With every new hardware launch, there are always a couple of lower-profile titles that fly under the radar in terms of the amount of excitement that they generate in the preorder market. Smaller games from smaller developers and some of the more experimental outings are usually the casualties and that’s absolutely the case with Oasis Games’ Ace Banana.
Given that there’s been very little coverage of the game up until now, it’s probably best that I start with the premise. You’re an archer who collects baby bananas, seemingly in the hope to nurture them and grow them into a banana family. Monkeys like bananas, of course, and they’re trying to steal yours because for some reason, you’ve decided to carelessly leave them piled up about the place. So, you must stop the monkeys by shooting them. That’s about the size of the entire game.
There is a puddle-deep story to the whole thing, which is presented during the introduction via a character that has a tenuous grasp of the English language at best. What’s worse is that though the subtitles appear on screen with clear errors, the script obviously also contained them, so the person reading the voiceover makes some incredibly basic grammatical mistakes. This is a small thing to mention and it’s not something to get overly worked up about, but it does serve as an indicator to the level of polish that’s displayed around the rest of the game.
Monkeys try to steal your banana friends in waves and the controls for defending them are simple enough. One Move controller aims your shot, while the other draws back your bow string to alter the power. Pulling the trigger lets your arrow fly, with the hope of it hitting a monkey before they can make off with one of your potassium-filled friends.
Enemies come in varying forms. Some are small and quick and can be dispatched with a single shot, while others dodge or block, or are wearing some sort of armor that requires you to hit them multiple times. At certain points, you’ll need to fly to defend one of your other base areas and that’s also easy to do, since you just point at your desired location with your non-firing hand and pull the trigger to zoom there in a second or two.
The locations you’re defending are bright, colorful, and in some cases, a good example of the ways in which VR can provide a real sense of depth. When you get up to the very highest base and are taking jetpack-powered monkeys out of the sky, looking down can bring in a real sense of vertigo. The whole visual look of things is light and breezy, with some of the animations being genuinely laugh-out-loud funny.
Varied ammunition is available too, allowing you to fire triple shots, sink plungers, cloves of garlic (apparently, monkeys don’t like garlic – who knew?) and shuttlecocks aside from your usual arrows. Some of these lower the effectiveness of your shots. A handful of big bosses turn up along the way, so the knowledge of the effect of each ammo type is required, but you soon work out which ones to avoid and which ones to grab.
Sadly, that lack of polish I mentioned earlier on comes back to bite Ace Banana on the backside when it comes to how the game controls. If you don’t own a pair of Move controllers, you can use your DualShock, pointing at where you want to fire and using R2 as a trigger. In fact, the rate at which the monkeys appear later in the game’s 16 waves means that using the standard controller is preferable as with the Move controllers, you’ll be tired out after a couple of rounds of quickfire action.
In game, the DualShock works perfectly well. When the game’s over, though, the between rounds banana-growing section of the game is unusable. It isn’t that it’s slightly off or the controls are a bit hit-and-miss, it’s that all you can do with a DualShock in this area is pull R2 to start a new game. Nothing else works. With Move controllers, you can feed and water your little baby bananas and even educate them, until they evolve into a full-grown character with crazy hair and their own outfit. You can even look over at a journal and thumb through the pages to check out your achievements, see which bananas you’ve saved and raised and generally get a read on how you’re doing. But with a standard controller, that entire section of the game is locked off.
When using Move controllers, there are times where Ace Banana will require you to turn and aim in a way that pulls your string hand back in front of your face. This can cause some unreliable responses as the lights on the Move controllers end up interfering with those on the PlayStation VR headset. How this – and the half-working DualShock controls – isn’t picked up on and fixed during testing, I’ll never know.
It also should be noted that the game consists of 16 relatively short levels of action that are very, very samey and which take place in a single location that features only a handful of different vantage points. Furthermore, there’s no multiplayer on offer and absolutely no variation to be found outside of the occasional new enemy type. Combine all that with the control issues that the game presents and Ace Banana becomes something that really cannot be recommended.
This review is based on the PlayStation VR version of the game, which we were provided with.
Ace Banana isn’t a total trainwreck and might be a fun diversion for younger players for a while, but there’s a chance that even they will ultimately come away frustrated.