Version tested: 3DS
Satoru Iwata's startling GDC 2011 speech saw the Nintendo president talk in provocative terms about the importance of "maintaining the value of gaming." "Content is king," he insisted, as he tore into the quantity-over-quality approach of mobile gaming platforms.
It's reasonable, therefore, to imagine Iwata being slightly dismayed that a number of 3DS games launching alongside his company's latest console are little more than ports or franchise updates with a 3D makeover. And with the AppStore likely to have forever realigned the perception of value for money when it comes to portable gaming, it's more important than ever that 3DS software – especially given its increased retail price – offers both quantity and quality.
And so we come to Super Monkey Ball 3D, a game whose end credits you can reach in roughly 90 minutes.
That's not the full story, but even so, you may be shocked at how quickly you'll whizz through the seven themed worlds and the playable credits, a ludicrously extended sequence which must count for around 10 minutes of that tally alone.
You can, however, expect that total to increase quite a bit if you're using the tilt controls. Before leaping into a world – via a charming papercraft cut-scene that briefly made me ponder the potential merits of a Nintendo/Sega collaboration called Paper AiAi – you're given the option of using either the circle pad or the console's internal gyroscope to move the levels around your monkey. The latter is impossible to play with the 3D on unless you fancy a migraine for the rest of the week, so for my first run-through I opted for the former, hoping for a more traditional Super Monkey Ball experience.
Unfortunately, because the game is designed to accommodate two control schemes with differing levels of accuracy, you're greeted by wide pathways and barriers to prevent you from falling off. This was understandable in the Wii's Banana Blitz, which had the limitations of Nintendo's remote controller to consider, but the responsiveness of the circle pad means you'd have to be pretty careless to lose a life on the first four or five worlds, let alone require a continue.
The hazards you will encounter are often nothing more than minor frustrations. Bumpers rarely have the power to send you spinning to your doom, but simply set you back a few seconds as you push forward and wait for the sluggish camera to realign. There are unavoidable patches of sticky ground that exist merely to slow your progress: hindrances, rather than challenges.
Then World Seven's space factory arrives, heralded by the best piece of music in the game (as a robotic voice rather vulgarly insists that it is going to "freak your body") and the game starts to find its feet. The level design improves markedly, and you may even occasionally witness your chosen chimp tumbling into oblivion. It's too little, too late, but at least once you've trundled through the series' weakest credits mini-game to date, another world opens up, this one offering a few tests that those using motion controls will certainly struggle with.
Even so, there's little here that matches the quality and intricacy of the first game's very best stages and bar some special banana collectibles (many of which appear to require a suicide run to grab), there's no real impetus to go back. Score-chasing seems a little pointless given that it's more difficult not to top the table on your first attempt; online leaderboards might have encouraged repeat plays, but they're nowhere to be found, nor is there any StreetPass or SpotPass content.
Wii owners who endured the likes of Monkey Blacksmith will be pleased that Banana Blitz's mini-game collection has been pruned somewhat. That said, most would reasonably have expected more than two to survive the cull. And these are not the Monkey Fight and Monkey Race fans will remember; the knockabout chaos of the former has been replaced by a Smash Bros. clone, while the latter has morphed into possibly the worst copycat Mario Kart I've ever seen.
In truth, Monkey Race's breathless pace is more akin to ModNation Racers than its Nintendo counterpart, but otherwise its inspiration is obvious. Sadly, it seems Sega decided that Mario Kart was a game that could only be improved by even more overpowered weaponry and collisions of any kind resulting in your vehicle spinning slowly to a dead stop. It's so bafflingly inept you could be forgiven for thinking that Sega hadn't ever made a kart racer before, let alone released one just 12 months ago.
Monkey Fight fares a little better, but suffers from unnecessarily complicated controls for an otherwise simplistic multiplayer brawler, and capricious AI opponents for the lone player. They're the kind of gits that will happily ignore you for half the match, then attempt to knock you out of bounds in the final seconds, instantly disqualifying your total unless you hammer the A button to get back before the buzzer sounds. It offers several game types, but each simply involves having more bananas than your opponent when the time runs out. Sega even has the cheek to suggest that the Basic mode but with each player's total hidden is an exciting new game type.
If you'd been wondering what had happened to the likes of YanYan and Jet – and I truly pity you if so – then you might be pleased to learn that there are plenty of additional characters to unlock. Yet it's unlikely many will bother to go through the process of obtaining them; these modes are so lazily thrown together that the apathy is contagious. At least the core game occasionally seems to be trying.
The most disappointing thing about Super Monkey Ball 3D is that Sega has recently, demonstrably proved it is better than this. Savvily teaming up with quality boutique developers like Platinum Games, listening to fan feedback and localising an uncut Yakuza, even coming close to making Sonic feel relevant again. This kind of release does the publisher no favours at all. If content is king, then Super Monkey Ball 3D is very much the Prince Andrew of the 3DS launch.
4 / 10