Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz

Fruitful.

Monkey Ball - a series established by tilt control. Nintendo Wii - a console designed to harness gestures and hand motions. The "perfect fit" intro practically writes itself. Monkey Ball and Wii - the perfhnnh! Hrrr! Gnngh! Khhhk! Grakt! Right, stopped it writing itself. So, instead, let's talk about how much the new controls are going to wind people up.

Not all people, obviously. For most it'll be excellent fun. Tackle a few of the Banana Blitz puzzle trays by tilting the Wii remote this way and you're all set. That's the point of the system, after all. Throw in a jump button and all of a sudden the game's mixture of twists, narrow ledges and peculiar obstacles have another layer of precision grafted on - which felt like the right decision when we spent half an hour wobbling our way around it at E3 this month.

But while Monkey Ball built a dynasty off tilt control, crowning itself with simplicity and accessibility, it also waved around a big old sceptre of frustration and, I dunno, wore a ring of minutiae. In other words (hopefully actually descriptive ones), my friends and I enjoyed another part of it: the precise relationship between the physics and the controls. We spent hours perfecting silly routes. We spent hours bitching to each other about the subtle changes in different versions. Yes, we're sad. But, you know, we're not alone either. Monkey Ball's a performance art for some. And it's not really the same waving a wand around.

Frankly though we'll probably get over it. Moving on's a good thing - and there's no denying that playing around with the Wii remote version demands different things. You tilt it this way and that to move, and with analogue boundaries thrown out of the nearest window (using some sort of manic spinning gesture no doubt), it's a lot tougher to steady yourself precisely. But it's also very intuitive. You still build momentum, challenge yourself to pick awkward, banana-heavy routes to the end-of-level goal just for the fun of it, and thanks to the Wii remote even the most boring of old levels can feel new and fresh. The jumping helps too - having to climb a series of scattered steps by jumping and halting precisely is something Monkey Ball's never involved before, and thanks to the Wii remote it's something that feels different to all the other ways it's been done elsewhere. According to the fact sheet, we're also going to have boss battles scattered around the game's typical adventure/challenge mode, so there's that to look forward to as well.

tilt

Just tilt and hurtle. And then pull back to stop.

Of course, to the layman it just looks like regular Monkey Ball, but that's no bad thing. With widescreen and prog-scan in evidence at E3, Banana Blitz was actually one of the sharpest, handsomest games on the whole Nintendo stand - standing out quite considerably from some of the grainy fare around it. Nobody's shouting about the graphics, but then nobody's shouting at the graphics either. Like Mario Galaxy, you acknowledge that it looks pretty nice and then move on to what it's actually about. From SEGA's perspective handsome must sound fine, too; Wii games would be a lot riskier if they all had to look like Heavenly Sword after all. So, er, it's not about the graphics, but they're nice anyway.

Naturally it is about more than just the puzzle trays, though. Like all the other Monkey Balls, this one's also home to lots of mini-games - with "lots" being the operative. The traditional ones - Target, Bowling, Fight etc. - are by no means off the table, but their inclusion isn't guaranteed; at this point the focus is on new ideas inspired by the unique things the Wii remote can do and sense, and the games are smaller-scale.

pinsharp

The pin-sharp graphics are at odds with lots of Wii games. Good work, SEGA.

Some of the most developed are Hammer Throw, Darts and the Hurdle Race. Hammer Throw was the one the demo room goon wanted to show off. Every single time anybody walked into the room. But you can see his point. Done up like Olympic hammer-throwing, you hold the A button and then spin the nunchuck around like you're twirling a lasso, trying to release the A button at the maximum speed and as close to the edge of the throwing area as you dare. It just works.

Darts was similarly instinctive. You hold the remote like a dart, using its pointer to aim a reticule at wherever on the board you wanted to throw it, and then you simply make the throwing motion to send it on its way. Too hard and it'll go too high; too weak and it'll fall short. Then there are the hurdles - surely the Wii equivalent to hammering buttons in Track & Field all those years ago. The idea is to build up momentum in your running and press A at the right time to hurdle. And you build up momentum by, well, running - holding the remote and nunchuck in each hand and waving your arms up and down alternately like you would during a sprint.

point

Point and throw. Sadly not the entire monkey, but maybe they can patch it or something.

Of the ones we had a go on, those definitely stood out, but there are literally tens of the things. We heard someone mention a figure of 100, but it'll be loads however high the number gets - with Whack-A-Mole, Ring Toss, Jump Rope (skipping with a flick motion), High-Wire (balancing act), along with some others involving raising flags, stabbing fish and bouncing fruit around all among those on display at E3 earlier this month. It's a safe bet more will make it into the mix. We do hope the old ones are among them. It's not hard to imagine how bowling, flying and the like could translate.

Really it was never hard to imagine Monkey Ball on Wii. And with the game listed as "autumn" on SEGA's release schedule, it's fair to assume it'll be available at launch or thereabouts. It was certainly one of the most polished Wii games on display. The last time Nintendo launched with a Monkey Ball game, it practically held the console together for months - given the state Banana Blitz is already in, it's not hard to imagine this one having a big impact too. It is, after all, the perfect fit. Gnngh.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz is due out on Wii this autumn according to SEGA's E3 literature.

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