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.