Ace Banana misses the mark
Have you ever wondered if you have what it takes to sink a toilet plunger into the face of a monkey from fifty yards away? If so, then you’re probably the kind of bloke I’d like to have a beer with. Not only that, you’re also probably the target demographic for Ace Banana, Oasis Games’ colorful new arcade shooter for the PlayStation VR.
The premise of Ace Banana is simple. Players take control of a lone heroic banana, who just so happens to be a pretty darn good archer, as you beat back wave after wave of kleptomaniac monkeys who are trying to kidnap your stash of creepy baby bananas. That’s pretty much the entire gist of the game’s narrative, leaving you free to focus on sending those pesky primates packing with your quiver full of plungers.
Ace Banana’s core game is made up of 16 short waves. And though the action starts off slow, things quickly ramp up as a plethora of new monkeys are introduced, each with their own unique abilities. For example, monkeys in clown masks can take several hits before being dispatched, and monkeys dressed like construction workers can burrow underground to sneakily snatch up your potassium-rich compatriots. Other enemy types are more imaginative, such as jetpack-equipped monkeys who can zoom around the environment, making them a hard target to hit. And let’s not forget the especially annoying shades-sporting Monkey Dudebros, who saunter around the arena with a bottle of booze and can blind you with balls of orange goo. Overall, the wealth of enemies you’ll encounter proves to be one of Ace Banana’s most appealing aspects, as you’ll constantly need to prioritize which monkey poses the most immediate threat.
Just as you’ll encounter a wide array of angry apes throughout Ace Banana’s 16 stages, you’ll also gain access to a wide variety of power-ups over the course of your adventure. Most of these come in the form of different arrow types, which will swap out your standard plunger for some pretty quirky ammunition including fish arrows, adorable hedgehog shots, and even wide-arcing shuttlecocks that soar like mortars across the battlefield. While these are great, there are also a number of trap items that pop up frequently to make things more difficult for the player. Nothing can be more frustrating than being stuck with rock ammunition, which instantly tumbles to the ground, making it easy for opportunistic apes to snatch up your stock of bananas.
On paper, these pesky power-downs should make things more interesting. Sadly, they aren’t especially well implemented and can cause some unnecessary frustration. For example, in the round before an especially challenging boss fight I happened to pick up a pillow power-up. These shots float slowly and fall way short of your standard arrows. I figured I could just make the most of it and adapt to this less-than-ideal ammunition type. The thing is, this made it virtually impossible to hit that particular boss at his usual distance. And with no way to ditch the item in favor of a new type of ammunition, I was virtually helpless. And losing on a boss will promptly send you back to the beginning of the stage, forcing you to fight your way back through numerous waves for another stab at victory as you pray you don’t get stuck with another ineffective weapon type by the time you reach the boss stage.
Each stage in Ace Banana is multi-tiered, and you’ll have to use the lizard the long-tongued lizard on your wrist to zoom between numerous platforms, each with their own stash of bananas to protect. Yet again, while this should provide some welcome depth to the experience, in the end it actually ends up throwing a wrench into the machinery. On many occasions I’d highlight a platform, and it would light up as if I should be able to warp there. However, through either poor tracking or the game simply feeling my current position was where I really belonged, I’d be unable to warp. Suffice to say, it’s pretty maddening watching a boss enemy vacuum up your precious banana pals as you watch helplessly, utterly unable to zap to the proper location to defend them.
Players can come to grips with Ace Banana’s bow using either the PlayStation Move or Dualshock 4 controllers. While taking aim with the Move doesn’t feel quite as responsive as it does in Oasis Games’ other shooter, Pixel Gear (read our review here), it’s pretty easy to get the hang of. Players hold the bow with one hand and draw and release the string with the other. As you’d expect, slightly pulling back the string results in a short, lobbing shot, and pulling all the way back will send your arrow flying straight and fast. All told, it’s a simple and efficient system, though it’s worth nothing that your arms will likely start to grow tired after a few rounds. However, given Ace Banana’s quick-fix style gameplay, this isn’t a huge inconvenience. Still, it’s not hard to imagine younger players – likely those who will be most interested in the game to begin with – finding this control scheme to be pretty unconformable before long.
Using the DualShock is seamless in the shooting gallery segments, as you simply aim and shoot with the R2 button, but it obviously comes at the cost of immersion. Also, the standard controller is strangely useless in the game’s mini-game, which has you raising a family of bananas by giving them water, soil, and sunlight. Performing these actions is simple with the Move controllers, but the DualShock simply doesn’t work, only presenting you with the option to skip to the next stage. Sure, Oasis Games is a small studio, but it’s really hard to understand how this kind of glaring oversight made it into the final game.
Ace Banana isn’t awful, but it certainly feels like a game that was churned out to meet the release of the PlayStation VR. It has its share of problems, both in terms of design and execution, though younger players may be able to overlook these issues and embrace it for what it is; a lighthearted and often hilarious romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Still, that’s a shame. Because with a bit more polish and QA, Ace Banana could have been great fun for all ages. Sadly, what we’re left with is a game that’s too shallow and problematic to hold your interest for very long. If you absolutely must own an arcade shooter on the PSVR that’s good for players young and old, I’d recommend checking out Pixel Gear instead. It’s a much more refined experience that manages to hit hit the mark in almost every area where Ace Banana ultimately comes up short.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed); Publisher: Oasis Games ; Developer: Oasis Games ; Players: 1; Released: October 20, 2016 ; MSRP $14.99
Full Disclosure: This review was made possible by a copy provided by the publisher.