Super Monkey Ball first got its claws into me when it was released as a launch game for the Nintendo GameCube. An action puzzle/platform hybrid, there is an evil core hiding inside the fluffy visuals and bouncy music that keeps you coming back for more punishment, even when you know you have reached the limit of your ability and are just hoping for a lucky run to do those insane extra levels.
It is a testament to the design quality that you come back at all, as Monkey Ball has always had a lot of things wrong with at. Things that, in any other game would have you quitting after the first few world in bafflement at the odd choices the developer took when making the game.
In the game, you have to get a monkey, trapped inside a ball to the exit in each stage, collecting bananas along the way. The game has a unique mechanic in that you don’t directly control the ball, but instead tilt the entire level to get the ball to roll where you want it to. Sounds great? Well it is, but truth be told, you will soon forget the fact that you are controlling the entire level and begin your battle with the camera.
It has always been the series’ Achilles heel, and it is no different here. The camera stays behind the ball facing in the direction you are going, but when you slow down too much, the camera just doesn’t know what to do. Many times, you will literally be travelling toward the camera, unable to see what you are doing. I have always felt that the camera should be user controllable, but Sega have never made this happen. If the camera just zoomed out a little when you begin to slow, but no the camera system is virtually unchanged from he titles original appearance in arcades all those years ago.
This iPad version has obviously been designed to use tilt to control the levels, after all it does make sense as a concept. Tilt the pad, and the level tilts. Simple, but the problem here is a physical one. The further you tilt the iPad away from yourself, the less of the screen you can see. I can’t even begin to tell you how annoying this is on the trickier levels, as you are battling the original broken camera as well as this new terror. Turning difficult corners, while the camera is facing the other way as you have the iPad tilted at a ludicrous angle just becomes a bad joke.
Why, Sega didn’t you at least give us the option of twin virtual analogue controls? One for tilt, the other for camera. All problems solved in an instant.
Yet, I guess you have had a look at the score below and wondered how on Earth it relates to the blocks of text above?
The answer is that Super Monkey Ball is a fantastic game.
Once you master the controls, the game is a tour de force in level design. From simple stages that seem tricky to newcomers, to seemingly impossible beasts that are staggering to look at, let alone play. No game will have you look at more stages and have you wonder if they are actually possible to beat.
Many later levels will have you repeatedly trying them, over and over until you give up muttering about how levels shouldn’t be about luck. But, come back to it, and there will come a time where you will nearly make it, and you then try to recreate the conditions of your near miss. Once you have figured out what you have to do, it’s another twenty tries to get it done, and then after watching your simian friend fly triumphantly through the air, it is straight on to the next nightmare, twice as tough as the last one.
It is frighteningly addictive, and you will have an absolute blast trying to master this one.
The graphics on this iPad version are good, and the stages look nice, although the monkeys are a little low on detail and too obviously polygonal. The music is as grating as always.
The great mini games make a welcome return. Monkey Bowling is decent, if a little simple. Golf is the best of the bunch and is a s addictive as ever. Target is the five minute wonder it always was, and the new Monkey Base is good in that it allows four players on one iPad, but is so limited in its execution that it really isn’t worth the bother.
Overall, there is a really good game hidden behind the controls and camera. It is addictive, enjoyable and is positioned nicely on the satisfying side of frustrating. Recommended if you are prepared to put in the time.