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Super Monkey Ball

Preview By: Chris Lee

Developer:  Amusement Vision
Publisher:  Sega
Genre:  Action
Est. Release:  11-13-01
Posted:  10-03-01

The Gamecube launch is heading towards us like a freight train. Nintendo has a lot of key developers on board, one of them being the mighty Sega themselves. As Sega's first official game for the Gamecube Super Monkey Ball has a lot of hoopla surrounding it. It's got Sega's reputation, that "this is a launch title?" stigma, and this weird "Oh my god! Sega is developing for Nintendo" excitement riding squarely on it's shoulders. But I have to say, that from what I've seen, Sega and Nintendo have a hit on their hands.

Super Monkey Ball is a party game fans dream come true. If you've ever played an incarnation of Marble Madness, you're off to a good start in understanding how to play. The objective is to collect as many bananas on each level as you can and then find the goal to win, by using your monkey, who is "kept" in a ball (yes I raised an eyebrow as well) to do so. But the trick here is, you don't control your characters, you control the board itself. You can essentially play the game with just the analog stick, simple but it allows the players to really immerse themselves into the game rather than fuddle with controls.

You begin by choosing one of four members of a monkey family: Aiai, Meemee, Gongon and Baby...you know I refuse to believe they named their child Baby. All of them of course have different attributes like being well rounded, fast, powerful etc. And as the game progresses of course, some monkeys will be better suited to some levels than others. Also you'll have to deal with things like bumps, twists, hard turns, jumps, bouncers and on and on. But here's the kicker. There are about 110 levels in the game...that's right ONE HUNDRED PLUS TEN! They're split up by difficulty level:

Beginner = 10 Levels 
Advanced = 30 
Expert = 50

And then once you've completed those difficulties you open up Beginner Extra, Advanced Extra, and Expert Extra and THEN if you SOMEHOW manage to beat those then you unlock Master Mode, where only the gods dare tread. During the course of the game you pick up things called PlayPoints. Playpoints can be earned by collecting the most bananas, getting to the goal the fastest, or both. You'll have to make decisions as to how to proceed because PlayPoints aren't just for show! They're used to unlock new levels and features of the game (I won't spoil).

On the multiplayer front there are some rather nifty, and awesomely cool, Party Games.

Monkey Race: Basically think Mario Kart here. Take your little guys out on the track for a day at the races. replete with power-ups, obstacles and the usual madcap fun of Kart racing games. Use the analog to control them, A to GO SPEED RACER GOOOO and B uses the items you pick up. Up to four players can play in split-screen action without a hint of slowdown. This looks really fun.

Monkey Fight: Here your little fellas don boxing gloves and are hoisted onto a platform high in the sky and it's your job to knock your opponents off into oblivion i.e. Monkey Heaven. Analog to control them, and A to punch (Hawaiian style). Fun, addictive, 'nuff said.

Monkey Target: This one is very cool. You begin at the top of a giant ramp, you hurl your monkey down it at top speed and fly off! Then you hit the A button and voila your Monkey Ball has wings. Then you have to land on an island that's set up like a dartboard with varying circles of points. You'll have to deal with winds, ball bounces etc. not to mention "THE WHEEL OF FATE!" You spin the wheel at the beginning of your turn and it determines what kind of obstacles you'll have to face on your travels to the island. Depending on what the wheel lands on, you'll have to plan ahead for certain situations. But luckily you'll be able to pick up power-ups along the way that'll help along the way. This is good stuff.

Then you've got your mini-games.

Monkey Pool: Now this is unique. You get to play a game of 9-Ball...with the Monkey Balls! It's pool, there's not much else to say in the way of what you do. But I will say that this mode is pretty incredible considering how polished the actual physics are and that it's a better game of pool than you'll find on any console.

Monkey Bowling: Hey...it's bowling...with Monkey Balls! Pretty self explanatory here. You can play an entire 10 frame game with up to four people.

Monkey Golf: Play an entire 18 holes of golf. There are actually 18 different holes to be played here. You're able to select your club, look at the score and check the layout of the course. It's all there, and it's all fun!

Graphically the game does a fantastic job on the initial system impression front. It looks better than the games on the systems that came before it and you can definitely tell that it's on a next NEXT gen system (or is it still just "next"?). Things move along at a very brisk pace, it looks like it could be 60fps. The animations are crisp and sharp as well as the colors. It's a very simple design but it's very vivid and the characters are "animated" beyond just the animations. Great personality and it really draws you in.  Super Monkey Ball also has a replay mode that allows you to save replays of your best stunts throughout the game. 

In the end all I can say about the game is "wow". I never thought I'd be writing about a game called Super Monkey Ball, let alone praising it. But I can honestly say, now that the cat is out of the bag, that it's a launch game I'm truly looking forward to. The game is making serious waves in Japan and it's garnered nothing but praise. Sega is off to a great start on the Gamecube and if this game is this good, I can't wait to see what else Sega has in store for us.

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