Devolver Digital just seem to know when they have a killer indie title on their hands. In the past they have published bangers such as Hotline Miami, Enter the Gungeon, Broforce, OlliOlli and one of my absolute favorite games of last year, The Messenger. 2019 is shaping up to be even more promising with My Friend Pedro doing its John Woo rounds and Katana Zero looking to be particularly sharp indeed. However, there is a certain new silverback title on the block and one that looks, plays, and feels like a jazz album on a bloody rampage.
Developed by Gabe Cuzzillo, Ape Out is a very simple, albeit stylish son of a gun. You play as a gorilla on the run desperately trying to escape towards the fruits of freedom. Your only true method of defense is to attack as you launch your enemies into walls and each other whilst violently painting the town red. The controls are also very basic, with both sticks being used to run and circle back around foes where you can slam on the triggers to either grab or shunt enemies across the screen. The all-important grab button itself is used to take enemies hostage in order to clinch a helpless captured soldier. Not only does he make for a grand shield, but he will also fire his pistol in absolute panic before being flung into those unfortunate enough to survive the reign of bullets.
Where it all bands together is in how the ever-changing colors of silhouettes and gorilla bloodshed dances to the beat of drums and cymbal crashes. There’s a rhythmic feel to the gameplay as the tempo rises to your own donation of aggressive slam poetry in motion. The act of charging towards an armed crowd with the hand of Kong as you spread your gory autograph across the floor like an Inkling with a paintbrush has a satisfying menace to it. To then reach a checkpoint to be met with the name of an album track splashed across the screen brings with it both a sense of relief and anticipation for another playlist.
Those looking for a bit more than a quick grab and smash may be left a little disappointed here. Like I stated before, Ape Out is a basic and rather short game with a simple premise and structure. Yet its simplicity does play into its strengths in a similar fashion to how arcade classics like PAC-MAN and Donkey Kong would convince punters to bang in one more coin. Whilst the first playthrough of a rather short campaign focuses on reaching the end of its discography of levels, it’s within its own Arcade and Hard mode where the bass can really kick in.
Once you complete each album, you unlock these extra modes to test your primitive survival skills to the limit. An arcade run will see the destructive ape get as far as he can with a single life and under a strict time limit for bragging rights and high scores. Beating your last attempt is always an addictive and gratifying achievement as you would expect, but one that’s not without its own missed opportunity and limitations. The problem is that you are only ever really competing against yourself. With no online leaderboards or the ability to stamp in your own initials for local rivalry, it hinders any additional competitive elements that Ape Out is screaming out for.
However, Ape Out is still an absolute barrel of fun to play. Its fast-twitch gameplay and gorgeous style transitions are a perfect fit for playing on the portable Switch. I would even go as far as to say that it’s best suited on the small screen with a pair of headphone nubs jammed in like a challenging visual interaction with a Walkman. Yet don’t be too consumed by its challenge. After all, you don’t want to become the Jo Jones on the bus by flinging a Joy-Con in a tantrum at an unsuspecting Charlie Parker.
If you’re looking for something with a deep story, items to collect and a leveling up system, then Ape Out is not what you’re looking for. However, if you want something that gets straight to the point and plays like Quentin Tarantino’s take on the Cowboy Bebop opening, then get ready for some whiplash whilst spanking the monkey.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Devolver Digital