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Super Monkey Ball

Review By:  Roger Taylor

Developer:  Amusement Vision
Publisher:  Sega
# of Players:  1-4
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  11-29-01

Whoever would have thought that the greatest rivalry in the history of video games would have finally ended with a game called Super Monkey Ball? Yes, the days of Nintendo vs. Sega are officially gone, as Super Monkey Ball is the first game produced by Sega to be released on a Nintendo console.

And yes, the game is as weird as the title suggests. When you start the single player game, without any kind of story or explanation, you are immediately thrust into the roll of a monkey that is stuck in a clear ball. Actually, let me correct that, you are thrust into the roll of the level that the monkey ball rolls on. Yes, like Marble Madness before it, you control the level in Monkey Ball. That means itís hell on the eyes if you are a spectator and not a player, as the level moves up and down whilst the monkey remains at the center of the screen. Still, after playing for a while, you donít even realize that you are not the monkey, since you control it just as you would if you were the character and not the level.

The goal in Monkey Ball is to tilt the level so that the monkey-filled ball rolls to the goal, grabbing as many bananas as possible on the way to get extra lives. Sound simple? It is. For about the first 20 levels. After that be prepared for Frustration City as the levels get increasingly, and ridiculously, difficult. There are three difficulty levels in Super Monkey Ball: beginner, advanced, and expert. The 10 beginner tracks are well designed. They go from laughably easy (to acquaint you with the controls) to what a beginner will see as challenging, but not too hard. The 30 advanced tracks are a bit less forgiving, but are still fine in the difficulty department. The average gamer will be able to beat the advanced tracks after 3 to 5 attempts. The 50 expert levels are a different story all together. Instead of being a welcome challenge in a video game, the later levels just seem impossible. Super Monkey Ball is the first game in years to get me to give up before beating it.

The laughably impossible levels may have ruined this game were it not for the fun, exciting and absolutely hysterical multiplayer party and mini games.

The "party games" are available right when you turn the game on. Monkey Race is essentially a cart racing game, only with the people/animals/whatever on carts being replaced by monkeys in balls. There are unique weapons, boosts and three different courses, so this one will keep you occupied for a while provided you have extra controllers and people to play it with. Itís certainly not at the level of a Mario Kart, but itís actually more playable than some of the stand-alone cart racers that have been released lately. Monkey Fight is just as entertaining of a mode. Once again you are a monkey in a ball, but this time around your ball has a spring-loaded boxing glove attached to it. The idea is to knock your opponents out of the arena, using power-ups that make your glove bigger, your spring longer, and give you the ability to spin around rapidly with the glove extended. Monkey Fight delivers thrills in the same vain as Bomberman or Mario Party. As much as I love those first two modes, my personal favorite has to be Monkey Target. The most bizarre of all the party games, Monkey Target involves rolling down a steep ramp in your monkey ball in order to gain speed, and then flying off towards one of three giant targets on the ground. Once off the ramp, your monkey opens the ball up forming something resembling wings. Guiding the monkey carefully towards a target, you then close up the ball to have your monkey land on the target, which is worth a varying number of points depending on where you land. Like the other modes, there are power-ups to be earned, including one that gets rid of wind, one that doubles your score, and one that makes your ball stop wherever it lands (without rolling). Itís turn based, so it may frustrate some without patience, but it is also extremely fun, and a great way to relax with the buds after a hard day of work or school.

The mini games, which according to Sega are not the same as party games, must be unlocked by playing the main game. Donít worry, you donít have to beat expert mode to get them all. The mini games, Monkey Bowling, Monkey Billiards and Monkey Golf, are equally as crazy as the party games, but perhaps not quite as good. Each of these games mimics the sport that their names implies, and do so quite effectively. The physics and gameplay in each is very good, and they are just a step below what youíd find in a stand-alone game based on these sports (similar to how The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time featured a side-quest fishing game as good as most others on the market).

The graphics in Super Monkey Ball are not impressive, but they donít really need to be in a cartoonish environment such as is represented in the game. Sega probably could have squeezed a game that looked like this out of the 5-year-old Nintendo 64, but when the framerate is constant and everything is recognizable, whatís the difference?

The sound in Super Monkey Ball is a little better. The sound effects could be better, but they get the job done. The music is fine for a while (especially the Mexican hat dance that plays on the Monkey Bowling menu screen), but after a dozen hours or so of gaming, youíll be reaching for the mute button and turning on your own tunes. Thankfully, sound is not an important part of this game, so it makes no difference whether or not you choose to listen to it.

You never do find out what the hell is going on in this game. Why are the monkeys in balls? Why are they trying to get to those goals? How do those levels float in the air without any support? Iíd keep asking questions, but I know that no one can answer, as the developers at Sega were obviously on drugs when they came up with the idea for this game. Iíd keep asking questions, but I still find it funny when I miss the mark in Monkey Target and my ball sinks into the surrounding waterÖand the monkey inside scratches at the glass to get out. When a game is this fun, who cares if it makes sense?

Highs:

  • Simple, fun gameplay.
  • Varied and long-lasting multiplayer.
  • Monkeys are funny.

Lows:

  • Later levels are so hard they aren't even worth playing.

Final Verdict:

If you arenít into multiplayer gaming, then stay away from Super Monkey Ball. There are far more satisfying single-player experiences on the GameCube. However, if multiplayer is your thing, you must buy this game. Itís arguably the best party game ever made. Heck, even the main game has a turned-based 4-player optionÖbut with all the great party games, why would you want to play the main game?

Overall Score: 8.7

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