Within the first few minutes of the Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll presentation at SEGA's latest press event, we learn three disappointing facts. Firstly, it turns out the subtitle on the press release is easily misread and you don't get to play as H, Claire, Lisa, Faye or the other one after all. Secondly, the game does not feature Bubbles as an unlockable character, despite the fact he must be free to make his own career choices now. Thirdly, SEGA isn't going to let us play Step and Roll today. Instead we'll be given a short demo by a man from the marketing department.
You can tell he's from the marketing department because when you say things like, "So this is a follow-up to Banana Blitz," he says things like: "It's not exactly a follow-up, it's more an evolution of where Banana Blitz was going." You could point out Banana Blitz was the first Super Monkey Ball game for the Wii, and Step and Roll is the second, and they are both about a monkey in a ball who is super, and these facts alone would suggest it is the very definition of a follow-up. But the marketing man is only doing his job, and you'd only sound like a tosser.
On with the demo, then. The big new twist with Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll is that you can play it using the Wii balance board. As you'd expect, the board detects which direction you're leaning in and the ball on the screen moves around accordingly. Tilt forwards and the ball will speed up, lean backwards and it will slow down. There's a balance board symbol in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen with a pink dot indicating your centre of gravity, just like in Wii Fit.
"Once you're on the balance board and tilting using your whole body, it really gives a whole new sense of immersion," says the marketing man. "This experience is about putting you inside the ball itself. It really does feel like that." We'll have to take his word for it, because from where we're sitting it looks as if it feels like standing on a set of bathroom scales while doing some leaning.
Balance board aside, the single-player mode looks familiar. The visuals are as crisp and cheerful as ever, all blue skies and bright yellow bananas and monkeys cuter than a baby kissing a puppy. As in previous SMB games, your mission is to roll around chequered landscapes collecting bananas and trying not to fall off the edge. "As you progress through the levels they get considerably more difficult," says the marketing man, for the benefit of the lifestyle journalists in the audience.
So far, so Super Monkey Ball - so what's new? "The main essence of the game is very similar, but some of the features that weren't quite received well in the previous games have been removed," says Mr Marketing. Like what? "I can't really say too much, but I will say jumping has been removed. I know a lot of people didn't like that feature."
He's not wrong. Eurogamer's Kristan Reed described the addition of jumping in Banana Blitz as "questionable", and this probably contributed to him only giving the game 6/10. But it was the multiplayer mini-games which really grated - Kristan felt they were "a total waste of effort", throwing in words like "pointless", "overcomplicated" and "maddeningly unplayable" to boot. Boom.
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