Ever since Super Monkey Ball blasted its way onto the GameCube in 2001, Sega has been keen to push the franchise wherever they could, and not just with simple ports each time. Unique titles have appeared on the PS2, Xbox, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii (and one for the Balance Board), PlayStation Portable, Game Boy Advance, iPhone, iPad and even the N-Gage. Bearing that in mind, it's not surprising that Sega are there at the launch of the Nintendo 3DS with a brand new Super Monkey Ball experience - it's not a half bad one either.
As with many of the previous titles, you're able to play through a single-player campaign with either AiAi, MeMe, GonGon or Baby. However, this time there's not even any semblance of a story. When you start a new world, you're simply greeted with a very short introduction and then you're thrown straight into the first level of the world.
If you're unfamiliar with the world of Super Monkey Ball, it's a rather unique one. Despite what you might think, you don't actually take control of your chosen monkey. Instead, they're placed inside a ball and it's your job to move the world around them, allowing them to get to the end of the level. It might sound rather strange, but in reality, it just feels like you're moving your character and it's a tried and tested mechanic.
Once you get to grips with this, the game will start putting various obstacles in your way to mix things up. Some examples of these are ramps that upset your momentum, and bumpers which will knock you back if you hit them. There's a disappointing amount of variation here though, as the same obstacles appear far too often. You can also collect bananas as you progress, and after you pick-up 30, you'll obtain an extra life. This is crucial for protecting the score you get if you go through all of the levels in a world without continuing.
The main problem though, is that hardly any of the levels are even remotely challenging. Each world consists of ten levels (excluding the bonus stage), but you'll be able to breeze through most of the worlds and only lose a life here or there. It's quite disappointing really, because it means the single-player experience is a rather short and unfulfilling one. When you finish the game and unlock the "secret stage" it feels like the game is starting to be where it should, with a few levels actually making you think about how to progress. But really, it's too little, too late.Since Super Monkey Ball has always been a game about judging depth correctly, allowing you to figure out how quickly you can go without dying, the 3D technology is a perfect fit. In fact, playing the game without the 3D enabled arguably makes it more tricky. The graphics are pretty decent too, as the bright colours compliment the style of the game. One slightly interesting point, is that if you decide to use the gyroscopic technology, the 3D becomes rather redundant due to the necessity of having to look directly at the screen.
A special mention should also be reserved for the music and overall sound design. The music has always been a high-point for the franchise, and Super Monkey Ball 3D is no exception to this. Each level has a different theme from a graphical perspective, and the music always follows suit. The sound effects are also very crisp, clear and distinct.
To compliment the game's rather short single-player campaign, there are two other modes available: Monkey Race and Monkey Fight. These modes aren't new to the franchise, but they've been changed a fair amount. Monkey Race now has the monkeys in full-on karts, to create what's effectively a poor clone of Mario Kart, while Monkey Fight is now shown from a 2D perspective, to create a poor clone of Super Smash Bros.
You can choose from a ton of different characters in Monkey Race, and there are quite a few different power-ups. That's not the problem. The problem is that the entire mode is incredibly slow and really rather boring. It's so slow that there's no point even drifting, as you don't get up enough speed to make braking a necessity. Monkey Fight is also nowhere near as fun as the original version and instead just feels like an un-developed mess.
It's baffling how this could have happened. There has been so much good throughout the Super Monkey Ball franchise, and generally things are supposed to get better, not worse. It's difficult to see anyone wanting to play either of these mini-games with anyone, let alone themselves. And with the single player campaign taking around an hour tops, it's difficult to see why anyone would bother. To add to the irony, the credits sequence at the end of the game is probably longer than an entire world from the single-player campaign. It's difficult to see why so many people were needed to create a game that's got so little substance.
Super Monkey Ball 3D is a game that's perfectly suited for the advent of 3D technology, as the gameplay is all about the perception of depth. It's just ironic that Sega decided to put in next to no content to actually make use of this fact. The single player campaign is embarrassingly short, offering almost no challenge, and the two multiplayer games aren't even worth checking out. This game is a thoroughly wasted opportunity.
|Good implementation of the 3D.|
|It's good to see the main characters return.|
|Musical score fits the game perfectly.|
|The single player campaign is painfully short.|
|The two mini-games are rather shoddy.|
|The game offers very little in the way of a challenge.|