Great graphics and use of 3D
Two forgettable game additions and the lack of a save feature after each level
Since Sega ceased making consoles, it’s been an avid supporter of Nintendo, and is always one of the first third parties out of the gate to support Nintendo’s new consoles. The launch of 3DS hasn’t changed anything, and again Sega is right at the front with a 3DS offering. Super Monkey Ball 3D is a game that looks very much like the Monkey Ball games’ appearances on other consoles, which is a great thing. It shows that Sega was serious about making a good game for the launch of 3DS, but unfortunately, all Super Monkey Ball 3D turns out to be is good, and nothing more.
The game features three different game modes in single player: Monkey Ball, Monkey Fight, and Monkey Race. Monkey Ball is easily the most fleshed out of all the game types, and is the classic experience that you’d be looking for in a title like this. In Monkey Ball, you control a monkey that is encased in a ball (crazy, I know), and try to guide them through multiple stages full of peril. Players have two control options here, the circle pad or tilt control. The circle pad works wonders for this game, and really makes it playable. Using the circle pad option is also the only one in which you will be able to witness the game in glorious 3D. If you do decide to opt for the tilt control, it is impossible to stay in the system’s sweet spot since you’re constantly moving it around. Therefore you’ll have to settle for 2D. The game is playable with its tilt control, but it doesn’t feel nearly as tight or precise as control does with the circle pad.
Before you choose your control style, you’ll be taken to the world map. Each world in Monkey Ball is unique, and brings with it a great background song, new scenery, and a set of new challenges. In a typical world from an earlier level, you’ll tilt the actual stage with the circle pad, and try to guide your monkey (I chose Ai Ai out of a possible four) to a goal somewhere in the level. Unfortunately for your monkey, the world is wrought with holes and turns with no railings, which if approached too quickly will lead to your death. Picture a piece of land floating in the sky, and you’ll have a rough idea of how Monkey Ball works. If you fall, you die. The speed of your Monkey Ball is extremely important, as it may allow you to take some shortcuts if you’re lucky, but most of the time your speed will hurt you.
The music for each world in Monkey Ball is absolutely fantastic and catchy, and has strong connections to whichever stage you’re playing. For example, in Bananightmare you’ll have a nice Halloween-esque tune playing, along with pumpkins and a giant moon in the background. The 3D effect in Monkey Ball works great, and you have a definite sense of objects being closer to others. Aside from raising the game’s presentation, it doesn’t make the game easier or more difficult, so there won’t be any problems if you’d rather play the game in 2D. The actual graphics of the game are quite good, as I’d mentioned earlier. The bananas that you try to collect in each stage, along with the stage itself, really come to life thanks to the 3DS’ increased horsepower. But perhaps the best use of 3D comes the instant after you choose a world. Whatever world you decide to challenge will open before you like a pop up book, and the scenery will come off the screen.
Unfortunately there are some problems with Monkey Ball. Each world is broken up into 10 stages which is great, but you cannot play any individual level, nor can you save in the middle of a world. That’s right, if you get to level 8 and quit, you’ll have to restart from level 1. It seems inexcusable at this point to have an issue like this, as it doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. In a possible attempt to compensate for this, there are no real game overs. If you run out of lives, you can continue an infinite amount of times, but your score will reset to zero each time, for a fair trade off. Some levels are downright punishing, so the continues were the only way I was able to make it through them. Monkey Ball fans looking for some difficulty will definitely find it here.
After you complete a world, your highscore is collected, and you can view it at any time later. One neat feature of the game is the ability to save videos of your gameplay. If you just beat that extremely hard level and got every banana, you can prove it. It’s clear that this game was developed with classic Monkey Ball in mind, which makes the inclusions of Monkey Fight and Monkey Race forgettable. Both of the aforementioned games are pale imitators of the Mario Kart games and Super Smash Bros games, and are bad enough that you won’t spend much time playing them at all.
In Monkey Fight, as in Smash Bros, you do battle with up to four characters in a 2D plane, but the goal is to have more bananas than your opponents when time runs out. You’ll collect bananas and then get more by hitting and stealing those of your opponents. It is a poor fighter that feels like an afterthought. Monkey Race is much the same. The steering and control of the vehicles isn’t there, and the items really aren’t good, to go with uninspired track design. The game would’ve been better had these two distractions been left out. However, there is a bright spot in the middle of these two disappointments, and that is the ability to use Play Coins to unlock new carts and characters. While you’re better off not spending them here, it is good to see Sega using another aspect of the system.
All in all, Super Monkey Ball is a welcome addition to the early 3DS library. It is a decent game, and will impress you with its 3D effects and difficulty. However, with an asking price of $39.99, the game just isn’t worth it, unless you are a major Monkey Ball fan. To all others that might be interested, it might be worth a purchase after a price drop.