Hands-on with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz on PS Vita

Don't you monkey with the monkey

Hands-on with Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz on PS Vita

It's perhaps ironic that a franchise based around tilting has had difficulty finding its footing on devices with accelerometers.

While iOS iterations of Super Monkey Ball have been fairly well-received, the recent Super Monkey Ball 3D for the 3DS was seen as something of a lightweight, feature-starved addition to the family.

Whatever the platform, simplicity has always been at the core of the Super Monkey Ball experience. So it should come as no surprise that the Vita incarnation, entitled Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz, seeks to recapture the franchise's glory days by sticking to the same basic premise as its colourful forbears.

You have to coax a cute monkey trapped inside a transparent ball to the end of a colourful maze by tilting the ground on which the ball rests.

Shifting the gradient of the surface causes the ball to roll, allowing you to gradually trundle the sphere-encased primate towards the goal. To achieve victory you have to navigate the varied terrain and obstacles, while collecting as many bananas as possible before the time runs out.

Keep rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz offers two main control options: the analogue sticks and the motion sensor. Pleasingly, the Vita’s analogues stick are more than up to the challenge, proving sensitive enough to respond to micro-movements, yet solid enough to prevent the whole experience from descending into a twitchy mess.

The motion control is equally responsive, delivering a surprising amount of accuracy and nuance. This gyroscopic method of manouvering your monkey makes more sense on the Vita than it does on 3DS, which forces you to keep your head still if you want to avail yourself of its unique selling point.

Provided your hands are steady and your appetite for bananas is insatiable, you’ll roll your way through over 100 stages spread across five different worlds.

While the levels demonstrated were at the easier end of the spectrum, the finished game will feature four difficultly tiers, with the toughest level said to offer a challenge worthy of its GameCube ancestor.

The game's Challenge modes are numerous, in stark contrast to the streamlined feature-set of Super Monkey Ball 3D. Monkey Target makes a welcome return, inviting you to launch monkeys down a ramp and send them rocketing into the air.

Once airborne, you tap a button to open the ball like a pair of ladybird wings, and then glide through rings towards a target on the ground.

Marsupial Madness

The other mode we got a peek at was Love Maze, a two-player mini-game that utilises both analogue sticks.

The screen displays two mazes, with a monkey ball resting at the start of each one. The monkeys are tethered by a pink beam which becomes weaker the greater the distance between the two balls, eventually breaking altogether when stretched too far.

The trick is for each player to navigate his monkey through its respective maze without breaking the love beam, a feat that demands teamwork and synchronicity.

Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz also makes interesting use of the Vita’s rear camera, allowing you to capture images and then turn them into playable maps.

We saw a pair of glasses translated into a fully-formed stage within a few seconds. Besides being neat, this feature opens the door for an near-infinite amount of user-generated content.

Launching with wi-fi enabled multiplayer support, an online leaderboard system that factors in your GPS location, and eight of your favourite monkeys from across the series, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Splitz will roll onto the Vita some time in summer 2012.