Developer: Sega / Publisher: Sega / Played on: 3DS / Price: $39.99 / ESRB: Everyone (Cartoon Violence)
Look how cute little Aiai is. What’s not to love about Monkey Ball? It’s got colorful Disney-like visuals, chirpy music, simple gameplay, and monkeys in little balls. It’s a happy game.
But it never used to be. Monkey Ball used to be brutal. Its colorful exterior only served to mask the devilish, merciless beast that it really was. It would chew you up and spit you out. Monkey Ball used to make you mad. But it was the ultimate test of control and hardcore twitch reactions and that’s what made it great.
After playing Super Monkey Ball 3D, I’m convinced the Monkey Ball that hardcore gamers knew and loved is gone forever.
Before I even talk about the stages themselves, let’s talk content. Or rather, what little of it there is. The main mode works the same as ever – you tilt the stage to roll the Monkey to the goal before the time runs out.
But where previous editions of Monkey Ball had a level count in the hundreds (over 300 in some cases) Monkey Ball 3D has just 80 – eight worlds, each with 10 levels. Sure, each world has its own visual theme and matching music (and this is one of the prettiest, and most impressively 3D games among the launch line-up), but there’s no variety in gameplay, and any seasoned Monkey Ball player will get through them all in the first sitting.
So it’s all about the mini-games then, right? Well, no. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz on Wii had 50 mini games. Remember that? Some of them were admittedly bad, but with 50 at your disposal the odd stinker was excusable. This game has just two. And neither of them are the legendary Monkey Target.
So, hold on. Nintendo releases a games console that can do stereoscopic 3D and for your first title you REMOVE the mini-game that lets you fly? Where’s the logic in that?
Monkey Race and Monkey Fight are what you get. Monkey Race is a cheap Mario Kart clone with a similar item system that lets you impede your opponents in various ways as you race around a few bland-looking courses.
Monkey Fight tries to be Super Smash Bros., pitching you against three other (AI or human-controlled) opponents in bouts where the player with the most bananas at the end wins. You grab the fruits scattered around the simple levels while beating on opponents to make them drop what they’ve collected, and grab a special item that appears now and then to perform a super-attack. It’s nothing too elaborate but could be a laugh with four friends.
That’s it, though. You can literally see everything the game has to offer in one afternoon. How’s that for $40?
The main game lets you pick between two control systems to roll your ball; the analog slider or tilt motion control using the 3DS’ internal motion sensors. Let’s just write off the tilt controls though because, as well as being the entirely inferior system that doesn’t offer nearly as much control as the slider, it also knocks out the 3DS’s stereoscopic effect. Do you want to play your 3DS in 2D mode because of an incompatible control system? Thought not.
The analog slider works great, and feels just the way it used to in the GameCube originals before Sega introduced all those flawed tilt and touch-screen control systems of more recent editions.
The main issue, though, is with the level design. Anyone with even an ounce of gaming proficiency will breeze through all eight worlds with relative ease. And anyone who gained a reasonable level of skill in the original GameCube games will finish this with their eyes closed. I completed the first four worlds without dying on my first try. I passed world seven having made only two or three mistakes total. World eight rolls in and I’m still passing levels on my first attempt with relative ease.
This is not Monkey Ball. What are all these red barriers, guarding me from falling off levels that are already way too wide to provide a challenge anyway? What’s the point? It’s like Nintendo making a Mario game with enemies that don’t kill you, and short-cut bridges over the pits.
The original Monkey Ball on GameCube was an absolute gem. In the modern era of gaming, when overly generous checkpoints and emphasis on “accessibility” has eliminated most of the challenge that games used to provide, Monkey Ball was bold enough to rage against the grain. It was bust-your-balls tough. Fractions of a millimeter made the difference between success and failure, the latter of which would earn a brief view of a Game Over screen, followed by a booting back to the very first level.
Monkey Ball would almost make you cry. You’d slam controllers to the ground. But you’d always come back. You practiced. With every attempt, you’d edge ever so slightly further than you could before. You’d overcome challenges that previously seemed utterly impossible, and then you’d enjoy the immense satisfaction of success achieved only through the cultivation of raw, unadulterated skill. You’d feel like a ninja. That was the magic of Monkey Ball, and that’s the magic that is completely and utterly absent here.