Aug 22 2009

Super Monkey Ball

zorro @ 1:58 pm

Sega had just bowed out of the hardware race – the Dreamcast was no more and the Saturn was a Playstation-trounced, bad memory.  Sega’s Amusement Vision game development arm had been working on something special for a while now and with the ink barely dry on an historic Sega-Nintendo deal, Super Monkey Ball was proffered as a launch title.

I first read about Super Monkey Ball in Edge magazine.  They waxed lyrical about it, gave it 9/10 and claimed (and I’m paraphrasing slightly here) that it was a return to the very gameplay that they have been expounding for years.

How good could it be, though?  Super Monkey Ball would be a launch GameCube title and therein lay the decision.  Which game to get with the Cube?  My dilemma was resolved when a friend rang me and said that he had just picked up his GameCube and a copy of Super Monkey Ball and would I like to come round and play?

Four and a half hours later I returned home gobsmacked.  The precision, the balance, the courses!  It took me a while to figure out that it wasn’t as close to Marble Madness as I had first thought.  It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth goal that I realised that the player has no direct control over the ball at all!  Rather, you tip and rock the whole level like one of those ball-bearing wooden mazes of yore.  Quite a bit like one of the Gameboy Kirby games I’m lead to understand.

Graphically, the levels are just glorious!  They stretch away from you in all directions with a sumptuously detailed panorama.  Spot details like the giant submarine floating through the undersea levels and in another, a huge bird wheeling in the sky.

The aim of the game is to steer your Monkeyball to the goal at the other end of the level.  On the way, be prepared for springs, trapdoors, ramps, jumps, moving track and bananas.  Lots of bananas.  Pick up 100 and gain an extra life.

There are 90+ levels and though they start off pretty basic once the platforms you are rolling across begin moving and sloping you really start to appreciate how difficult the challenges can get.  One of the bonus levels has a floor made from some kind of liquid!  Waves throw you off balance as you try to collect as many bananas as possible.

The sub-games are also great.  Monkey Race, Monkey Pool, Monkey Bowling, Monkey Flight, Monkey Golf and Monkey Fight.

Monkey Race is like Wipeout crossed with Mario Kart.  It’s fast and furious with plenty of power-ups and opportunities to run each other off the track.  There’s even the occasional short-cut!

In essence, Monkey Flight is Pilotwings.  You launch your Monkeyball down the ramp and off into the air – press a button and the ball splits into two hemispheres – wings.  Then it’s up to you to glide and guide your Monkeyball onto the highest scoring bonus squares on islands that are occasionally no wider than you!

No prizes for guessing what Monkey Golf & Monkey Pool are but though the name gives it away I cannot say enough good things about Monkey Bowling.  For me, the pick of the bunch and an exceedingly entertaining multi-player game for all ages!

Monkey Fight is a good way to settle old scores.  Your Monkeyball is placed in an arena and fitted with a boxing glove on a spring.  Knock the other players out of the arena to win.  Some great power-ups can make your glove larger, stronger and have a longer reach.

It probably comes as no surprise to you that when I picked up my GameCube, I also picked up a copy of Super Monkey Ball.  Despite the Marios and the Zeldas that have been released on Nintendo’s dinky machine, Super Monkey Ball still stands, head and shoulders over anything released since.

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