Review by Hayama Akito
"Addictive and fun, but oh boy, will you need PATIENCE..."
Sega's support for Nintendo's new beauty commences with a 'better than the arcade' arcade port. Super Monkey Ball, titled like a SNES game of yore, was a game at launch a lot of people passed on. In fact, it is actually quite fun... though not without a few drawbacks.
Let's look at the concept. Monkeys are trapped in transparent balls (look like those vending machine 'egg' things) and you have to guide them to the exit on 110 different levels. You do this by moving the STAGE, as opposed to the ball itself. Disorienting at first, but you soon pick it up. The physics of the ball are immaculate, with practice, you can save your monkey from teetering on the brink of oblivion, gently rolling back onto the track. Old gamers and retro emulator junkies alike might remember an isometric racing game known as Marble Madness. This is a very similar concept, albeit in third person 3D and without control of the marble itself.
The courses are nice and varied, you get a mix of curving tracks, narrow passages, moving platforms, 'speedway' courses (a big slope, with obstacles to avoid) and more.
There are also a whole host of minigames to play, from tenpin bowling to racing in a Mario Kart-esque manner, and even a 'monkey target' game that is a bit like something you'd expect in Pilotwings.
The graphics are smooth and the entire thing runs FAST. Coupled with the adequate music, sound effects and speech, you get a real 'arcade' feel from playing this game, something I never felt on the N64 previous (except for maybe F-Zero X). The Gamecube is certainly going to be capable of impressive coin-op conversions.
Here's the kicker though. Marble Madness was either loved for it's unique gameplay or utterly loathed for it's high annoyance factor. The same argument holds true here. Whilst the difficulty curve in Monkey Ball is a fair one, some of the expert courses just go a bit too far. As I write this, I've merely reached Floor 15 (of 50) of Expert Mode - and the more I play that mode, the less I feel like trying again. Once you've reached a stage, you can practice it to infinity on the Practice Mode, but why torture yourself with some of them? I've fallen off Floor 7 on Expert so many times, I've come about two deep breaths short of hurling the Cube and all it's worldly possessions out of the window. I DEFY you not to go insane with that level. I lose so many of my lives getting past it, that I hardly have any left for the later levels. I have no idea just how ridiculous they might get in the 40's!
Having said that, it's rewarding to play, just because it's a complete blast to go speeding around the earlier levels once you master the controls. The multiplayer aspect of Monkey Ball could be a massive boost too (I've yet to try this).
Ultimately, whether or not you decide to pick up Super Monkey Ball depends on how patient you are willing to be. If you enjoy toughing out a real challenge, learning precise handling of the ball/map, or you're just damn good anyway, give it a try. It could just be worth getting for the 4 player party games. If you only want it for single player mostly though, and you know you are a bit volatile when it comes to games (I'll raise my hand here - I've broken games in the past for such things) then either steer clear of the Expert Mode or try another game.
In short, fun, but often frustrating.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.5 - Good
Originally Posted: 10/10/01, Updated 10/10/01
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