Super Monkey Ball
Preview - the best game about monkeys in the world... ever!
That monkey got bawls
Main game is where you'll do most of your cussing. The premise is that you control a monkey in a ball, and by using the analog stick you have to move your monkey around increasingly complex courses and through a goal. Although the camera tilts and swings around with the movement of your analog stick, the arena doesn't actually tilt Kirby style, but it's enough to induce motion sickness in those unlucky enough to suffer from it. Main game can be played by up to four players, who take it in turns to play. The winner is the first person to complete all the levels or the one who lasts the longest. Although the idea of moving your monkey through a couple of goalposts probably sounds easy, it definitely isn't. The various courses throw up all sorts of obstacles, and narrow gangways. If you fall off, you have to start again, and you only have a finite number of lives and continues. There are three difficulty levels; beginner, advanced and expert.
Obstacles range from simple ramps (which require a certain amount of momentum to clamber over) to moving blocks and surfaces, slopes down which it's difficult to control movement, bouncers which ping you around like a pinball, catapults and many variations. Not content with that, alternate exits (which forward you several stages ahead) are often hid at the end of impossibly narrow gangways which have you leaning menacingly over the edge at all times. One nudge of the stick in the wrong direction and you're done for. Generally speaking, overcompensating is the biggest frustration, because it's very hard to exert just the right amount of pressure on the stick to steady yourself in case of emergency, and you end up swinging back and forth perilously until you inevitably topple from your perch. This can cause broken bones, plates, mugs, control pads, walls and more. Nevertheless, you are told how many stages there are per difficult level in advance, and the feeling of euphoria upon completing them is unequivocal. Not least of all because a decent score means points, and like all good developers, to Sega, points means prizes. In this case, a certain amount of points will unlock events in mini game mode, which is where we're going next.
Planet of the Apes
Mini game is split into three sections, too. Monkey billiards, bowling and golf, all of which require a certain number of points to access. Amazingly, billiards and bowling are both better games than I have seen in their respective genres. Billiards is amazingly good fun, and unlike Virtual Pool where you're expected to guess the power you should give your shot, with this the suggested trajectories always match the resultant movement. Sure, that's a physics anomaly, but it's a sensible one! As for Monkey bowling: you have to choose your angle, speed and level of spin; it's a game of skill and cunning, and one of the best parts of Super Monkey Ball. Monkey golf, alas, is the weakest of the lot, but it's still good fun if you've the time to plod along. I prefer the others though. All three can be played by up to four players, as can most of the rest of the game. The next section of Super Monkey Ball is Party game. This is again split into three sections; Monkey race, fight and target. Monkey race is just what it sounds like. You have to race your monkey around cunningly devised courses that range from the obvious to the impenetrable. Because monkeys move at the same speed the trick is to aim for the boost pads, which accelerate your monkey to breakneck speed for a short period. The winner takes all, as it were, but not with difficulty, because you can pick up projectile weapons and deploy bananas to trip up opponents, and the tracks themselves are littered with obstacles. Monkey fight, a lot of people's favourite, gives your monkey an extending arm terminating in a boxing glove. The idea is to hit your opponent off the surface you both stand on more often than he does it to you, all within a time limit. To aid you, bricks fall from the sky once in a while and can be busted open for powerups like double-sized glove and vortex.
The final game of the three is Monkey target, probably my favourite Party game. It's very much like Pilotwings. You stand at the top of a big ramp, rather like a ski-jumping slope. A wheel of misfortune pops up and you have to try and land it on a clear symbol, otherwise you face a hazard; bombs, aerial mines or fog. Once settled, you hurl yourself off the ski slope and at the optimum moment press the button that opens your monkey's ball above him (or her!) like a parachute. The object is then to negotiate the wind and use cunning and logic to land your monkey on a target in the sea. Too much speed and you could skip off it into the murky waters. Too little and you could stall and hit the sea early. The higher you go, the slower, the lower, the faster. It's genius. Wrapping it all up is a kicking soundtrack, performed at the height of Japanese wackiness, which this game cannot help but exude, and some very playful graphics. The monkeys themselves are devilishly cute, with the little female one wiggling her behind innocently and so on. The thing that really sets Super Monkey Ball apart though is the gameplay, and Sega have perfected it in virtually every category.
Thanks to the abundance of Japanese text I'm pretty sure I'm missing some things (it took me a while to figure out the save option, for example, which was buried beneath a number of menus), but one thing is obvious from my hours of play so far: Super Monkey Ball is an incredibly varied game, which you can enjoy for hour upon hour because of the sheer number of things to do. Golly, there's so much to it, it would take months to get everything out of it, and if you've got more than one control pad and a few friends, you'll never leave the house again. Hopefully the inevitable Western translation won't spoil the experience, but given the quality of the product underneath, I doubt much could be done to dent its brilliance.
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