Review: Super Monkey Ball (Gamecube)

In this review, we roll with the puzzle game Super Monkey Ball. We find out how much this game is worth a replay.

This game was released in 2001 and was one of a number of launch titles for the console.

The main game is quite simple. You choose between one of the three difficulties (which has a differing number of floors which suit the difficulty accordingly) and select which of the four monkeys you want to play as. When you launch into the game, the goal is quite straight forward – tilt the course so the monkey reaches the goal before the time runs out.

Along the way, you can collect bananas. Most of the time, they are single bananas, but you can also grab a banana bunch which can really help add to your total. If you get 100 bananas, you get a free life.

As you complete the various floors, you not only get floor points, but you’ll invisibly earn game points. Completing the difficulty generally nets the most points, but exactly how those game points are tabulated is not something I’m sure about.

Also along the way, you can encounter alternate goal lines. Most of these are simply goal lines that are more difficult to access, but will enable you to warp ahead by a few floors.

At the end of the set of floors, you’ll get the chance to try extra stages. These extra floors are generally more difficult than the regular floors, but you get the chance to earn extra points.

After that, you get a chance to collect bananas in an auto scrolling floor while dodging the letters from the credits roll. I’ve gotten close a few times, but never could get over 1,000.

After this, you’ll be able to see how many game points you’ve earned. For every 2,500 points you earn, you can unlock one of three mini games.

There are other game modes available in this game. These include practice mode (which allows you to replay individual floors you’ve already gone through), monkey fight (attaches a boxing glove to your ball as you try and knock opponents off of the field), monkey racing (a stripped down version of standard go-kart racing games such as Diddy Kong Racing or Mario Kart), and monkey pool (9 ball pool version of monkey ball).

One thing I will say right off the bat is that as a launch title, this game is supposed to set the stage for other great titles. It’s supposed to get gamers excited and entertained so they can say, “This is an amazing start to what is going to be a promising console.” The pressure to deliver is even more so because this is the follow-up to the Nintendo 64 which delivered hundreds of hours of entertainment to gamers everywhere. In my books, this game proved to be a bit lackluster.

The first thing that sticks out in my mind why this game was a bit lackluster was the length of the game. You can polish the entertainment value this game has to offer over the course of a single day on the weekend even if you had never played this game before (like I have). This is unlike the launch title of the Nintendo 64’s Super Mario 64 where new players could spend the better part of a week or more exploring the various worlds. Even accounting for many of the smaller games in this game, the enjoyment runs out by the end of a single day of gameplay.

Another thing that makes this game lackluster is that the innovation factor just seemed decidedly lacking – especially since this game seemed inspired by other games made in the past. One of these games was notably Marble Madness. Marble Madness brought to the table chutes, ramps, draw bridges, moving obstacles, cumulative time limits from level to level, a set of different enemies you’ll encounter, disappearing floors, multiple routes, ice, and a whole lot more. This game brought back the moving floors, multiple routes, and obstacles, but only added moving goal lines. The difficulty was mostly focused on small gaps, narrowing paths, and moving floors. The NES game just brought far more to the table.

Less noted that this game borrows from is On The Ball which incorporated tilting the playing field and bumpers. Even then, On the Ball also brought to the table breakables, time bonuses, jumping, an table limitations. This game only brought back the bumpers and only introduced the concept of moving bumpers.

The level concept seemed to be loosely borrowed from the N64 game Iggy’s Wreckin’ Balls. Iggy’s Wreckin’ Balls offered a method of visually seeing your progress as you move up the floors as well as showing how far you make it through the game as a whole. This game only offered a numerical representation at best. Besides that, the monkeys flew upwards between floors and you just seemingly get arbitrarily distributed game points that only unlock one of three minigames outside of the main game tree.

So, this game does borrow concepts from other really good games, but instead of expanding on these concepts, merely strips down them down. The end result is a much more bland experience in my view.

One positive element of this game is that there’s a definite sense of excitement as you teeter around along edges, trying to keep your monkey from falling out. There is a generally interesting difficulty curve as you go from easy to hard, but the easy levels are fleeting and the hard levels just become unbearably hard after a while. I thought the beginner, intermediate, and expert names were well warranted, but I think there should have been more levels for the beginner mode to better prepare for the harder levels.

Another element was the replay value. This, in my opinion, was a very weak element in this game. Once you beat a certain level, you simply forget about it. After a few attempts on a level you are stuck on, the motivation to really continue simply falls by the way-side. You can cash in your points for one of the mini games, but the fun in that mini-game tends to only extend so far before the game gets repetitive. The monkey racing game was interesting all the way up to the end of the grand prix. After that, I find myself saying, “OK, what else is in here?”

Graphically, this is where the game shines the most. The backgrounds make me think of a less abstract version of the backgrounds of Tetrisphere in that they move around as you move around. The reflective surfaces really show this game has a lot to offer in this department where previous generation console games generally only have the odd mirror here and there. The added effects of wispy waves along surfaces in ice-like worlds gives an added level of detail. I really got the impression that this is next generation console graphics power in this game.

The audio was a bit hit and miss for me. The sounds were nicely done with the monkey voices and the overall sounds. On the other hand, the music was only decent at best and hardly memorable. SNES and N64 games had fewer capabilities in the sound department that were able to deliver far more memorable tunes than what was found here. So, passable at most, but nothing special.

Overall, considering that this game borrows from plenty of great titles, the overall game doesn’t deliver much punch. I was looking for a game that truly delivers a lot as a launch title and this game simply failed to deliver here in terms of overall enjoyable. It was entertaining the first time around, but once I got through the content the first time around, I had little motivation to go back and play through the game again. Many people say it’s simplicity really carried this game, but I say that a simple game is only successful if it also has the capability to really entertain me too. At the end of the day, the game is simply an OK, but hardly memorable game. The graphics was probably the games strongest suit with interesting surfaces and intriguing backgrounds. The sound effects were good, but the music was average. So, overall, this game is entertaining once, but ultimately becomes a throwaway title.


Furthest point in game: Floor 7 on expert.

General gameplay: 15/25
Replay value: 3/10
Graphics: 9/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 60%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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