Super Monkey Ball


    Sega has always been known for releasing quirky but well-made games. Though some gamers may give titles like Samba de Amigo and Chu-Chu Rocket! a strange look, none of those can even begin to compare with the looks that Sega's latest game will receive. Boldly titled Super Monkey Ball, Sega continues to show that, though its games may look and sound odd, they play beautifully.

    Developed by Amusement Vision, the premise behind Super Monkey Ball is simple: the player is presented with a landscape and a monkey in a transparent ball. The object is to tilt the landscape so that the monkey rolls through the level toward the goal without falling off the edge or running out of time. Each level presents a different set of obstacles that prevent the monkey from safely traveling to the goal; sometimes the player will have to navigate around holes and onto moving platforms, while other times moving spikes and bumpers get in the way. Of course, the difficulty grows as the game progresses and Super Monkey Ball offers 90 levels across three difficulty settings. The wide variety of levels, along with their sheer number, keeps the game fresh, and the short length of each level makes the game move quickly.

Because everything is funnier with monkeys.
It's like Mario Kart, but with monkeys.

    As the entire game is centered around carefully maneuvering the landscapes around so that the monkeys do not plummet to their doom, quite a bit of time was spent fine-tuning the controls and the physics. Using only the analogue stick, the control in Super Monkey Ball is extremely precise. Even slight movements register, making the game easy to control and very responsive. By the same token, the game's physics are very realistic; the slanted and curved areas respond just as you would expect them to, and the monkey's ball bounces upon landing from a jump just as a real plastic ball would. Of course, if the player isn't careful, he might see his monkey bouncing right off of the board or rolling off of a curved surface. While this is a point of potential frustration, at the same time it teaches the player to be more responsive about what is happening in the game, and how to deal with the more extreme situations that occur in the later levels.

    Super Monkey Ball would be an enjoyable game if AV stopped there. However, for the home release, the developers added a number of mini-games. All of these help to make what might have been a average title into one of the best multi-player games in a long time. Initially available are the three very self-descriptive Party Games: Monkey Race, Monkey Fight, and Monkey Target. Monkey Race lets up to four players race on six different tracks. Much in the vein of Super Mario Kart, players can stockpile special items, including an electrical bomb that will cause a monkey to be stunned or an item that will turn an opponent's ball into an ice cube. Monkey Fight is a mini version of Smash Brothers; each monkey has a large boxing glove attached to his ball via a spring. The monkeys then proceed to roll around for a minute at a time, trying to punch their opponents off of the platform. Monkey Target is most similar to Pilotwings; the simians roll down a long ramp and are launched into the air. Once airborne, pressing the A button will open the ball to form a pair of wings. The monkey can then be steered toward the targets floating in the water, and dropped onto them by hitting A again. All three of the party games are an absolute riot; not only are they well done, but the comedy factor of seeing a monkey rolling in a ball at 500mph makes the entire experience that much more enjoyable.

Monkey Ball. Tee hee.

    Players can unlock three additional Mini-Games by accumulating Play Points in the main levels. These three games include Monkey Billiards, Monkey Golf, and Monkey Bowling. Again, these games are pretty much exactly what they sound like; Billiards presents the monkeys in a nine-ball setting, and Golf puts them through 18 holes of miniature golf. Like the others, Monkey Bowling is similar to past bowling games, though the aiming mechanism moves very quickly, causing players to put a great deal of spin on their balls. This only takes a few rounds to get the hang of, and once you have the technique down, it becomes quite obvious that AV made the Bowling game this way for the sheer amusement factor -- putting spin on the balls causes the monkeys to toss around like clothes in a dryer. Overall, the six mini-games could almost be a standalone title by themselves and Super Monkey Ball may be the GameCube party title to beat for quite some time.

    Graphically, the monkeys and the levels are bright and cartoony, and the Dole bananas that can be collected for 1-ups actually look better than the ones that are typically available in the supermarket. Though much of the game doesn't look much better than what has been seen on the PlayStation 2, or even the Dreamcast, the occasional effects that AV has thrown in make up for this. The underwater levels are filled with brilliant ripples and lighting effects, and the mirrored surfaces of some of the later levels are so well done that they become more difficult simply because of the graphical distraction. Aurally the game doesn't disappoint either; the tunes are bright and happy, catchy enough to hum along with but not so catchy that you'll be singing them after you put down the game.

Bananas galore

    Though so much of the game is very well put together, there are a few minor drawbacks. The first is the frustration level; it is not uncommon to get hopelessly stuck on a level in the Main Game. Players will find themselves flying through a set of ten or twelve levels, then spending 20-30 continues (and thus 4-6 games, since continues are initially limited to 5) on the next, only to once again barrel through the next dozen. Part of this frustration can come from the controls; it is very difficult to simultaneously rotate the camera and tilt the playing field, which can make curved surfaces harder to deal with than they should be. Also, the Main Game can become boring after you've completed it; while there are warps to find, past that there is very little reason to replay a level that you've already completed. The mini-games do alleviate this somewhat, but do not correct it entirely. Luckily, though, the 90 Main Game levels should take most gamers quite a while to beat, making this concern a more long-term one.

    Super Monkey Ball is a must-have for anyone who is picking up a GameCube at launch. Though it isn't perfect, it's very enjoyable, highly imaginative, and strangely addictive. With Sega no longer having to worry about hardware sales, gamers can only hope that more quirky titles like Super Monkey Ball are coming down the pike.

Review by J.T. Kauffman, GIA
Super Monkey Ball
Developer Amusement Vision
Publisher Sega
Genre Puzzle
Medium DVD-ROM Single (1)
Platform Nintendo GameCube
Release Date  09.13.01

Super Monkey Ball website opens
48 screenshots
4 cursor sets and 1 icon set