Magical spell is 'EI EI POO'. Think about it.
Maybe you are unfamiliar with the original Super Monkey Ball, which launched with the GameCube in all three major territories (quite successfully for an arcade port I might add). The game featured a single player experience not unlike a mixture of Marble Madness and one of those old school labyrinth games where you tilt the two separate axes of the board to maneuver the ball around. While the single player experience was great for hardcore gamers looking for a challenge, arguably the main reason of the original SMB’s success was it’s multitude of dazzling multiplayer modes. Whether you wanted to take turns bowling and hitting golf, or simultaneously beat the living daylights out of each other with oversized boxing gloves, Super Monkey Ball was definitely the most replayed GameCube title for myself and many others. Thankfully, Sega has beefed up the series for the sequel, offering more single player levels, modes, and party games.
Graphically, SMB2 is usually quite impressive. While the original featured a mix of sharp textures on the levels contrasting with overly drab environments, SMB2 has really improved on the game’s backgrounds, as everything from animated gears to falling ash illuminated by beautifully textured lava fields. Little effects like sparks that emit from underneath your ball hitting the ground and making tiny, circular patches are nice touches. While the stages are comprised of the most basic shapes, the geometry of the environments is often quite impressive. Practically every cosmetic change in Super Monkey Ball 2 still adheres to the visual style of the original, and is polished for effect.
Thankfully, Amusement Vision hasn’t changed their feel of the audio side of things either. While the monkeys do talk during cut-scenes, they don’t actually speak English, but rather a string of untranslatable speech that almost sounds like someone talking backwards. The usual yips and screams have been carried over to the sequel, as has the overly enthusiastic announcer. The musical scores featured are the most improved aspect when it comes to audio, as they contain more variety and complexity than the original music, all while retaining happy and upbeat melodies. The party games also feature a nice array of music, something which allows you to adapt to the music when you’re playing your favorite multiplayer game. I have no complaints whatsoever with the sound in the game.
The tables featured in SMB2 are also quite different from the original. While the majority of the gameplay still consists of trying not to fall off narrow ledges and whatnot (simply accomplished by moving your monkey around with the analog stick), the single player levels now brim with more interactivity. Switches have been added to the tracks, as running over a Play switch will often get an object or ledge to move in the level, whereas hitting a Pause switch at the right time could allow a previously rotating object to become useful in your quest to reach the end of the level. While I can definitely see how many Monkey Ball purists will not appreciate nor adapt to this change, it’s definitely an alteration that many will enjoy, as it often calls for strategic thought to get you through the level, and not just pure skill. While a few levels are guilty of being too gimmicky for their own good (*cough*Launchers*cough*), many gamers will enjoy the challenge of trying to figure out how to navigate around the appropriately titled ‘Labyrinth’ more than playing any other level in Super Monkey Ball 1.
In the original, SMB had gamers going through either 10 easy, 30 normal, or 50 hard stages with three lives and a handful of continues. While SMB2 also includes this mode, the developers at Amusement Vision have decided to add a story mode. This allows the gamer to go systematically go through all of the levels (as lives and continues don’t matter in this mode) by groups of ten, and thus eventually defeating all of the levels. Many gamers found the Super Monkey Ball’s single player mode to be very challenging, especially in Expert mode, and this resulted in missing out on many of the later levels in the game because of the sheer intimidation and difficulty of the levels. The Story Mode in SMB2 allows the average player to experience the majority of the levels, while at the same time encouraging the really, really good players to play the Challenge Mode, as that results in Bonus Levels and a quicker way to earn more points.
Also featured in Story Mode is one of the most inane plot lines in the entire universe. While Super Monkey Ball 2 is similar to Super Mario Sunshine in that it never relies on its story or plot, SMS’s story was bearable, as there was nothing really over the top and corny. Super Monkey Ball 2’s story on the other hand... The plot features the four good monkeys flying around in their magical flying balls (for some reason they can fly just fine before and after you’re near a level), chasing the evil Dr. Bad-Boon to get back their bananas he has stolen, all the while chanting magical spells about cooperating and some nonsense about “Ei Ei Poo”. Ei Ei Poo. That’s not even TRYING to make sense. I’m all for campy storylines in games that don’t need them, but after you see GonGon degrade himself to shouting “Ei Ei Poo”, you just want to murder something.
Thankfully, Super Monkey Ball 2’s ridiculous story mode immediately feels unimportant when you focus on the multiplayer gaming. All of the upgraded versions of the original multiplayer games are unlocked from the beginning, so you don’t have to worry about forcing yourself to play the single player mode if you’ve already got a couple of friends over and some preferably alcoholic beverages (only if it’s legal, kids). Detailed below are the available multiplayer party games found in Super Monkey Ball 2 (the first six are upgraded versions of the original party games);
Monkey Race 2
While I found the original Monkey Race to be one of the weakest multiplayer games available, Sega has greatly improved the game by changing very little. Instead of racing against 3 opponents, you’re now given the option to race against up to eight computer opponents. Sega has also added a few new weapons, most noticeably the Hunter Missile, which fires a barrage of rockets at racers in front of or behind you. The reason why Monkey Race 2 is so appealing is a combination of the increased number of opponents (which allows for more exciting races, and less periods of a lack of combat) and the simplified tracks. It’s much easier to land your attacks on enemies now, so races are often much closer than they were. Good fun.
Monkey Fight 2
One of the favorites of the original, Monkey Fight 2 also features its share of improvements. Players can now charge up their punches (accomplished by holding down B) and fight on stages which literally crumble as time goes on. While there are only three arenas to fight in, the battles in Monkey Fight 2 are just as fast and frenetic as the original.
Monkey Target 2
Arguably the best game from the original (and my personal favorite), Monkey Target returns, and boy has it changed. The concept of Target has always been simple: roll off a giant ramp, glide around, and then land on giant targets without missing and falling into the water, a sort of vertical darts if you will. Monkey Target 2 features many changes to the original’s formula, however. Bananas are only collected for points, not items, as the items are suspended in the air and must be attained while you’re making your run. The most noticeable improvement to Monkey Target is the ability to control a group of monkeys. Seeing five monkeys fly parallel to one another is a riot, and adds a very interesting twist to the gameplay (as you can change the formation of your monkeys on the fly, either to reach certain items or fall on a landing point). You are also given the option to play two to four players simultaneously, which is unbelievably fun.
Monkey Billiards 2
Not much has been added to the Billiards side of things in the Monkey Ball universe. Players now have the option to play different styles of pool, ranging from Japanese 9 Ball to Rotation. While a few different camera angles and play options have been implemented, there really isn’t much difference from the original Monkey Billiards that’s worth noting.
Monkey Bowling 2
Monkey Bowling has returned with a vengeance. While the original mode of playing a normal, ten-frame bowling game is still present, the real treat is the inclusion of the Special Mode. Should players select this mode, they’ll be treated to ten different bowling lanes (the lane changes after each frame), which result in everything from warped wood to moving parts! Each monkey now also has his own positive and negative attributes. For example, Gon Gon always explodes from the line, but is very difficult to put a spin on, whereas someone using Baby will find it hard to build any speed, but has the edge when it comes to maneuvering around dynamic tracks. The inclusion of Special Mode in Monkey Bowling 2 was a smart one, as it’ll definitely keep me and many others playing it for a while to come.
Monkey Golf 2
Perhaps the original party game that received the biggest makeover is Monkey Golf. In the original Super Monkey Ball, players played a round of 18, navigating their monkey golf balls around mini-golf stages. Monkey Golf has made the full transition to true golf, as players now have huge courses to whack their monkeys on. Natural additions to the game include wind resistance, driving, chip shots, and terrain that actually effects how hard your shot will be hit. Though I’m still getting used to the statistics when it comes to wind resistance and shot power (playing Mario Golf 64, Hot Shots Golf 3, Sim Golf, and Mario Golf GBC doesn’t help things), Monkey Golf 2 is a nice inclusion for the avid golfer.
Welcome to the jungle, as Monkey Boat is the first fully original party game included in SMB2. In Monkey Boat, players navigate themselves down rapids (often lapped) by using the two analog triggers to use their right and left paddles respectively. While the controls are quite difficult to get a hold of at first, you’ll eventually be grazing past rocky cliff sides in no time. While Monkey Boat does feature a few items you can use (ala Monkey Race), the main aspect is definitely in the paddling. Although it doesn’t contain the most fun out of all of the party games, it sure gives your index fingers a good workout.
Probably the worst party game in Super Monkey Ball 2, Monkey Shot is a lightgun game without a lightgun, and we all know how fun those can be. Up to four players can move their cursors around the screen to shoot the multiple influxes of enemies and incoming missiles that whip around the screen. While boss fights and items like upgrades to automatic guns do add to the experience, Monkey Shot honestly isn’t that fun.
Did somebody say fun? After the cancellation of Propeller Arena Online for the Dreamcast (because of the tragic events of 9/11), I’ve been pining for a console game that featured some good dog fighting, and I never, ever would have expected it to come in the form of a Super Monkey Ball party game. Monkey Dogfight pits you and three other combatants in an open arena, flying around like you would in Monkey Target but without the gliding physics. This allows you to maneuver your fighter (who literally holds a machine gun with his hands) with great response, especially when you factor in that you can slow down and speed up using the analog trigger buttons. Players can use a basic lock on system to fire missiles (coconuts) at each other, or they can just spray a line of bullets freely. An ingenious aspect of Monkey Dogfight is realized in the targeting and dodging system. There are three polygonal arrows which point in the direction of your opponents at all times. Should an enemy fire a missile at you, an arrow pointing towards you will attach to the arrow of whoever has fired the missile at you. By either slowing down or speeding up and raising or dropping in altitude, the inversed arrow will move away from the base of the normal arrow. This allows you to see where you have to move in order to dodge the missile, and for such a simple function, it works marvellously. Players can also refill their missile count or health gauge by flying into items situated in the air. Monkey Dogfight is definitely one of my favorite additions to the series.
The other one would be Monkey Soccer. Controlling similarly to Virtua Striker (controlling the player who is closest to the ball), Monkey Soccer somehow outdoes the aforementioned Sega arcade title at its own game. Playing in teams of four (plus a goalie), players play in enclosed arenas (meaning no out of bounds). Like most other SMB2 party games, the mechanics and controls are quite simplified; the A button shoots and tackles, whereas the B button passes. Players can gain possession of the ball from opponents simply by running into it. Add in the option to change play styles (one can choose between defensive, normal, and offensive on the fly), and Monkey Soccer is easily one of the best party games Amusement Vision has ever included in the series.
Monkey Baseball is definitely the oddball of the bunch, as it practically takes over the title of ‘mini version’ from Monkey Golf. Instead of the game depicting the normal sport of baseball, you’ll instead find yourself looking at ramps that lead to homeruns and slots which are tagged with the number of bases you get. It may sound a bit confusing at first, but after a couple at bats, you’ll fully understand what to do. When at bat, the object of the game is to simply hit the ball. If you do connect, the ball will quickly roll into the outfield, where it will either go up a ramp (which equates to a homerun), go into one of the slots which surround the field (which can result in a base hit or an out), or get caught by one of the monkey fielders. When you’re not at bat, you’re allowed to manually control the pitch on the fly (by making it go fast, slow, weave, and so on) and the formation of your outfielders, and should the opponent get a hit, you control the outfielders themselves. Before the teams switch positions on the field, a wheel of opportunity (not unlike the one featured in the original Monkey Target) is featured, which allows the upcoming team at bat to either get an advantage or disadvantage, whether it depends on the number of home run ramps available, the kinds of base hit or out slots, or the direction in which the ramps and good slots are positioned. All in all, Monkey Baseball is a fun distraction.
And finally we have Monkey Tennis, yet another excellent party game. Those of you who have experienced the arcade greatness that is Virtua Tennis will know how good Sega is when it comes to depicting this sport in an arcade-like manner. Oddly enough, the players in Monkey Tennis control more like those in Mario Tennis than what you’d find in Virtua Tennis (tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis, tennis), right down to the little icons that appear on the court (which indicate that a smash serve can be hit should you stand on the marked spot). Monkey Tennis is amazingly fun when you get four comrades over to smash it out, and is definitely a keeper for Super Monkey Ball 3 (should there be one).
I personally love Super Monkey Ball 2 for its multiplayer modes. I had fun with the single player portion of the game, but I know why I picked up the game, and going through the Story Mode multiple times isn’t it. The title has an enormous replay factor, and many Monkey Ball fans will find themselves playing the game until the next iteration of Super Monkey Ball. Ironically enough, I’m actually considering trading in Sega’s own Beach Spikers, just because Super Monkey Ball 2 offers me so much more multiplayer goodness for the same price. If you ever have at least one friend over on a normal basis, I cannot recommend SMB2 enough. It delivers one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve ever witnessed.