It seems the loveable monkeys from the Ape Escape series have been working overtime. Not only are they starring in Ape Escape 3 for the PlayStation 2, but they've also found time to go to school in Ape Escape Academy for the PSP. Ape Escape Academy is a collection of mini-games in the style of Wario Ware/ Mario Party, minus one key ingredient – fun. There are some mildly entertaining bits here and there, but the long load times, pitiful excuse for multi-player, and large number of lousy games make give Ape Escape Academy a failing grade.
There's a story to AE: Academy, but it's pretty horrific, so I'll spare you the details. There are over 40 mini-games covering three categories: mind, body, and technique. In the single-player mode you're presented with a tic-tac-toe grid with a game mapped to each square. A game gets picked at random, and if you pass, you get a circle. If you fail, you get an X. The goal is to get three consecutive circles and create as many lines as you can, achieving the minimum number set for each level to move to the next.
There are also three statues hidden behind three of the nine squares, and if you beat the game where the statue resides, you get to keep it. These statues can unlock additional mini-games, but they can be quite a pain in the neck to get. Once you've failed a game, there's no way to start over, short of turning off the system or exiting out to the main menu. That means if you fail a game with a hidden statue, you either have to play all of the rest of the games and start again, or exit completely out. This might not seem like a major problem, but it's indicative of the overall frustration that's inherent to the game.
The mini-games are all pretty standard; there's no new mini-game ground broken here. You'll play soccer, air hockey, dodge ball, answer math problems, identify flags, do karate, dance, and many others. Some of the games are mildly entertaining, but others are lame, some are plagued by lousy controls, and others are just plain frustrating. Academy could hardly be considered an educational game, so the "educational" bits are pretty pointless – they'll be too hard for some, and they'll be absurdly easy for others. One minute you'll have to know something obscure, like what an "a-line" is (a type of dress), and the next you'll have to answer something absurdly easy like 6+5 (duh, it's 14). Only a small amount of people will find these both enjoyable and challenging.
When you wait through the long load times for each game a brief explanation of what to do is displayed on screen, and for some of the games there's a brief video. If these were enough to get you up to speed – great. Unfortunately they aren't; which means you're apt to fail games in mere seconds, with no opportunity to practice them. As an added bonus, the load times are frequent and they're lengthy. Even if you could just start a game over again, the load times would quickly grow tiresome; but you don't even get the option to practice a game until you've unlocked it.
Multi-player is atrocious. Only four games are playable via ad-hoc, and each person has to have their own copy of the game. "Game sharing" doesn't involve downloading mini-games from one PSP to another, but rather physically sharing one PSP – it's as bad as it sounds.
Academy's visual style is in line with the other Ape Escape titles. The graphics are simple, yet they're quite colorful, and the monkeys have lots of personality. There's nothing here that will blow you away, but there's nothing horrible either. It's an average looking game.
Ape Escape Academy is incredibly disappointing. Even if you were to find three friends with PSP's and copies of the game, you could only play four games, which is a complete joke. There's no reason that true game sharing couldn't have been implemented, especially considering how long it took this game to come out. The back of the box says "Become the master of the monkeys before they make a chump out of you!" but the only way you'll be made a chump is if you pick up this game.