Ape-ril: Primates in Games

It’s Ape-ril and we ARE monkeying around! This month, I’ll be taking a look at the Top Ten instances of primates in video games. In an effort to challenge myself, I’ve decided not to include any of the Donkey Kong characters (since I could easily make a top ten list from those apes alone!). What are some other monkeys you’ve noticed in games? Let me know in the comments below!

10)The Lion King (SNES 1994)

lion king monkeys
I’m gonna be a mighty king… if I can pass level two.

Oh, I just can’t wait to be done with this level! As a film, The Lion King nabbed the number one spot for highest-grossing film of 1994 and was easily one of my favorite Disney movies as a kid. When the video game adaptation was released later in the same year, little did we know that we’d be crying harder than when we witnessed the tragic fate of Mufasa. To say that The Lion King game is difficult is an understatement. I really wanted to enjoy this game. Colors were vivid, animations were smooth, and the recreations of the music were nearly spot on. Additionally, voice clips were taken directly from the movie and were cleverly used to pull you immediately into the game (starting with this famous quote from Timon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XuhgHzuPYiI). Yes, Timon, the game does start. And the first level is a fine introduction. The second level, however, puts us right in the middle of the musical sequence that plays out during “Can’t Wait To Be King.” Remember the part in the movie where Simba gets thrown around by some monkeys and then it’s over in like 5 seconds? The game developers thought that those monkeys would be the perfect opportunity to create a puzzle! Basically, monkeys will toss Simba between each other, and in order to get to the next area, Simba has to roar at pink monkeys so they are facing the correct direction when they throw you. The only problem is that you have no idea which way the other monkeys will throw you based on which direction they are facing, so it’s just trial and error until you get it right. Each time the sequence plays out, it takes like 10 seconds to find out if you did it wrong, and even just climbing back up to roar at the monkeys again is a huge pain. By the time you finally figure it out, you’ll wish the game was out of service, out of Africa, you wouldn’t hang about!

9)”Flip the Chimp” from Mario Party 8 (Wii 2007)

flip the chimp
Shout out to the goomba and koopa riding the ferris wheel.

When Mario Party made the move to the Wii in 2007, motion controls naturally complimented the zany gameplay that we knew and expected from the series. One such mini-game was “Flip the Chip” that had players swiping the Wiimote to the left or the right in order to help a chimp avoid the dangers of falling coconuts while trying to be the first to reach the top of a rope. While the concept of the game is relatively simple, I always really enjoyed the tenseness that would arise amongst friends when you’re seemingly nearing the end. Even if you thought you were finally getting the hang of the swiping mechanic, a spare coconut or two might sneak by you, and suddenly, you’re in last place. Of course, huge game shifts are a staple of the Mario Party series….and that’s why my friends and I can no longer play it together (I’m looking at you, Barrel Train level).

8)”Homer Kong” from The Simpson’s: Bart’s Nightmare (SNES 1992)

homer kong
Radioactive. Radioactive.

I can’t help but keep coming back to this game. Don’t get me wrong. I hated it! But the vivid imagery has stuck with me for ages. One of the more enjoyable parts of Bart’s Nightmare is when you play as Bartzilla. In the first section, you are a giant lizard who can breathe fire and shoot lasers to take out the oncoming onslaught of army vehicles who are poised to halt your reign of destruction. Memorably, any time Bartzilla got hit, he would scream the same “Arrrrrr!” over and over again. It was constant. And it was annoying. Once you completed the first part, you’d be shrunk down and forced to climb a skyscraper while avoiding household objects being thrown from the windows of the building’s occupants. Climbing even higher, Margethra (a Marge version of Mothra) would fly by and knock you down, an attack I was NEVER able to avoid. When you finally reached the top (if you reached the top), you’d face off against the great ape, Homer Kong! It was a weird battle. For some reason during the level, if you pushed any button on the controller, Bartzilla would emit a radiation shockwave that seemingly did nothing at all. When I first played the game, I had no idea why you could even do it. I would use it during my entire climb hoping to avoid flower pots or the annoyances of Margethra but nothing would ever happen. Even getting to Homer Kong, I didn’t really understand what to do. I can’t tell you the number of times I got to the top and simply tried to climb above him only to get knocked down by one of his punches. Finally, one day I reached the manic monkey and started tapping buttons at random. I just happened to activate my radiation shockwave just as he was about to punch me and… it connected! As a result, he shrunk down in size, fell off the building, and I was awarded with another page of my sacred homework! When in doubt, smash buttons to win!

7)”Yeti” from E.V.O.: Search for Eden (SNES 1993)

I will name him George and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him.

Here’s another weird game I’ve talked about before… E.V.O. is a game that takes you through billions of years of evolution starting off as a fish in the Cambrian Period and eventually getting the opportunity to evolve into a human (though I wouldn’t recommend it because humans suck) in the Quaternary Period. Be defeating enemies, you can eat their leftover meat to college EVO points. After collecting enough points, you can spend them in a menu to evolve your head, body, mouth, legs, etc. Body parts can be combined in weird ways, so you might have a mammal with a horse-shaped body, hippo-like jaws and the horn of a bull. Something I really liked about this game is that it sort of explained why some creatures, real or mythical, no longer exist. For example, we learn about a race of intelligent birds, underwater mermaids, and even another set of primates who were equally competing to evolve into the first humans. Somehow, the story explains why their species didn’t make it, and that’s why we don’t see them around the world today. Another example of this mythological storytelling happens when the main character is forced to face off against a family of Yeti in the Ice Age. It’s a touching moment because immediately upon defeating the ferocious creature, we learn that we actually destroyed the mom of harmless Yeti youth. They never show up again in subsequent ages, so apparently, there was no return of the Yeti.

6)”Spanky” from Spanky’s Quest (SNES 1991)

::Insert your own Spanky the Monkey joke here::

When a local used video game store opened up in my hometown and offered the chance to trade in old games toward their product, I was determined to take advantage of this opportunity. Grabbing a few unused NES games, I browsed the aisles of this new shop. The pickings were slim. I remember walking around in circles for at least 20 minutes before finally settling on a game that looked….kind of interesting. The box art featured a monkey in a hat hanging out with fruit on a beach. I was reminded somewhat of games like Kickle Cubicle or Lolo, so I decided to give it a shot. When I got home, I was mostly disappointed. Having been used to the fast action of Super Mario World, I was not prepared for the slow-pace gameplay of Spanky’s Quest. To attack your enemies, you produce a bubble that you then bounce on your head. With each bounce, the bubble gets bigger and bigger. Hitting the button again will turn the bubble, depending on its size, into a various sports ball (baseball, volleyball, soccer ball basketball) that will then rain down on your enemies. When those enemies are defeated, keys can be collected to unlock the doors to the next stage. And that’s the entire game – you bounce bubbles on your head trying to defeat enemies. The music, surprisingly, is probably some of the best on the Super Nintendo. Composed by Hiroyuki Iwatsuki, who also wrote for the Pocky & Rocky games, the uplifting synth beats reminded me of the demo song on my first keyboard (which I would listen to on repeat). Anyway, I have since watched a few longplays of Spanky’s Quest on YouTube and the game doesn’t seem all that bad. I think if I went back to it now, I’d appreciate it much more for its platforming aspects and for the clever ways you can approach finishing each level. If you don’t check out the game, at least check out its soundtrack! …And it would be a great game for casual speedrun races!

5)”Bongo” from Congo Bongo (Arcade 1983)

I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts.

Did you know Donkey Kong had a competitor? That’s right. In 1983, nearly two years after Donkey Kong’s arcade release in 1981, Sega released the isometric platformer Congo Bongo. Why was Donkey Kong iconic and Congo Bongo left to obscurity? In Congo Bongo, you play as a safari hunter who is trying to exact revenge on a giant ape, Bongo, who apparently set fire to your tent in the middle of the night. To do so, you must climb a mountain while avoiding smaller monkeys and dodging coconuts tossed by the Bongo baddie himself. The core elements from Donkey Kong are there, and it’s set in a location that makes much more sense than a construction site. So, is there something more compelling about the everyday man, Mario/Jumpman, who is on a quest to save his girlfriend from a deadly ape? Additionally, Mario gets a hammer power-up while the nameless safari hunter has no attack at all. Perhaps the 3d isometric display of the game made it difficult to understand what was happening. When Bongo throws his coconuts, it’s incredibly hard to tell their precise location, and unfair deaths were rampant. I’m pretty sure I played this game in the arcade when I was really young, and I don’t think I ever passed the first stage. However, the game stood out to me, and it’s worth remembering for the DK comparison alone. What would have happened if Congo Bongo succeeded and Donkey Kong did not? Would we have seen Super Safari Hunter Bros? Congo Bongo Country? Who would win in a fight – Donkey Kong or Bongo? Stay tuned for future pondering on this…

4)”Kiki” from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992)

Link, you realize you have bombs, right?

Wait. Is this the same monkey from Super Mario 64? In Tall, Tall Mountain, we have Ukkiki. Here was have Kiki! What’s going on here? Is Kiki a popular monkey name in Japan? And then there’s Kiki’s Delivery Service… Okay, I looked it up. Kiki is not a traditional Japanese name. It’s Korean (meaning “lovely flower”) and it also appears in Egypt (meaning “from the castor plant”). Anyway, THIS Kiki is an entrepreneur who apparently is the only creature in all of Hyrule that can hit the switch on top of the Palace of Darkness. Link can’t climb, he doesn’t yet have the hookshot, nor can he grab a cucco to float from above. So, the only option is to pay Kiki 100 rupees to open the door for him. What is Kiki even going to do with 100 rupees? Is there a monkey store nearby? Maybe she’s working for someone? Is Link really the only person to ever open the palace door? This business model seems a little sketchy to me.

3)Ape Escape (PS 1999)

ape escape
Take your stinking paws off me you damn dirty ape!

Ape Escape was a game I always wanted to try but never got my chance. I even had a strategy guide for it (probably from a promotion for a magazine re-subscription, I’m guessing). This was the first game on the original Playstation to require the use of the DualShock controller with the left and right analog joysticks. I believe the left joystick let you controller your player while the right joystick toggled your net for capturing monkeys. Oh yeah, the point of the game: capturing monkeys! Apparently, a white-haired amusement park monkey finds a prototype of a Professor’s intelligence-increasing helmet (Doc Brown?). Upon putting it on, a wave of intelligence surges through his brain, BUT he also becomes….EVIL!!!! Then, he makes more of these devices to intelligize other monkeys and, naturally, SENDS THEM BACK IN TIME TO REWRITE THE HISTORY OF EVOLUTION. We must have missed that part in E.V.O. So, as a young kid caught up in the action, it becomes your job to round up all the monkeys and make sure history is set straight! Was this the real prequel to Planet of the Apes?

2)”George” from Rampage (NES 1986)

George, George, George of the City.

Putting us in the radioactive shoes of characters based on our favorite Japanese monster movies, Rampage is a game that lets us literally destroy the world. This was one of the first arcade games I remember that allowed simultaneously gameplay for three people at the same time (in addition to Super Off Road and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles). Players could take control of either Lizzie (basically Godzilla), Ralph (a giant werewolf), or George (basically King Kong). I’m pretty sure I always went with George. Maybe I was drawn to the ape-like character because I already had an affinity for Donkey Kong? Fortunately, I didn’t have to rely on just the arcade to play this game. A friend who lived down the street owned the NES port, and I’m certain we spent one day playing through all 128 levels of building-smashing fun. Many years later, an “updated” version of this game was released on Wii and in the most Nintendo move ever, the developer (Midway) decided to try to channel their inner-arcade by forcing players to use the Wiimote like a joystick. Yeah. Instead of holding the controller normally, you would hold the Wiimote vertically in midair and then move it left or right to control the direction of your monster. It did not work at all. I don’t think we were able to finish even one level because the control was so bad – and there was no option to change it over to traditional controls. This was a huge disappoint to someone who enjoyed the game so much in their childhood. Here’s hoping that they re-release it again someday with an update to the controls. On a tangent, there was always a 2018 movie made based on this game! Did anyone it? I definitely did not…but I’m intrigued for the nostalgia factor alone.

Honorable Mentions:

”Porter” from Animal Crossing (Gamecube 2002)

I don’t know anything about Animal Crossing.

“Conga” from Banjo Kazooie (N64 1998)

Coconuts again!

“Ukkiki” from Super Mario 64 (N64 1996)

Mario solves the mystery of the Monkey Cage.

“Data” from Mega Man Legends (PS1 1997)

He saves your game and he’s THE MOST IMPORTANT CHARACTER!

1)”Aiai, Meemee, Baby, and Gongon” from Super Monkey Ball 1 & 2 (Gamecube 2001/2002)

super monkey ball
I’ll love you when you’re gone, Gongon.

As a long-term fan of Marble Madness, Super Monkey Ball takes the Marble Madness-formula and ramps it up for a new era of gamers. For those of you who don’t know the premise, you guide a monkey (in a ball) down a winding course of obstacles toward a goal. Easy! Something unique about the gameplay is that you don’t actually control the monkey(ball). Instead, you use the joystick to tilt the entire stage in different directions. It’s kind of like those old wooden labyrinth games with the marble and the holes. While the main game is certainly enjoyable, I always found the multiplayer games to be the true source of entertainment. Simple games like Monkey Fight (trying to force players off the stage a la Smash Bros by using a giant punching glove connected to your ball) and Monkey Race (Mario Kart with balls) were included in the original Super Monkey Ball. Its sequel, however, had my favorite selections: Monkey Golf and Monkey Target. Monkey Golf is exactly what it sounds like: a golf game where you whack the monkeys toward a hole in the least amount of strokes as possible. For not being a dedicated golf game, course designs were surprisingly unique and you had the option to play up to 18 holes. Monkey Target sent your monkeys down a steep slope off a ramp to be launched high in the air. Pushing a button would turn your ball into a hang glider. Once aerial, monkeys could be guided toward a target on the ground with various point values. In multiplayer, you could try to foul up your rivals in the air or even attempt to knock them off the target upon landing. Whoever got the most points in the end was the winner! Because of the quick rounds, my friends and I always found ourselves wanting to go “just one more round!”

Making all of this content takes a lot of energy and work! If you’re feeling generous and would like to support my projects, consider “buying me a coffee” or two or ten from the following website: https://www.buymeacoffee.com/erichagmann

Thanks for reading! Keep on the watch for a new list in May! Can you guess next month’s theme??

Published by erichagmann

Arranger / Pianist / Vocalist / Educator / Gamer

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