Super Monkey Ball
Review by matt91486
"‘Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees! People say we monkey around!’"
Three days after Game Cube launch, I am reporting more on it near the zoo, where some evil, senile fool has trapped all of the monkeys (not the Monkees) in plastic balls. The confused creatures are rolling around, into each other, into everything, and Dole has flown in to use them as a promotional bunk. Yes, welcome to Super Monkey Ball, where apes roll in colored plastic spheres and Chiquita does not exist.
The gameplay in Super Monkey Ball is a prime example of easy to learn, difficult to master. If you can master all of the innovative levels in Super Monkey Ball more power to you. You need to navigate your monkey, in its ball, to through the goal area in the level. (Here is a tip: Make sure you break the tape in the goal box, like a marathon runner. Sometimes I sailed through the ring thing, and I did not get credit for passing the stage.) Scattered throughout these stages are bananas, Dole bananas no less. I would like to go on the record stating that this is one of the biggest licensing steals by a company in years, Dole getting the Super Monkey Ball license. When you collect one hundred of these bananas, you gain an extra life. These lives help ensure that you get more play points. These play points, in turn, unlock more mini-games and modes. However, the longer you take on each level, the less points that that stage is worth, so you need to pick early on whether you are going for time or bananas, and then stick with that decision, otherwise you will end up with a very low score.
Out of all of the Game Cube launch games, Super Monkey Ball is the least graphically impressive. Usually companies come out of the box on a console with lots of eye candy to impress the casual gamer, and get them to jump aboard the console, but Sega strayed from this view. Everything has a cartoonish look, but it is more of an eighties cartoon look, rather than a nineties look or a sixties look like we are used to in games. This gives Super Monkey Ball a very unique feel.
The four different monkeys look quite different, even when they are in their balls. You can clearly see the difference in size, shape, and coloring even through the multi-shaded plastic shell. The translucent effects that Amusement Vision thought up for Sega are quite impressive indeed. These translucent textures are once again a product of the Game Cube’s ‘Flipper’ graphics chip, one that allows for much more detailed textures than the other consoles. (Of course you would have already known that if you had read my Wave Race: Blue Storm review.)
The backgrounds do a great job of adding to the atmosphere without distracting you from the actual game at all. Finding a perfect balance like this is quite difficult to do, and Sega did a good job not making the backgrounds overpowering while still making them look good. More of the Game Cube’s texturing power is evident in some of the early stages in the Advanced Stage Circuit, with rosy tinted clouds, fluffy as can be, based below the arena, as if at sunset. If all of the graphical capabilities of the Game Cube were as good as the texturing capabilities, I shudder to think how powerful the system would be.
There is certainly nothing to write home about about the music or the sound effects in Super Monkey Ball. The music is your typical action game fare, only present to break the silence, and not really adding anything to the game at all. Any gamer could easily compose music of comparable quality by diddling on related notes on any high-powered keyboard, with the potential to make some rather odd, exotic noises.
The sound effects are not much better either in Super Monkey Ball. The voice acting is horrendous, as most of Sega’s voice actors are. (Remember Sonic Adventure?) It is hard to call the little grunts that the monkey quartet makes awful, but I am referring to the announcer. Anyone who has an eternally happy voice like that should not be allowed to speak. He is much more suited to being the narrator in a mattress store commercial than being an announcer in a high budget video game. The rest of the sound effects are rather generic as well. A boring crowd noise here, a little ‘boing’ noise for running over a banana there, just nothing special. The audio is easily the weakest aspect of Super Monkey Ball.
Sega did an amicable job attempting to make a game that is based so much on control (as opposed to, say, role-playing games) as much freedom as possible. But, the restraints are soon put into play, by the very defined level designs, and the lack of that cool banana controller that really should have come with the game. On some of the levels, especially levels with warped flooring, (the levels with the center at a higher point than the edges, but it all being on one plane), controlling is brutally difficult. A brutal example of this is Advanced Stage 15. Controlling in that stage is next to impossible, and occasions like this are ones where a special controller would have been very, very useful.
Super Monkey Ball is old-school in the way that it is fun. It is a game that is not complex. The way that Sega structured the game is not deep at all. I compare it to some of the old-school arcade games from the early eighties, or games like Tetris. They are so simple, yet flawless, in their execution. All you need to do is roll the ball through the goal tape. The premises may sound stupid, but simple premises like this are what the video gaming industry needs to bring back the glory days of the early nineties.
As if the Normal Mode (Hey, do not blame me, I did not name it.) when progressing alone was not fun enough, Super Monkey Ball as some amazingly fun multiplayer capabilities. You can take the monkeys to a target range, a bowling alley, a mini-golf course, or many other places. Some of these modes need to be unlocked, while others you start off with. Want to pretend that you are Mike Tyson? Head to Monkey Fight, a boxing mini-game that puts all of the normal boxing games to shame, with the exception of the ‘Punch-Out!’ series. Monkey Bowling is one of the most engaging alley experiences on any console. And, well, Monkey Target is one of the most innovative mini-games around. Even the credits are fun, as you go through, collecting the bananas and dodging the letters. If you strike a letter, you lose a ring of bananas, a la Sonic the Hedgehog. Super Monkey Ball is filled to the brim with Sega lore, and Nintendo should be watching for some ideas for Mario Party 4.
Super Monkey Ball is one of the most difficult games to hit consoles in years. The Beginner Stage Circuit is easy enough, but if you move on to the next two, even getting to the last stage is quite an accomplishment. Any stage after the first fourteen in the Advanced Stage Circuit is not a guaranteed win, excluding the first five or six in the Expert Stage Circuit. If you are not good at this game, do not expect to ever beat it. Skill is required, and not just as a passing afterthought. Amusement Vision did a spectacular job developing the difficulty curve for this game, and they have strengthened Sega’s hold on being named the most innovative developer on the earth.
With unbelievably fun mini-games and an addicting single player mode, Super Monkey Ball will be one of the console’s greatest party games, along with its launch brethren, Wave Race: Blue Storm. In being one of the greatest party games on a console, that already assures it of getting a rather good rating in this category, but the sheer depth of it, and the frustrating unlockables (Which are frustrating because they are almost impossible to unlock; And no, I am not referring to the modes that you purchase with Play Points.) will keep you playing Super Monkey Ball for a long, long time. Just make sure you unlock as much as you can before the party starts.
*One of the greatest party games ever created.
*Old-school, simplistic fun, not new-school, complex drivel.
*Very impressive translucent effects.
*More detail in graphics would not have hurt.
*Audio is quite mediocre.
*Some gamers will never have the skill to finish Super Monkey Ball.
Now that you have gotten my two launch window reports, you can see that the Game Cube is off and running. Sure, there may not be that amazing game like Super Mario 64 present, but very good, fun, primarily multiplayer games will easily tide me over until Nintendo drops the bomb. For all of you people waiting until that bomb drops to purchase a Game Cube, make sure you get some of the earlier titles as Player’s Choice games. Otherwise, you will be missing an awful lot.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/23/01, Updated 11/23/01
Got Your Own Opinion?
You can submit your own review for this game using our Review Submission Form.