Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll

It's such a simple idea – and that's half the fun. Place a monkey in a transparent ball and then guide him through a floating labyrinth to reach the goal. If you've ever spent a Christmas afternoon hunched over one of those cracker toys containing tiny ball bearings, trying vainly to nudge them to the centre of a maze, you'll instantly get the idea.

This is the digital update and the first time Super Monkey Ball has appeared on Nintendo's DS. And as the title Touch & Roll suggests, it's all about your control with stylus and touchscreen. A large sphere takes up much of the bottom screen, and as you scratch it with your stylus in the desired direction, the top screen shows your encased ape rolling along narrow pathways, over numerous bumps and furrows, and hopefully avoiding various moving obstacles intent on sending the simian plummeting into the abyss.

Some levels require bursts of speed – others slow, precise balancing. But most entail some forethought as you puzzle over how you can negotiate what initially appears impossible. It's the epitome of the 'easy to learn, difficult to master' mantra that guides good game design.

Except at times, Touch & Roll may err too much on the 'difficult' side. Getting your ball rolling is easy, but stopping it abruptly isn't. Frantic back strokes on the touchscreen invariably fail to stop you tumbling off the play area, and much of the tantalising 'teetering on the brink' that made previous versions of the game so exhilarating has gone, replaced by 'fall and retry'.

You can opt to use the d-pad instead, but this lacks precision too. Indeed, we couldn't help thinking at times that maybe the PSP with its analogue controller and gorgeous widescreen would make a more suitable home.

At least Sega seems to have acknowledged this is a difficult game. It's been generous, scattering bananas over the playfield – collect ten and you gain an extra life – and a bonus stage is included every five screens, with bunches of the fruit to fortify yourself for the challenges ahead. More crucially, the 100 levels on offer are chunked into manageable 10 screen portions, and you can practice each screen in turn. It's an excellent addition that enables you to master each maze in your own time, before you grit your teeth and attempt to string together your newfound knowledge to unlock further areas of the game world.

While the story mode is tense and demanding, the half dozen minigames provide ample comic relief. Highlights are Monkey Hockey, an ingenious take on air hockey, which enables you to draw your own custom-shaped paddle, and the wonderful Monkey Golf, which cleverly lets you swing your club with a graceful stylus stroke. Even the weaker games – Monkey Fight is a chaotic mess of giant boxing gloves and Monkey Wars' ambitious attempt to provide a miniature first-person shooter deathmatch suffers from fiddly controls – come alive if played with up to three friends via a local wi-fi link-up.

Overall, however, Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll is a more measured experience than might have been expected. It's more thinking about puzzles than outright exhilaration. But whether you're diligently progressing through the ever more taxing story mode, revisiting earlier levels to perfect your banana-snatching skills, discovering sneaky shortcuts, or just passing five minutes flicking down pins on Monkey Bowling, this is a game that warrants repeated play. Just be warned: it can often be as frustrating as it is fulfilling.

Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll is on sale now.

Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll

The broad appeal of Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll is admirable, but control problems can trigger exasperated stylus snapping