APE OUT review: Mighty Joe Young meets Whiplash

One of the most intense gaming experiences to come along in a while, APE OUT marries its gameplay with percussive rhythms to elevate the top-down mayhem beyond your standard indie fare.

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It is a story as old as time - monkey is brought into captivity and mistreated, monkey escapes, then monkey proceeds to kills its captors against the backdrop of some abrasive jazz percussion. APE OUT demonstrates that you can take an old idea and make something new from it just by offering a unique presentation and tight gameplay.

Soaring

The journey you take in APE OUT opens not with an extended cutscene or wall of text, but by simply dropping you into the opening moment of a jailbreak. You are a captive gorilla that exploits an opening and sets out on a journey to escape your incarcerators by violently shoving them into walls and/or tearing off their limbs. Said limbs and body parts can then be used as a makeshift shield or single-use ranged weapon. You are charged with reaching the end of each section by any means necessary, lest the captors put you down with shotguns or explosives.

APE OUT’s design is about as simple as they come. The action plays out via a top-down view and the controls only demand that you use a pair of buttons. One button shoves enemies and the other grabs enemies or objects. As you make the escape, you will either kill or avoid your captors. The game allows for a mix of visceral brutality with elements of stealth, should you choose to avoid certain enemies.

The Shape of Jazz to Come

Tying the whole experience together is jazz soundtrack, which is expertly fused to the onscreen action in a way that resembles a pure rhythm game. Each section of the game begins with a subdued output that explodes into a percussive fracas the moment you strike the first captor. Each shove or hit you connect with brings a percussive smash that smoothly falls in line with the underlying beat. The audio engine in APE OUT appears to be powered by an intelligent drum machine that is loaded with hundreds of samples. Each of the game’s environments offer a different type of drum kit that helps them feel unique beyond their changes in color pallete.

Visually, APE OUT is a simple affair. Your gorilla is a solid color silhouette that typically sits in stark contrast to the floor of the level. Early sections offer a solid-colored floor with walls that feature a stop motion-esque animated texture. Some walls have a hard intersection with the floor, while others have a fuzzy look at their borders. The overall look of the game is uncomplicated, yet it still feels like it works to agitate your senses in the same way the soundtrack does.

Blues Caravan

I found APE OUT to be a game best experienced in short doses. It can be effective as a stress reliever or quick escape as long as you keep the session short. If you play the game for any extended period of time, it can become caustic, especially if you fail to move through the levels in a regular rhythm. I am notorious for being bad at lots of games and found myself failing certain sections of APE OUT over and over. Dying and repeating sections is all a part of the game’s design, but if you find yourself in a situation where you don’t progress, the combination of frustration and the acerbic percussion can work in tandem to nearly drive you to a breaking point.

I brought up Whiplash in the title of this review because the movie uses its jazz soundtrack to enhance the narrative tension for the viewer. APE OUT does the same with its sonic presentation. The intensity of the cymbal crashes and tom beats work to put you into a state of unease. The movie gives the viewer intermittent relief from the tension, but the game may not if you find yourself stuck in the more challenging areas.

As I struggled with some of the stages, the repeated percussive hits pushed me into discomfort. I experienced headache and general unease until I discontinued playing. This will not be the case for all players, especially those who play handheld on the Nintendo Switch without headphones. If steady progression through the game is achieved, a near-perfect balance of tension and release is possible. This is where APE OUT hits its highest points, but it may not happen for all players.

A Love Supreme

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The game is also a very short experience. If you are looking for something with legs, APE OUT is not going to fit the bill, though some replayability is possible for those who enjoy speedrunning or killing time in short bursts. It is possible to to sit down with the game and reach the end in 90 minutes, but that time could vary by player.

Should you dive into APE OUT? Indie junkies who were enamored with Hotline Miami beyond its aesthetic will find lots to like about the feel of the combat and tight integration with the soundtrack. The close-range action has a better feel than most top-down games that lean on firearms. The game is a tight package that hits all the right notes when things are working well, though it can possibly push you into madness if you falter. 8/10 dismembered arms


This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. APE OUT was made available for PC and Nintendo Switch on February 28, for $14.99.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

Review for
Ape Out
8
Pros
  • Tight controls and combat
  • Novel integration of music and gameplay
  • Dynamic drum machine feels alive
  • Can affect the player physically
Cons
  • Very short experience
  • Can induce lots of stress
  • Visual style can lead to confusion
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