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njsykora avatar 11:00 AM on 04.28.2008  (server time)
Control Freaks: #1 - Ape Escape

While the gaming community argues and flames and whines and bitches about the Wii and whether or not its controller is a good thing for gaming or just a pointless gimmick I thought it would be time to go back into the mists of time and look at other games and the controllers that defined them.

For this series I'll be looking at a number of games that either used a brand new controller designed to revolutionise the industry, a bespoke controller that could only be used for a few games or just used the existing controller in a way no-one had thought of before. Welcome to Control Freaks.

Episode 1: Ape Escape

The Game

This isn't ending anywhere good

The PS1 had no shortage of top class platformers. Crash, Spyro, Klonoa, Croc and Tombi to name 5 all helped to overcome the massive trump card that was Mario 64. The game that truly set the PS1 apart from the crowd as far as platformers was concerned was the 1999 release of Ape Escape. It came from the Spyro school of level design and the Crash school of 100% completion. Capturing monkeys was the way to progress using a variety of gadgets unlocked as progression was made through the game, ultimately leading up to the final confrontation with the evil Specter. That was of course before you realised that the true ending of the game could only be achieved by capturing all the monkeys in the game, a feat that took me quite a while. The game would've been excellent with what was then a traditional control scheme, but Sony were going to try something new.

The Controller

You probably have one of these

While the Dual Shock was released in 1998 and proved a massive success, the second analog stick wasn't actually needed until Ape Escape. The game's control scheme called for the left stick to be used for movement and the right stick to use gadgets. This allowed a full 360 degree field of movement and ensured that dexterous players would never end up losing health due to sluggish controls.

The RSPCA are gonna want a word...

What sounds like a nasty scheme on paper (R1 used to jump?) works beautifully in practice. Camera controls on the d-pad ensures that's nice and free, an issue PS1 3D platformers had been suffering from without dedicated camera buttons. Gadget's were mapped to the 4 main face buttons to enable quick changes from weapons to the net needed to catch a monkey. It was a control scheme perfectly suited to the requirements of the game, utilising every single button on the Dual Shock pad without feeling over complicated.

Failure to master the controls results in seeing this. A lot.

The Effect
In the infancy of controllers with 2 analog sticks Ape Escape was the perfect sales pitch for the control method. It was quickly adopted by all console makers moving into the 5th generation and is now considered standard. However no platformer has ever tried to make their own variations on the Ape Escape system other than the Ape Escape sequels, I have to wonder why. Why in this modern age is the second analog relegated to camera controls rather than interesting and new control mechanics?


Ape Escape revolutionised platformer controls, but no platformer has ever followed in its wake. That's why, even though it used a controller we now consider conventional, it can be considered a true Control Freak.


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