There are few games, if any, that are as strange and satisfying as Devolver Digital's Ape Out. The independent developer's latest entry for Nintendo Switch (and PC) Ape Out is an incredible mix of sights and sounds that is accompanied with a very simple premise. The goal of Ape Out is just to get the titular primate out of a mysterious facility with as much blood and mayhem created as possible. This basic set-up belies a surprisingly deep and compelling adventure.
Ape Out has just two buttons as means of control; one is dedicated to pushing and another to grabbing. This allows the titular ape to throw enemy guards and/or grab objects (or guards) to fling into obstacles. Combining these simplistic controls with the game's minimalist art style could give the impression that Ape Out is an easy going experience. This isn't the case at all. While Ape Out's various levels are a bit too similar the gameplay is a creative addiction that drives Ape Out to incredibly entertaining heights.
The most striking element of Ape Out is its jazzy and bombastic soundtrack. Everything that happens in Ape Out is scored precisely to the game's beat. The baseline drums work in concert with the ape's barreling movement. The death of guards is underlined by a cymbal crash. The rhythm changes with the number of enemies on screen. The soundtrack is energizing and magnetic, constantly driving the ape and player forward. This wild soundtrack is perfectly complemented by the game's colorful but streamlined graphics. This minimalist approach allows the player to get sucked further into the music as more complicated graphics would detract from the simian symphony.
The music also marries itself to the gameplay in a brilliant way. Since every action has an appropriate musical cue, Ape Out is akin to conducting an jazz orchestra - if the standard jazz concert was punctuated with ridiculous levels of blood and gore. Every shove, every grab, and every enemy death in Ape Out is so tremendously (maybe even disturbingly) gratifying because it results in such an explosion of color and sound. It's a power fantasy of ludicrous proportions.
Ape Out isn't mindless though. It's a very hard task to get this ape to escape no matter the visual or auditory flair involved. Ape Out introduces the simple controls quickly but allows for trial and error in every other area of gameplay. This makes each and every death a learning experience. Grabbing an enemy will allow the ape to use their guns or flamethrowers against their confused allies. However it also slows the ape down and leaving them open to an attack from behind. Charging into a horde of enemies can mean certain death usually but if everything is angled up just right the shoving of one guard holding a bomb will result in a domino effect that wipes out an entire room. It's these simple puzzle-like mechanics that turn Ape Out from mindless fun to something engaging and thought-provoking.
Ape Out unfortunately isn't perfect. The game is short with only four chapters - called albums - and an epilogue. Theses sections each take about 45 minutes to an hour to complete. There is also an arcade mode that rushes players through an album with only one life to spare. Ape Out will require around 6 hours to see it all has to offer. Time is a slightly irrelevant when the game is so much fun but Ape Out ends begging for so much more content.
Ape Out's bigger issue is its level design. Ape Out is almost entirely procedurally generated. There are a couple scripted moments in each chapter and specific hallways that lead from one area to the next but everything else is random. This gives Ape Out a very unfortunate monotony in level design. The colors and enemies will change but all the levels in Ape Out are full of the same wide spaces with occasional tight hallways for enemies to jump out from behind. The first level feels largely the same as the last one. The marriage of sound and gameplay never gets stale but it is a disappointment that level design never matches this creativity.
Ape Out has some underwhelming shortcomings that keep it from true masterpiece status. Thankfully the good far outweighs the bad. The boring level design can be ignored in the face of the pulse pounding soundtrack. The short length does make it feel quite at home on Nintendo Switch. Overall Ape Out is a wonderful addition to any Nintendo Switch (or PC) owner's library. A huge time investment with incredible level design just shouldn't be expected.
Ape Out is available now for $14.99 on Nintendo Switch and PC. Screen Rant was provided a Switch copy for review.