive I controlled in-game, I was in love with Ape Out. Available now on PCs and the Nintendo Switch (where I tested it), this game combines wonderfully simple gameplay, a gorgeous art style and a booming jazz soundtrack.
In Ape Out, you control a nameless primate who decides it's time to break free from captivity. While the initial levels place you in what appears to be a lab, you'll soon find your way to the forest, and then other locales.
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Instantly, Ape Out reminded me of Hotline Miami, another title published by Devolver Digital that presented users with a top-down, maze-navigation challenge. Unlike Hotline Miami, though, you don't die after a single hit, but instead have three hits before you're brought back to the start of a level.
Running through a series of corridors, you start off by using the left joystick to move, and the ZR shoulder trigger to smash pesky humans (or glass window panes). You soon learn more tricks, such as clicking the ZL shoulder trigger to grab a guard and hold them as human shield.
Whilst you've got a guard by the neck, moving the right joystick will move your hostage, so you can direct them in whichever way you prefer. Pressing ZR while holding a baddie, though, you can to fling a guard at another enemy, killing both.
Difficulty ramps up early on when rooms get wider and guards get more weapons, such as a shotgun that fires a wide spread and those with explosives strapped to their bodies. Thankfully, your ape finds tools for protecting themselves, like a giant door, and chucking explosive bad guys at their comrades is another way to survive.
On the Switch, these controls felt best with the Pro Controller, whose joysticks are a bit better than the Joy-Cons.
What separates Ape Out from every other game I've played in recent history is how fun it looks and sounds. Every foe you bash, hit you take and other moves you make, they all have an effect on the soundtrack, like musical notes being improvised in the moment.
Speaking of improvisation, Ape Out's jazzy soundtrack is delightful. Combined with the giant stylized text on screen, I was reminded of art, like the recent movie Birdman.
Even more visually strong, though, is the splatters of red and orange, which respectively represent your enemies blood and your blood, respectively. The screen starts to look like a Jackson Pollock painting, and I almost got too wrapped up with appreciating the visuals to focus on the dangers at hand.
Death happens often in Ape Out, and it's kinda awesome. After three hits, the screen goes slow-mo, flips its color palette and zooms out to a view of the entire level — inside of the word DEAD — with a white line that shows the zigging, zagging path you took.
I don't get the sense that Ape Out is an especially long game, which explains its inviting $14.99 price tag. The game is made of 4 "albums," each made of 8 scenes, spread out over 4 A-side levels that are followed by 4 B-side levels. I'd probably pay more, but I love shorter games anyways, and am truly entranced by Ape Out.