Super Monkey Ball returns to Wii, this time incorporating Balance Board functionality to add a new layer of challenge.
Sega tries to balance in a topsy-turvy world
Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz wasn’t terrible by any means, but it NO was certainly a far cry from the pure puzzling of its predecessors. The inclusion of mini-games indicated Sega’s intention to direct Monkey Ball towards the family-friendly end of the spectrum, with a focus on the monkeys as mascots, rather than actual gameplay — more about the monkeys than the balls, so to speak.
Furthermore, the inclusion of incredibly sensitive motion controls meant many levels had huge walls that prevented players from falling off, something that distanced the game even further from its original premise. Banana Blitz felt like an apple fallen far from the tree, and Super Monkey Ball: Step & Roll looks to do little to rectify the situation.
The inclusion of the Balance Board is the biggest change, and fits in nicely with Nintendo’s physically active approach to gaming. Like the monkey inside the ball, tilt forwards and you’ll speed up, backwards and you’ll slow down, with left or right moving the ball in that direction. A Balance Board symbol in the corner of the screen indicates your centre of gravity with a pink dot, much like in Wii Fit.
Using this new control method, you engage with the usual banana-collecting gameplay, rolling around floating platforms and trying to avoid falling into the sea. Once again there’s a selection of party games to choose between, three of which have been revealed so far. Monkey Racing returns; Red Light, Green Light is a monkey-based version of playground game What’s The Time, Mr Wolf; and Seesaw Ball sees players take turns to navigate a series of 2D seesaw platforms, collecting as many bananas as possible on the way down.
Our main concern with Step & Roll comes in the calibration and sensitivity of the Balance Board. Monkey Ball often requires precision if you’re to succeed — particularly when you’re presented with obstacles such as narrow, curved bridges, for example. The controls will need to be fine-tuned with a deft touch if Step & Roll is to be an entertaining, rather than frustrating, experience. The likelihood is that Step & Roll, like Banana Blitz, will compensate by dumbing down its stage design, and in doing so dilute the enjoyable challenge the game once offered.
It’s difficult not to feel a pang of sorrow when you consider where the series has ended up. Motion controls feel gimmicky when it comes to Monkey Ball; they’re not a patch on GameCube’s analogue stick. What started as a brilliant, puzzle-based concept has been contorted and bent out of shape, and although we’re sure there will be some entertainment in wiggling and jiggling on the Balance Board, we stilt shed a tear for the Monkey Ball that once was.