Super Monkey Ball review
The premise is so absurd, that even developer Amusement Vision (AV) doesn’t even try to explain the single most conspicuous fact of Super Monkey Ball (SMB): that there are –as the title suggests- monkeys in balls, in this game. Nope. You’re just expected to take that fact for granted.
However, AV does give some insight to help make sense of what’s going on in this brightly coloured, ball-focused, banana-laden world:
“Roll the ball with the monkey inside it toward the goal!”
“If it falls off the floor, or the timer runs out, you lose one life.”
“If you pick up 100 bananas lying on the stage, you gain one life!”
“Many stages await! How many can you clear?”
And that’s just about it. What follows is one of the GameCube’s most beloved and addictive arcade/puzzle games.
One of the select handful of titles available for the GameCube’s launch in 2002, Super Monkey Ball came out of nowhere. It was one of those brightly-coloured, cute-saturated titles that most people might have overlooked, if it weren’t dor the simple fact that there wasn’t much choice to be had in the software department for Nintendo’s cube-shaped console. People did pick it up, and thankfully so, Super Monkey Ball was a sublime gaming experience that got it right on so many levels, and word quickly spread of its undeniable charm.
The monkey premise is simple. You start in one of the game’s many levels (called courses), and you’ve got a limited time to roll the monkey-containing ball to the “Goal” gate at another – usually far away – part of the map. In between are a bunch of obstacles - holes, course edges, moving platforms, pinball-style rebounders, and more – to make that simple task a heck of a lot less simple. Each subsequent course you come across becomes a tad more challenging, until you’re hitting some courses that make MC Escher’s designs look like kindergarten finger-painting. They’re tough, they’re challenging, and they’re a helluva lot of fun. The Super Monkey Ball mojo lies in the awesome adrenaline rush that comes with making it through a typical course.
Your monkey ball is not rolled directly, but by the player tilting the world, and letting the physics take over. There are some interesting consequences stemming from this subtle distinction: there’s always a bit of gravitational ‘lag’ before it kicks in and the ball gets rollin’ – changing direction of the ball is not an easy thing, particularly if your monkey is travelling at top speeds. The play on the physics of the monkey ball means that while you’re still in control, you’re never in direct control, and that you’ll need to constantly adjust the tilt of the course, to get the Monkey-Ball going where you want it to go. It’s a satisfying battle with constant oblivion, which becomes even more challenging and exhilarating as you move through the later courses.
But the single player, course navigation play of Super Monkey Ball is but one half of the monkey-in-balls fun to be had with this game. There’s Monkey Billiards and Monkey Golf, which both offer solid, turn-based, multiplayer (and single player) fun. Monkey Race is a Super Mario Kart style racer, complete with power-ups to use against your opponents, with balls instead of karts, of course. Monkey Fight pits players on a circular platform of ice (meaning an ultra slipper surface) with the monkeys frantically bashing each other to fall off the platform. And the last two – Monkey Bowling and Monkey Target – have proven the most endearing. Target sees the ball rolling off a ski-jump style ramp, and then gliding (the ball opens up to reveal wings…) to several pontoons, floating in the middle of a vast sea. Bowling in Super Monkey Ball has got to be one of the best videogame adaptations of the sport (beaten only by Wii Sports bowling, of course). All of the minigames are brilliantly designed and are amazingly fun to play.
I am yet to play the Wii, motion-controlled sequel, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, but I think that this game would set a very high standard for it to beat. So I say this: don’t wait for an opportunity to buy this game, go out and actively seek it yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
EDIT: Could I have some help with editing the picture sizes?
DOUBLE EDIT: I just want to make them smaller, but it doesn't seem to save my settings.