For the third time now, the white-maned superape Specter has somehow found himself with a monkey helmet and he's ready to take over the world with the help of the flamboyant Dr. Tomoki, unleashing his mischievous apes upon humanity once again. This time around, they're going worldwide, beaming hypnotic television shows into every home. Even the heroes of the previous two games (the Professor, Spike, and Jimmy) are caught in a trance, which means it is up to a couple of new heroes to take hold of the Gotcha Net and reign in the scores of simians wreaking havoc around the planet..
You have the option of controlling one of two energetic children, relatives of the Professor's old lab assistant Aki: the young pop idol Yumi and baseball fan Kei, respectively. Each one plays the same way, so it's really up to your gender preference. The only difference between the two are the looks of their costumes, a new addition to the gameplay which affords your character new abilities for a limited amount of time. In fact, it's the only real new aspect of the gameplay at all. If you've played the previous two Ape Escape games, you'll find the core experience familiar and somewhat tiring as a result. The goals for levels remain the same (capture a certain number of monkeys or defeat a boss) and the gadgets are the same ones found in the original game. As disappointing as that may be, the new costumes are all well thought-out and fun to use. They follow the general theme of television/movie parody that runs throughout the game and you'll unlock them as you come across the initial levels that require them. For instance, when you come across the medieval castle a few levels in, you'll earn a wizard costume. Once you unlock new duds, you'll be able to use them in any level for 30-second intervals from then on out and that's a good thing since you'll need them to solve certain puzzles. The cool thing is that even though they all use the traditional Ape Escape dual-analog control scheme, they all feel different. The wizard costume gives your character a magical shield to stop enemy projectiles while the ninja costume allows you to move faster, traverse walls and tightropes, and pull off multi-hit combos. Each one also has its own capture mechanism so that you don't have to switch back to normal in order to reclaim apes.
As fun and charming as this twist on the gameplay might be, some of the costumes make things vastly easier than they should be. Sure, you can only use them for 30 seconds a pop, but you can buy up to 10 transformation charges, refilled by green capsules in the field. Except for lengthy boss battles, you'll rarely find yourself running out of juice. Making the game easier to complete doesn't help much because, like the previous games in the series, Ape Escape 3 doesn't really start to get difficult until near the end. Heck, real platforming elements don't appear until about halfway through. Up until then, it's just running around catching monkeys and collecting coins without the worry of dying or fouling up. It also means that the game is over all too soon, which is a shame, because the later levels are generally quite brilliant. The soap opera-themed first level of the game requires the capture of about 5 or so monkeys and consists of a thin strip of beach front property and the inside of a small church while the final levels are multi-area affairs that require good use of gadgets, costumes, and platforming ability to get through. The difference is night and day; it just shouldn't take so long for the game to hit that point.
One run through Ape Escape 3 should take the average gamer about 5 hours, but going back and collecting all of the rest of the monkeys (as the game annoyingly kicks you out of a level before you can get all of them on the first try, not to mention you can only find a good number of the 400+ apes by using a costume received for beating the game once), fighting the true final boss, and collecting all of the items from the shops can extend the experience to 10 or so. Even then, it's a bit short by modern standards. The extra content is neat, but not unlike past games. You'll find monkey literature, songs, pictures, and special upgrades just as you did in Ape Escape 2, but this time you can buy them from the shop of your choice (as opposed to the randomness of the old prize machine) in a store district attached to the laboratory hub you return to between levels. Some if it is charming and fun, but worth it only for those who are completionists.
What is truly compelling, though, is the Mesaru Gear Solid mini-game unlocked after beating the game once. If you've played Metal Gear Solid 3, you'll already be familiar with the bizarre cross-over content in that game where you had Solid Snake running around various environments capturing monkeys with his banana pistol. In Ape Escape 3, things are turned around, and you're playing as Pipo Snake, an ape with Solid's personality and knowledge downloaded into his brain. The mini-game is fairly lengthy and plays like a faithful version of Metal Gear slightly simplified and using Ape Escape's dual-analog control scheme. Apparently, apes have gotten a hold of the new Metal Gear prototype and Solid Snake is trapped behind enemy lines. Pipo Snake will have to traverse various environments sneaking around ape guards, activating switches, talking on the codec, collecting monkey tags, and utilizing several weapons including a banana pistol and (literal) pineapple grenades. It's an incredibly funny tribute to the classic series and the goofy apes just make it that much more entertaining.
Ultimately, that is what is important about Ape Escape 3, though. It's just plain fun to play. The graphics may be nothing special (they work, but in this latest outing, there are regular framerate drops for no discernable reason) and the soundtrack provides no more than whimsical background music, but it is the gameplay, length, and difficulty that need an overhaul. That said, you simply can't deny the charm and light parody afforded by these monkeys. Besides, the action does get quite good near the end; the rest of the game just needs to catch up. Ape Escape 3 is a delight of a game despite its unchanging flaws and its nearly worth it for Mesaru Gear Solid alone.