Super Monkey Ball rolls back onto the Wii in the sequel from SEGA. There has been adventuring, tilt control, stylus manoeuvring and with the addition of the balance board there's another option for getting your simian buddy from A to B. So can distributing your weight work in a game where pinpoint precise motion is crucial to win, and can it offer something different over previous entries in the series?
The idea behind Super Monkey Ball is simple but an addictive concept. You take the roll (role...) of a troop of adorable monkeys who zip about in semi transparent balls with a single goal in mind: eat a shed load of delicious yellow bananas and overcome courses made up of a maze of intricate platforms, hills, loops and a bevy of moving obstacles and dangers. Fall off or take a little too long and its game over. This is where you come in by being able to tilt the terrain to ensure your new found buddy makes it to safety.
With Step and Roll, the formula is the same as before in single player, progressively harder levels split over different themes and locations, but this time round SEGA has decided to remove what many fans and critics considered unnecessary padding: the boss and story elements from some of the past games. This isn’t to say boss and story elements weren't enjoyable in past games; these could have been incorporated perhaps in a side/challenge mode, but returning to the design of the original GameCube/Arcade games has paid off. There is a stronger focus in the challenge at hand, literally, keeping your mitts firmly gripped onto the Wii Remote to gently steering your way to the end.
The transition to tilting in the Wii launch entry Banana Blitz was an odd one after using an analogue stick and d-pad. It felt different, initially tricky and having played with more traditional means in the past, produced a fairly steep learning curve. Although the main focus in this sequel would be the balance board, using the Wii remote does seem more refined. Once you go through the motions of mapping the tilt to the plastic tool in your hand it does feel more natural to use and generally works. As we move on to sections where if you tilt that teeny, tiny bit too far you fall, analogue stick precision is needed - and unfortunately SEGA have decided to strip nunchuck use in the main game. It’s Wii Remote, Nunchuck or doorstop for Step and Roll, but fortunately the remote alone for the most part does the job well.
We can safely say that at least there's a workable game with the Wii Remote. So after cleansing those sweaty palms it’s time to give your feet and legs a workout, and a workout they'll get by attempting the game using the board. In theory it makes a lot of sense to have the board mimic the landscape and shifting your weight about would move the on screen monkey. The problem is, however, that you'll end up with very irritated monkeys and probably an equally pair of irritated legs. It's a literal pain to use the board. Super Monkey Ball is a game that requires precision in movement, and a hell of a lot of patience to match. Unless you don the skills of a ninja who can hold a pose for a fair bit of time then using the balance board causes a lot of problems. It may not be too tricky in the earlier levels, even enjoyable, but as you progress (or at least attempt to), it doesn't quite offer the same level of ease and precision than the Wii Remote. SEGA have realised that it is a challenge to start using your whole body weight, so to combat this, obstacles that may have been impossible are removed when using the board, but unfortunately it still doesn't make things too much easier.
The main game is made up of 70 stages divided into various hub worlds. There are 10 per world to clear, each a variant on the theme, adding hills, moving platforms, narrow pathways to slow you down. The general stage design is sound, typical of the general Super Monkey Ball and SEGA feel: large dollops of green, checkered floors and complimenting blur effect backgrounds to give that illusion of depth. If you've sampled some of the past games, the levels do appear larger than before, more than likely to suit those sliding about on the balance board. Then there'd be a incredibly narrow path that's near impossible without using the Wii Remote instead. The main issue is the difference between the subtle movements done with your hand that are far too difficult to pull off on the board without potentially hurting your legs/back, and level design tries to accommodate both styles of play. There ideally should have been a classic, tighter mode for the Wii Remote and a separate, more accommodating set of levels for the board. So yes, the balance board doesn't quite work as well as it could.
Once you've rolled through the various worlds grab a friend or two and there are a handful of multiplayer mini games as well as co-op to try. The former offers half the selection from the first Wii game, but most do work a lot better than they did. We've got the usual favourites, Monkey Target and Race, joining others including slippery snowboard racing and flag-collecting on a hover-board. Control wise, it does respond well in most cases on both the remote and board, but the design for the games themselves are incredibly bland. A high paced snowboard race sounds exciting, but games like these are just unimaginative and have been done so many times before. Co-op is slightly more enjoyable, taking a page from Super Mario Galaxy, where a second player can blast down obstacles using the remote. It may not be the more interesting form of co-operative play, but it does bring something to do for those sitting to one side watching you playing with your balls.
Gameplay flaws to one side, Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll is a well presented package, with similar graphics and art direction to the past Wii and GameCube efforts, though brighter and slightly more cartoony than before. Whilst not intricately and finely detailed like some of the stages many a year ago, there's a consistently friendly and warming feel. Whilst simplistic, the game is nice on the eye with a steady framerate and nicely animated large plastic spheres.
Retains core Super Monkey Ball gameplay and rolling mechanics, and plays well using the Wii remote. Using the balance board makes things far tricker, and whilst the level designs try to accommodate, they suffer with an imbalance of large sweeping areas and trickier thinner ones. Mini games generally work with either controller, but are often slow paced and dull.
Not the best, nor the worst we've seen on the Wii, however offers a friendly and clean look with a bright and bold art direction. Smooth animation with a solid framerate compliments the action, with some nice effects where needed.
Standard SEGA score, some toe-tapping moments but a lack of that lack variety can be frustrating to hear over and over. Generally good, but nothing to pop on your stereo.
The main game is easier to complete than past entries due to the larger level designs for the balance board, there's also less levels - 70 - than the Wii launch title, which had 100. Co-op does extend things somewhat, but can grow repetitive with the second player simply blasting away lifeless objects. Mini games, unless you really do enjoy them, won't keep you coming back for more.
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Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll tries to do something different, but instead strips the game of its challenge and throws in some unimaginative mini-games. Using the Wii Remote works well, and the balance board doesn’t, and because of the need to accommodate the board, as part of the core design, the game suffers. Worth considering if you're a major fan of the series, but for a bigger challenge and more on offer, previous entries would be the way to go.
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Sadly I've not heard anyone speaking positively about this. SEGA really seems to have not only missed the boat for Balance Board games, but the point as well...and sales are suffering as a result, from what I see.
Talking of the BB, I still find it odd Nintendo never did WarioWare: Balanced! or something similar.
( Edited 28.11.2012 06:26 by Guest )
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I'm a huge Monkey Ball fan, and even I had very little good to say about this. Even the challenge was disappointing, and instead of genuinely hard stages we only got stages where the only real difficulty was pegging it to the goal in time.
SEGA seem to have dropped the ball with Monkey... Ball. I personally loved Banana Blitz and I thought the jump was fine and dandy, but I was hoping for Monkey Ball 1/2 quality from this title.
Unfortunately the stages are lazily designed with those annoying obstacles thrown about everywhere, the mini-games just don't compared with old Monkey Ball titles, and the music isn't even as great as it usually is.
Great review Jorge. Poor Monkey Ball
( Edited 28.11.2012 06:26 by Guest )
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Sketch (guest) on 14.03.2010 at 20:26#3
Sega is doing nothing good lately. Sure the Conduit is neat and Mad World was differently cool, but when will they learn not to milk some of their franchises geared to children. (Sonic, Super Monkey Balls)
They need a third Jet Set Grind/Radio for like the PS3 or 360. How neat would those cell shaded visuals look on it.
( Edited 28.11.2012 06:26 by Guest )