Meet Funky Kong’s violent brother, Jazzy Kong.
Coming in the latest of something of a hot streak from publisher Devolver is Ape Out, the reactionary jazz brawler from the mind of developer Gabe Cuzillo which positions you as an angry primate conducting destruction to the beat of percussion, in one of the most satisfying games so far this year.
I’ve got a particular love for games whose name is essentially the premise as well, and in Ape Out you will find that an ape has indeed got out. But the detail is in the execution. You control the eponymous ape as they attempt to make their way out of confines in a large building, and beat their way through every person stopping them from reaching the exit. However, this elevator pitch is brought to sensational results with such a hefty dose of style I half expected this ape to escape it’s way to a catwalk.
Every moment in Ape Out is given a sense of urgency and satisfying power to each punch with the game’s incredible soundtrack. But calling it a soundtrack doesn’t do this justice, the game and the music are intrinsically linked with every button press, every single punch your ape throws, being punctuated with a percussive addition to the games constantly chattering jazz drum soundscape. You have to watch a video to get an idea, but if you’re already pretty convinced I would recommend avoiding it, as the discovery of this is something better experienced blind to it. Every connection between primate fist and person face is given a splash of cymbal or hit of a drum that fits perfectly in time and tone with the music. This percussive feedback gives an exhilarating sense of immediate gratification to every moment, with the base thrill of destruction getting a jolt of energy that just pushes you further and further to keep throwing punches after the enemies take out for fierce ape and you’re sent back to the start of that section. Mechanically there’s elements of Hotline Miami, with you rushing in to dole out vicious violence to the poor scientists that dared try to put this ape in a cage, and the difficulty on display here meaning you’ll be playing these levels repeatedly before eventually freeing your ape. But the time between these attempts is small enough to never be a bother, after a few cymbal splashes and the game panning out to reveal the word dead over that particular level layout and a line to explain how far you got, you’re immediately thrown back in with the soft tapping of drums enticing you to throw yourself back in and make even more monkey mess & musical mayhem.
Animated in a constantly moving but basic block colour style it accentuates the agitated and stirring pace that is constantly moving throughout. This stylistic choice also offers a way of focusing on the violence at hand but in a fun and simple way, this game is overtly gory but never does it feel gross or gratuitous. The violence is there to accentuate the music, and the music vice versa. Everything is linked and designed to make you feel mindful and in that very moment. The tall shifting perspective of the levels also means we can’t see around corners until we move with them, if we want to look for enemies we have to peer around and risk having our primates face blown right off, only further pushing this moment to moment exhilaration that the game offers.
In it’s entirety the game is split into 4 discs, with 8 levels on each. Each level features many different enemies for you to smash around or pull apart like wet tissue paper, with your dive further into the game offering different locales and some really interesting mechanics and set pieces that add a lot to the experience. I won’t spoil anything but a lot of simple additions to levels changed the way I played and made each level feel different enough and memorable enough to warrant their own existence, also with their own unique and incredible musical accompaniment. This is backed up with an arcade mode, where you go through these levels trying to get as far as you can without dying once, and a Harder mode which does what it says on the tin. When laid out to look at the content can seem a little thin, but the difficulty of the game means you’ll be playing a lot of these levels repeatedly, while the pure fun of every action meant I wasn’t for a single moment sick of the same room. I wanted to dive back in and throw limbs around in this incredible playground, melding a brawler and musical improvisation into something where every single moment and action just brought an even bigger grin to my face.
Ape Out is an essential experience, and a distillation of many different elements into one calamitous cacophony of pure joy. The melding of jazz and violence into this creative eruption of fun turns every play through into a performance, with you masterfully playing every instrument. While the game can be finished fairly quickly, the shifting levels and perpetual goldmine of possible ways to explore and destroy to a different beat made every attempt as good as the last. If I had to put it in Layman’s terms I’d say it feels like Quentin Tarantino directing Whiplash starring King Kong, and if that doesn’t sell you then you don’t deserve to play this game, it’s a small team’s creative vision carried out perfectly and a truly special game because of it.