A few weeks ago, I asked my brother which game he was planning to pick up with his Nintendo 3DS on launch day.
"Super Monkey Ball 3D, without a doubt," he said. "You can't ever go wrong with a Monkey Ball game. Even the bad Monkey Ball games are good."
I couldn't help but agree with him. Since the series was conceived on GameCube at the start of the millennium, the rolling antics of AiAi, MeeMee, GonGon, and Baby have always been moderately entertaining.
Even when the same old concept was brought to iPhone many years later, Pocket Gamer's own Tracy Erickson admitted in his Super Monkey Ball review, "there's great fun to be had."
Super Monkey Ball 3D, then, represents a first in the series. This is the first dull Monkey Ball game.
Everything that made the original so playable has been photocopied so many times there's a lack of innovation, little creativity, and no difficulty curve to speak of.Load of old balls
The basic idea remains the same, of course. Over a series of short obstacle courses, you tilt the level, rolling a ball containing one of the monkey characters towards the goal, picking up bananas and collectibles as you go.
The Nintendo 3DS version provides two different methods of control. You can either use the Circle pad or activate the tilt controls and move your handheld around to control the roll.
The tilt controls are far more enjoyable, and the amount of control you have over your primate is spot-on.
Unfortunately, Sega hasn't considered the fundamental fact that you need to look directly at the screen for the 3D effects to work, which you're not doing when you've moving it around to tilt your monkey ball. Hence, this mode requires you turn the 3D slider all the way down.
For this reason, Super Monkey Ball 3D isn't a game to choose to show off the killer feature of your new console.
Equally frustrating is the level design. Anyone hoping to fling their monkey balls across chasms and navigate seemingly impossible obstacle courses will be in for a shock. Super Monkey Ball 3D is easily the tamest Monkey Ball ever. The majority of levels rely on small maze-like structures, where making your way through and collecting items before the time runs out is the main challenge.
As well as feeling uninspired, the main Story mode is also rather short. The campaign - eight unlockable themes each with ten levels - is over in around two hours. Replayability is provided as you try to hone your level times and boost your banana collection, but it's fairly thin stuff.Give a monkey's?
Super Monkey Ball 3D also comes with two multiplayer-focused modes (available for single play too) that aim to bump up the content. Unfortunately, both feel hopelessly rushed.
Monkey Race is particular poor. With awful controls, power-ups and graphics, it doesn't deserve to be in the same sentence as. Mario Kart.
The handling is weak, and sliding around corners can be complete trial and error most of the time. And as with the Story mode, everything feels derivative. Rather than causing interesting effects, most items simply make your opponent stop on the spot for a set number of seconds.
Monkey Fight plays like another Nintendo classic, Super Smash Bros, and is a little better, but, again, no patch on the original. It's a button-basher with a tacked-on feel. Why Sega included these modes but not the wonderful Monkey Target from past Super Monkey Ball games is a mystery.
And if you're hoping extra 3DS features might save the day, prepare to be disappointed again. There are no StreetPass features, no global highscores, and no online play, although Monkey Fight and Monkey Race support local four-way multiplayer.
All in all, then, this is by far the most disappointing Super Monkey Ball release to date. Launch games are often rushed to hit a hard release date, but we deserve to see Sega's monkeys return to the 3DS in the future, if only to provide the company with the opportunity to redeem the franchise.