Review: Ace Banana (PSVR)

Whenever a new technology appears, it’s tough for game developers to necessarily know what to do with it right out of the gate. For example, with the Wii’s launch, we saw many companies capitalize on very simplistic forms of motion control – shooting, sports, etc. With virtual reality, we are seeing a similar trend from some teams. Right now this is the early stages before people really grasp the full potential of VR. Ace Banana is a game which feels right at home with the early goings of PSVR. It’s a simple archery game which makes use of both the Move controllers and PSVR headset in ways that fit with the technology at hand.

You can probably guess how the Move controllers are handled, but here’s the basics. One Move wand becomes the hand you use to hold your bow, while the other is used to pull back and release the bow’s string. In a smart move, both left-handed and right-handed players can hold either in whichever hand feels most comfortable for them. This does not require a change via an options menu, as simply swapping Move controllers resolves the issue. In many ways, Ace Banana feels like something some of us already played back in the Wii era (for better or for worse) because it does nothing beyond the established formula of movement-based archery games. The main difference is that, now with the PSVR headset, you can gaze around an entire environment to track enemies and fire off shots.

Ace Banana certainly has a colorful world. The cartoony graphics are bright, cheerful, and make sense when combined with the goofy storyline. In this world bananas are living beings which used to live in harmony with monkeys. However, something happened one day which made monkeys spontaneously become evil and kidnap bananas. Your goal, as some sort of super archer banana, is to keep bananas safe. The result of this is archery-focused tower defense gameplay where you must keep the banana bunches away from waves of mad monkeys. As the stages progress, you manage not just one but multiple banana bunch locations against the increasingly difficult waves. There are all manner of monkeys to wage war against, from standard ones to tiny babies, or ones with sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts. Different ones feature different skills, which can lead to sudden shifts in difficulty. For the most part, though, there’s no real strategy differences for how to fight back against different monkey types. 

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The core archery mechanic works well enough, but quickly grows tiring. After all, enemies pile up surprisingly fast and don’t let up. There’s a bit of a buffer between when a monkey grabs a banana before they successfully escape, but overall you need to be super fast to keep everyone at bay. It’s possible to “cheat” the firing mechanic by making tons of short pulls, but even then that still requires a fair amount of repeated arm motion. Once beyond the bodily stress factor there’s simply the reality that Ace Banana is not particularly fun in the long run. Aside from the fact that there are only sixteen stages in total, there’s not enough gameplay variety (beyond the bosses) to really keep things fresh. Seeing things like a clown monkey for the first time might be fun, but once you’ve shot down said enemies twenty times you’re basically done with it.

Then there’s the matter of writing/translation. Ace Banana’s English script was obviously not given a serious look as it features all manner of typographical errors and general weirdness. It’s somewhat funny to see a PSVR launch title in such poor shape, but also a little disheartening. The storyline isn’t a huge deal, of course. Young children could easily look past the typos and highly repetitive nature of the game – but PSVR is technically designed to be played by people ages twelve and up. At that point, a pre-teen is probably seeking out slightly more nuanced gameplay.

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Closing Comments:

Ace Banana shows promise with its bright graphics and skillful ability to pair Move controllers with fast-paced, precise gameplay. Unfortunately, there’s little currently in the game to keep players hooked after their first session. Everything is just far too repetitive (not to mention tiring) to get folks through the campaign. A co-op mode didn’t even make it out in time for launch, which could have at least added some reason to keep playing. Ace Banana may be technically sound, but it’s plainly uninteresting when compared to the rest of PSVR’s launch lineup.