After spending four days with GameCube and the majority of that time with Super Monkey Ball, David is ready to render the final verdict on Sega’s quirky launch title.
If I had to sum up my sentiments about Super Monkey Ball as quickly as possible, it would go something like this: Buy this game now! Of course, I’m going to elaborate on this thought a little bit. Why should you put down fifty bucks for a game that doesn’t feature a whole lot more than monkeys and balls? Simplicity is the answer. The master craftsmen at Sega’s Amusement Vision have put together a game that truly engages its players despite its deceptive simplicity.
Super Monkey Ball is basically a cranked up console version of the arcade Monkey Ball game which might be compared to the classic game, Marble Madness. It boasts six mini-games that were not a part of the arcade game as well as excellent multiplayer support for all seven games.
The main part of the game is the arcade mode. You simply guide your Monkey of choice to the goal in each of the ninety stages with the analog stick. The relatively simple controls disguise the complicated physics that underlie the gameplay. The stages are full of hills, holes, bumps, moving platforms, jumps, bumpers and many other things that you’ll have to navigate safely to get your Monkey to each goal successfully. Although the gameplay can get very difficult later on, the difficulty curve is gradual and the new challenges keep the game exciting and fresh though out. For multiplayer games, you can either play the standard way by taking turns with another player, or you can play the intense competition mode. In this mode, you play through five stages of your choice with up to four players. Because you’re racing against another player, you’ll want to reach the goal of the stage as fast as possible which adds a completely new dynamic to the gameplay.
The graphics in the game are surprisingly good for a title that could have easily survived on gameplay alone. The one player mode features a host of effects including reflections, bump mapping, specularity and more. Most importantly for a game like this, the frame rate is always a rock solid 60 fps (although I haven’t played with more than two players). The animation is also very notable. You’ll laugh hard when your monkey rolls down a steep hill and starts flipping all over the place while sparks fly around the ball.
The sound effects are appropriate and crisp. A lot of stages feature unique sound effects for the new contraptions you have to navigate around. The music is also excellent throughout the game. As the graphical theme changes, so does the music. Even the mini-games have their own tracks.
If the arcade mode was the only thing to Super Monkey Ball, it would still be a good game. However, the fine people at Amusement Vision saw fit to bless us with six more games that are often just as addictive and exciting as the regular game. These games take the form of three “party games” that are available immediately and three additional “mini-games” that must be unlocked by playing the arcade mode. The first party game, Monkey Race, features six tracks and a Mario Kart like selection of weapons. Then you have Monkey Fight, which pits two to four Monkeys against each other in a fight for dominance. Although it originally feels like a button masher, there is actually quite a bit of strategy to this one. Next up is Monkey Target, which is basically hang gliding your monkey and trying to land him on a target. The three mini-games are billiards, bowling and mini-golf. All three feature excellent and very detailed models of their sport. For example, in bowling, you can apply different strengths and even spin to the ball using the analog L and R buttons. In each sport, all of the balls naturally have a monkey in them and the excellent animation is in full effect here as well.
With the huge variety of gameplay modes and the amount of polish that is displayed throughout the game, Super Monkey Ball is clearly the best launch game available when it comes to multiplayer gaming, and perhaps even one of the best of all time. Don’t get me wrong though. Even as a single player game, Super Monkey Ball is a fine game, but to truly experience the entirety of this game, you’ll need a friend.