An extremely quirky Sega-designed videogame which is one of the three launch titles for the Japanese launch of the Nintendo Gamecube in September 2001.

Continuing the great Japanese tradition of videogames starring monkeys (see also the totally deranged n' brilliant 'Ape Escape'), you play a monkey who has to roll in a giant ball across tilting and twisty levels, collecting, yes, bananas. And, uhh, the game is officially sponsored by Dole, the famous banana vendor - a natural, if surreal tie-in.

The game itself plays like Marble Madness on many psychedelic drugs, and includes some really neat multiplayer party modes, somewhat in the vein of Mario Party or similar. I, for one, have always yearned to play monkey golf and monkey bowling, so I guess my life is now complete?

Oh, and as an aside, see if you can download the Japanese TV advert for the game somewhere online. Again, too surreal to be described easily, it involves a real-life monkey and some shock-haired Japanese scientists clowning around - and a weirdly phallic moment with a banana which i'm sure only Westerners guffaw in a juvenile manner at. Ohdear.
Super Monkey Ball is a hard-core action game designed in a very old-school style, with a very long and fairly steep (especially near the end) learning curve.

For those of you who have played Marble Madness, this is essentially a modern remake, with monkeys inserted into the marbles for added pathos. For those who haven't, a good comparison would be the tilting board Labyrinth games you played at your Grandmother's house, in which you guide a ball bearing through a maze.

For those who haven't played either, and I guess for clarification for those who have, your objective is to guide a monkey in a sphere through 100+ obstacle course levels, without too often letting time run out or falling onto any of six well-rendered landscapes several thousand feet below.

The emphasis is very clearly on action gameplay. It's not an exploration or puzzle game. There is no story, and no attempt at creating a realistic setting. Like the arcade games of the early 80s, the focus is on optimizing your play style over the same material to be rewarded with a high score, and occasionally more levels to play.

The more-levels system works like this: finish any of the main three modes without dying, and you open up the extra levels for that mode. Beginner mode has 10 regular levels and 3 extra levels, advanced mode 30 and 5, and expert mode 50 and 10. Reaching the extra levels in expert mode is a superhuman feat, and ... if you beat the 50+10 levels without using a continue (3 lives + any extra lives you earn), you open up another set of even more difficult levels, which in all probability have not been beta tested very well.

So there's a lot of game here to keep you busy. However, once you factor in the price of replacing broken controllers, it's a tossup as to whether it will end up being a good value; The frustration level is very, very high. A lot of this is due to the insanity of the level design (take a look at some of the movies at for examples of the more guilty), but quite a lot is also due to the horrible camera. The camera is far, far worse than any i've seen in any (other?) 3d platformer, and you are given no direct control over it whatsoever.

The physics implementation is excellent. You bounce off of corners and tilted (and curved) surfaces realistically. Friction is fairly low, so you have to take acceleration and deceleration into consideration, and also moving platforms will have the tendency to slip out from underneath you if you're not already moving at their velocity. Staying on rotating platforms can be difficult as inertia (or centrifugal force, if you prefer) pushes you away from the center.

The literature claims that you don't have direct control of the monkey, but instead you tilt the game board. You do clearly tilt the game board, but you have control of the monkey in the air as well, so it seems to me that the board tilting is a gimmick that should've been done away with. With the onscreen tilting of the board and the swirliness of the camera movement, being able to tell what's going on is sometimes very difficult (again, see the gameplay movies located at the URL above).

Graphics? Enh. Not the point. The game runs at 60hz. The backgrounds are nice looking. The playfields are functional. Mirroring and shadowing effects abound. The monkeys are pretty strange-looking. Cute, sort of. Oh, and the desert levels simulate refraction of hot air currents. I haven't seen that one before.

Of multiplayer modes, you have seven: you can play the main game to see who finishes each level first. Monkey Race, which has six courses designed specifically for multiplayer racing. Monkey Fight, which adds a boxing glove on a spring to each monkey sphere. Monkey Target, in which you jump off a ramp and split the ball apart to form "wings", to attempt to hit targets floating in the ocean. I've heard the last part compared to Pilotwings.

Monkey Billiards and Monkey Bowling are the best simulations of billiards and bowling I've ever seen, although the last time I sampled either genre was in the mid 80s. Monkey Golf is a fun miniature golf game, though some of the holes seem to be just random luck (get a hole-in-one or die).

Target, Billiards, Bowling, and Golf are all playable with up to four players even if you only have one controller. The other modes have simultaneous play, so require one controller per player. It's a good party game, but it's probably not worth buying solely for that purpose; if that's what you're looking for, wait for Super Smash Bros Melee.

But if you're looking for a hard-core remake of Marble Madness designed in a very old-school style, with rewards in the form of extra levels scattered along a very long and fairly steep (especially near the end) learning curve, this is what you're looking for.

Super Monkey Ball is the name of a strategy (or lack thereof) in pool (and possibly other games) where a player relies entirely on slop, hitting the cue ball as hard as possible and counting on luck to pocket anything. This strategy has proven effective for beginners who have yet to get accustomed to the physics of the game and whose beginner's luck is still in effect. While most players abandon this strategy early on, others never let go.

"Your English technique is strong, but my Supermonkeyball style will defeat you."

Super Monkey Ball is Sega's first game developed for the Nintendo Gamecube, and was released in the US and Japan in 2001 (and Europe in early 2002, because Nintendo love to always treat their biggest, most lucrative and loyal market like crap and didn't release the Gamecube here until early May). It is a conversion of their popular coin-op Monkey Ball, and was developed by Amusement Vision under the direction of Toshihiro Nagoshi. (For those who are wondering, the idea of the balls game first, and the monkeys were an afterthought.) It supports up to four players and requires three blocks of your memory card to store high scores. And high scores are what the game is all about.

The Main Game is basically the same as the coin-op: you must guide your monkey to the exit gate on a level made from floating platforms. You do this by tilting the level using your controller (and not a banana-shaped joystick, as in the coin-op). The camera, much maligned in one of the writeups above, acts that way for a reason- its direction indicates the direction that the ball is going to roll in. The game uses an accurate and extremely strict physics model, which leaves no margin for uncertainty or recourse for cries of unfairness- if you fall off, it's always your own fault. The main game can also be played split screen with up to four players (tacked-on game mode alert).

There is also a practice mode, which allows you to experiment on any level you have reached without having a limit to the number of lives (because in the standard game there is no save function- you may be in for a nasty surprise if you've been softened up by years of quicksaving your way through FPSs). You will initially think that all the platforms have a chequered pattern in some kind of Sonic-style stylistic motif, but you soon realise that they're there so that you can judge precisely your position (in relation to the edge) and the gradiation of curves and slopes with utmost precision.

In addition to the main game, there are six extra modes that can be very trivially unlocked within a couple of hours. The party games (Monkey Race, Fight, and Target) are designed for, you guessed it, party play. 'Race' is similar in concept to Mario Kart, 'Fight' involves boxing gloves on springs and is kind-of but not really like Bomberman, and 'Target' is like the parachute stage on Pilotwings, albeit vastly superior and more subtle. All of these give you direct control over your monkey.

The remaining three play modes (Billiards, Bowling and Golf) are turn based and can even be played for high scores by one player alone. Bowling is easy once you know the secret (and similar to the bowling in every other AV game). It also has extremely irritating music. Billiards is the best game of billiards you'll find outside of Jimmy White's/Archer MacLean's Snooker Fest and Jacuzzi Sim 2003. Golf is the least polished of all the minigames, and completely reliant on an inate, degree-level knowledge of Newtonian physics. It makes up for this by having some seriously funky backing music.

And that, bar going into the choice of four monkeys (of which Ai-Ai is the coolest, by the way) and explaining the interactive credits sequence (which awards you a monkey rating) is that. Super Monkey Ball is a fun game, but it is extremely shallow and limited in longevity unless you really get off on Marble Madness style, manual-dexterity-based gameplay. Yes, very well done and refreshingly pure and unsullied by gimmickry and all that, but whether it's worth £40 is debatable.

A sequel is imminent, which includes Rafting and Soccer among its subgames.

Why there are monkeys in the balls:

In an interview, one of the head developers of Super Monkey Ball said "You have a game with ball physics, how do you make it more fun? Well you put a monkey in the ball!"

The world can be divided in to two groups of people, those to who the logic of this is plainily obvious and those with no laughter in their soul.

Super Monkey Ball is a game, by Sega, for the Nintendo Gamecube. It is a port of the arcade game Monkey Ball, with added play modes and mini-games that lend it a party-game feel.

Both SMB and its sequel, Super Monkey Ball 2, contain several of these mini-games. Some of them, especially billiards and bowling, are complete simulations in their own right, and not too many years ago would have commanded the package's full price for them alone. Both SMB and SMB2 contain so many extras that to treat them would require a separate writeup. This is not it.

The object of Super Monkey Ball is to guide a plastic ball, containing a monkey that has no impact on the game's physics at all, through a treacherous landscape, up to and though a goal gate within a time limit. By tilting the control stick around, the player tilts the level: gravity does the actual work of moving the ball. It sounds complicated but really it's very natural, so natural that when one of the rare levels comes up that relies on the fact that it's the level being moved and not the ball, it's not obvious. The game plays very much like new-millennium Marble Madness, except there's no enemies. That's right, no enemies! There's not even a final boss. All the obstacles in the entire game are either immobile, move on a fixed track, or react directly to the ball or level motion in a simple, purely mechanistic fashion. SMB2 introduced buttons with which the players could speed, slow, stop or reverse the fixed-track obstacles. That is the extent of the player's power to manipulate the game world. This might make for a rather boring game if it weren't for the level design.

The first level of Super Monkey Ball, Beginner 1, is a flat surface. Push forward, and the ball rolls straight through the goal. Beginner 2 has a hole directly between the player and the exit, so the player has to go around the hole, ooh that sounds hard, Chuck. By the last level of Beginner, level 10, the game has progressed to the point where small obstacle courses must be completed. Finishing them all on one life grants access to three secret, Extra levels as a reward.

The thirty levels of the second mode, Advanced, take the player from there through ever more devilish layouts. Yet, despite the limited pallette of tools with which the designers had to work, the game never gets repetitive. There's nothing in the game that tries to kill the player. There's no damage meter or means of attack. The only ways to die are falling off the board and running out of time. No level is anything more than a complicated arrangement of flats, slopes, banks, curves, bumpers and moving bits. Even so, you never stop wondering what diabolical challenge will come up next. This is genius level design.

Some levels give the player a choice of several paths to take, of varying widths. The thinner paths are much harder to survive, but have more bananas, which are worth extra points and, eventually, lives. Sometimes a level will have multiple goals: blue goals are the ordinary types, while green and red ones are worth huge score bonuses and let the player warp ahead levels. Naturally, they are much harder to reach.

Some levels have difficult slopes that require a running, or "rolling," start to climb. Some levels make the player cross diagonal gaps between platforms. Some levels have pinball bumpers that fling you away when touched, and these are usually fatal. Some levels have conveyor belts, some fling the ball into the air, some have a moving goal, and some have a combination of all these things, and more.

And, some levels require the player fall from one platform to another and "control the bounce." Doing this requires taking advantage on an anti-intuitive, yet accurate, feature of the game's physics: the ball's trajectory can be controlled, to a limited extent, in mid-air. This makes sense when you realize that, when you steer the ball around, the whole level "pivots" around the ball's location. The ball is the center of the universe! If the ball is at one edge of a wide level and you tilt the playfield, the areas at the other end are traveling huge distances, just like the outer edge of a record travels a greater distance than the regions around the spindle. Since this effect follows the ball around, even if it's in the air, it means the game behaves exactly as if you could control the ball while airborne. A side-effect of this is that the further away you are from the ground, the greater will be the result from the same push of the controller.

Advanced 30 is a formidable challenge. Complete Advanced in one life to gain access to five secret Advanced Extra levels.

Expert mode has 50 levels. They start tough, and get tougher. Some of them are very difficult, but they're always fair. One of the game's tricks is to take levels from the easier modes and bring them back, with little gimmicks that make them much harder. There's three such levels that are in each of the three difficulty levels. Beginner 1, Advanced 1 and Expert 1 are all basically the same level, except that the Advanced version has a small bump that must be crossed to reach the goal, and on Expert there's some holes. Beginner 2's hole-in-the-middle layout is complicated by a hinge in its Advanced counterpart, and a huge rotating platform in Expert. The last level of Beginner matches with a similar level in the middle of Advanced, and Expert 7. They're all obstacle courses with winding paths, stair-step rollways and tricky slopes, but while the Beginner version is only hard for amateurs, the Expert version is one of the most challenging levels in the whole game.

A few of the levels look impossible. All all Expert 16 except a narrow starting platform is at a straight 45-degree angle to gravity. It looks impossible, but there are actually two ways to solve it: the "official" way is to land on the high portion of the diagonal platform, control the bounce, then, while holding against the slope of the platform to slow the ball's descent, maneuver "sideways," carefully, around the large square gaps in the platform, to reach the goal. The other way, much harder but impressive to any on-lookers, is to just plunge forward from the start at full speed, make one bounce on the slope, and steer right through the goal on the rebound. Many levels have alternate solutions like this. The designers have admitted that some of them weren't intended, and that they're amazed when people discover new ways to finish them. This is another mark of genius level design, though it might not seem that way at first.

When all fifty levels of Expert are completed on one continue (not life, thankfully!), the player "gets" to play ten levels of Expert Extra. If all 50 Expert and all 10 Expert Extra levels are finished, again, all on one continue, ten final levels, the infamous "Master Mode," become available. I consider myself fully justified in my hyperbole when I say that reaching Master Mode is one of the most challenging tasks ever put into a video game.

I've played Super Monkey Ball for over a year now, and I've managed to get to Expert 36 on one credit. But I don't consider it amazing that I've yet to succeed in reaching Master. After all, it's a simple matter to make a game arbitrarily hard, anyone can do it. What I consider amazing is that I haven't given up yet. I know it's possible, I've just yet to do it. I know this is true, even though I've been trying, off and on, for a year. I'm still getting better, and I know it's just a matter of time. That, more than anything else, is genius game design.

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