Gamestyle Archive intro: Alex tackles one of the classic Gamecube experiences and a challenging one as well.
Published: November 2002
Super Monkey Ball wasn’t what you’d call a Sega game, if you will, it was most definately a Nintendo game, despite it’s developer. Not literally, of course, but beyond the hedgehog-hued logo on boot up, the shining playability and inspired game mechanics and control screamed not only Nintendo, but Miyamoto, such was it’s overwhelming perfectness. If you’re lucky enough to live in the States or Japan you’ll have no doubt picked up the sequel already, then – but for us PAL gamers it’s just another title pushed back into 2003 as Starfox and Eternal Darkness head up the Gamecube’s (rather subdued) Christmas push in Europe.
However, there’s nothing stopping us grabbing both an American machine and the game, barring some grey-import issues, and that’s just what I did thanks to the lovely guys at CA Games in Glasgow – and thankfully, Super Monkey Ball 2 is worth every single penny, or cent, if you’re being pedantic. If you’ve not played Super Monkey Ball, you’d better climb out from under that rock. Yes, you can play it with one hand (in fact, one opposable thumb is just about enough) and yes, the concept really is as simple as rolling a ball around various bizarrely themed ‘levels’ towards a goal – but look beyond what might originally seem childish, simple, boring even, because it’s none of those adjectives. No, really. Because it’s brilliant – utterly addictive and hard as hell.
Super Monkey Ball 2 will take you to the cleaners (and back). It sucks you in with some deceptively simple introductory levels, then hits you like a sledgehammer – you think you’re hardcore, you think you’re good at games? You’re not, not until you’ve beaten every last level on Sega’s latest, and that won’t come soon. Sure, you’ll breeze through the first set of levels in Story mode (which is a brand new addition which lets you select the order in which you want to tackle each board in that particular difficulty level, and gives unlimited retrys) and you’ll probably not struggle with the 2nd and 3rd areas, especially if you’ve played the first, but once you get inside the whale the evilness of Amusement Vision starts to shine through. The levels are so much more diverse, so much more rich, solid, 3 dimensional even, than in the first – the levels just move so much more: there are switches and spinning things, bending sections, seesaws, curling parts, tumbling goals and even huge animated spiders walking around – it’s so far ahead in terms of creativity that it’s almost a completely new approach to the series.
Whether it’s partly because of the improved graphical engine (which also extends to the now-gorgeous backgrounds) or whether it’s just AV assuming you’ve played (and beat) the first game, I’m not sure, but it’s certainly more hardcore. Which, to be fair, is much needed on the Gamecube. Mario Sunshine might have provided some challenge but it didn’t last very long, and whilst Starfox lasted somewhat longer, the difficulty curve was flatlined throughout. So here’s Monkey Ball 2 – and it’s hard. But too hard? No, because Sega know that not everyone lives, breathes and eats games; and so there’s 12 (count them) mini games in there – six of which are tweaked versions of the original ones – Race, Fight, Target, Golf, Billiards and Bowling, and six are brand new – Tennis, Soccer, Dog Fight, Boat Race, Shot and Baseball. These mini games aren’t just little asides to the main game, in this instance they’ve actually mangaged to shine even more than the guargantuan challenge of Story mode – in fact, there’s so much substance in those 12 games that it almost covers the cost of importing in one package. They’re all professionally produced, multi player, and every bit as pretty and addictive as the engaging main game – if you’ve got a few mates some of the games (mainly Target, in which all the players now play simultaneously, and Bowling) are well worth the asking fee alone.
Without going into too much detail about each and every game, it’s worth mentioning a select few to give you a taster. The aforementioned Target (or Target 2, really) involves you rolling your monkey (in it’s ball) down a steep ski-jump style slope – once you’re airborne tapping A will open the ball and then you’ve to guide it towards the targets marked out with score numbers, much like an archery bullseye. Of course, it’s not entirely that simple – there’s the wind to take into account, and there’s an all new bonus system where you can pick up multipliers and magnets whilst up in the air, and with other players now battling for airspace it’s superbly well done and as the rounds count down the atmosphere becomes tense as you struggle to land on the ever decreasing targets.
Other games of note include Golf 2, which is now a step away from the mini-golf of the first game and is actually a full sized ‘real’ 18 holer; and Soccer and Tennis, which take the best bits of Sega hits Virtua Striker and Virtua Tennis and wrap them up in simplified, colourful simian fun. Fantastic stuff. Whilst the remixed original games are available at first, the new games require you to play through the main game and win points before they become unlocked, which retains some reason to go back to those hellish Story mode levels.
Graphically quite brilliant, locked at 60 frames a second, it certainly looks the part – there’s even a widescreen mode, and whilst the music and sound effects can get a little jarring, presentation is through the roof – everything loads instantly, high scores and beaten levels are autosaved discretely – it’s just a wonderfully produced game from start to finish. Of course, it’s not out over here yet, but it will be, soon – if you can’t wait, however, grab that credit card and treat yourself to a shiny new US Gamecube, there’s not a more rewarding, challenging game out there.
Gamestyle Score: 9/10