Super Monkey Ball
| Super Monkey Ball

How can a game with monkeys squashed into giant hamster balls be so compelling? Ever since the debut of Super Monkey Ball on the Nintendo Gamecube, the game’s wormed its way into the hearts of millions and with the addition of crazy, wacky, surreal, bonkers and downright insane mini-games, the title has given a new slant to the party game genre. To those unfamiliar with the series and who are maybe put off by the apparent childlike nature of funny monkeys rolling around courses whilst trying not to plummet into the abyss surrounding them, you can be assured there is much on offer for even the most hard-bitten pocket gamer.

In fact, the main game is probably one of the most frustrating experiences you’ll ever have, though because it’s infused with enough good old-fashioned lunacy and addictiveness to rival Sunny D, you won’t want to give up until it’s completed. It's simian simplicity: you control an oh-so-cute monkey in a clear hamster ball and must roll your way around a variety of increasingly convoluted courses against the clock. The courses feature various obstacles to your progress and many will resemble holes from your local crazy golf course.

At first viewing, the N-Gage version manages to capture every last ounce of the magic that made the console game so special. With the exact same menus, music and voices it’s all very promising. When you start the main game, the 3D environments and scrolling are very competent, though they do tend to become jerky and even suffer from slowdown on the more complex levels as the N-Gage hardware struggles to keep up. This doesn’t particularly detract from the gameplay, but will cost you the odd life before you’re able to work out where you are in relation to the course, sky, ground and monkey heaven. The control system is simplicity itself due to the N-Gage’s directional pad, so steering around corners and manoeuvring over jumps and obstacles is very straightforward to achieve. As ever, putting this into practice is where the fun starts and ultimately makes this every bit as rewarding as you’d hope.

There are, however, some major disappointments. The total lack of any multiplayer options for one, strips the game of great party potential. Even with the great wireless capabilities of the N-Gage with Bluetooth and the N-Gage Arena, no thought has even gone into including such a feature. There isn’t even an attempt to introduce a two player hotseat game and this is especially damaging when it comes to the much-anticipated mini-games. There are three to unlock, which include Monkey Race, Monkey Fight and Monkey Target, all of which are desperately limited. The racing game features just one very uninspiring track, the fighting game one uninteresting location to rumble around in, and the target game… well, that features ten courses but, as they all look the same. it doesn’t make much difference.

Still, Super Monkey Ball makes for a great single player experience and it fulfils its objective beautifully, offering weeks of blood, sweat and even the odd tear as you strive to move a monkey from A to B, and in that respect it can’t be dismissed. It will never be considered an N-Gage classic due to the lacklustre mini-games and absence of multiplayer features, but it’s a great piece of escapism and challenging enough to keep you coming back for more.

Super Monkey Ball

As much fun as a barrel of monkeys, though it could have offered so much more with a multiplayer mode