Given the recent epidemic of monkey escapes in the US, it's no surprise that video games are looking to capitalize on the headlines to eke out a few extra sales. Such is the case with Sony's Ape Escape 3, the third full entry in its on-again-off-again, simian-snagging series. As always, your job is to take control of a curiously young child and capture 434 or so marauding monkeys before they can cause real damage. You have all manner of high-tech gadgets at your disposal, and it's the skillful use of the right ones at the right times that forms the heart of the game.
As with the previous entries, Ape Escape 3 's biggest claim to originality is its dual-stick control scheme, wherein the right analog stick is dedicated solely to controlling weapons and gadgets. After a bit of practice, you'll find the controls become second-nature. Smacking the stick forward to attack forward makes sense, after all, even if the sense of aim and general response don't seem quite as accurate as they should.
The colorful levels mainly consist of the cartoonish TV sets the monkeys have constructed to create their own inane brand of television, and the level themes and in-jokes usually reflect this. It's not quite funny, but like everything else in the game, it's certainly cute. The monkeys are noticeably tougher this time around, but then, so are you. As the game progresses, you'll collect seven magic costumes that give your character special abilities for a limited time. For example, a cowboy get-up has six-shooters, and ninja duds proffer speed and stealth.
Unfortunately, that's about the only new idea in the gameplay. Whereas the first Ape Escape was wildly original and the Ape Escape 2 was an amiable first attempt on the PS2, Ape Escape 3 is a late release on mature hardware which does little to push the series or the genre forward.
The graphics, though colorful, are mediocre and suffer from serious stuttering, and the music is so generic that it might as well not exist. What we're left with is 20-odd levels of the same game we played in 2002, and the basic graphics and kludgy camera aren't doing many favors for what's essentially a blast from the past.
Catching monkeys still has its moments, and the game is certainly cute, especially when you unlock the amusing Metal Gear Solid parody. Still, the whole affair feels too familiar, almost like spending 40 bucks on a mission pack for a four-year-old game. Die-hard fans of the series will want to check it out anyway, but most folks should exercise a bit of caution before committing to the capture of these particular chimps.