Ask me to rank my favorite games of all time, and I guarantee either Super Monkey Ball 1 or 2 will make the list. The original came out while I was finishing high school, and the sequel launched during college. I played both games religiously. There was something about the tilting, puzzle-solving, balancing nature of the tradition game mode that made Monkey Ball positively enticing. I loved them.
Then came the game with a story mode, the Wii version with motion control, the iPhone version that had users physically tilting their phones and the goofy Balance Board edition. Monkey Ball changed, dramatically. Sega tried introducing jumps into a game that was perfect without them. The dropped mini-games and added useless collectibles. The games became, frankly, bad.
It’s no surprise, then, that I found myself downright terrified to sit down and play Super Monkey Ball 3D, a launch title for the Nintendo 3DS. I figured Sega was sticking to their current plan by releasing a senseless 3D gimmick based experience that was destined to deal further damage to one of my favorite franchises of all time. I was nervous.
But, holy shit, Super Monkey Ball 3D ain’t bad!
Jumping has been dropped, the story has been ousted, mini-games (albeit, a limited selection) have returned, motion control is optional and the core gameplay mechanics have been brought closer to what they were on the GameCube. Sega has finally learned that, with Monkey Ball, less is more. There are flaws and shortcomings, absolutely, but as a traditional Super Monkey Ball fan, this iteration is downright refreshing.
The Monkey Fight and Monkey Race game modes, in my opinion, are entirely filler. They’ve always served as a base multiplayer distraction from an otherwise enthralling game for a small party. Absolute favorites like Monkey Target (a great hang gliding mini-game) and Monkey Bowling have been dropped; that stings, Sega, really.
And that’s it for the mini-games. For a franchise that previously touted the overwhelming presence of extra content, two mini-games and a stack of useless collectibles is entirely too basic. This may be a side-effect of Sega’s desire to hit the 3DS’ launch window, but the Super Monkey Ball 3D feels extremely light.
But, oddly enough, what hurts one area of the game drastically helps another. The simplicity of this title benefits the singleplayer portion significantly. Players will actually be able to focus on the levels themselves, instead of goofy storylines and horrible gameplay. It’s too bad the levels don’t even approach the level of creativity the series was once known for. It wasn’t until world 7 of the initial 10 that I was even remotely challenged. Previously, you’d feel pressure in the second and third areas.
Two of the 3DS’ brand new mechanics work really, really well in Super Monkey Ball 3D. The 3D effect, actually, works a little too well. I had to crank the 3D down to about halfway in order to stop my head from exploding as soon as the first level swirled in. This game is vibrant, colorful and packed with constant motion; jam that into a 3D display at full blast and you’re asking for trouble. Once turned down, the effect was fantastic.
The other bit of 3DS tech that’s employed well within Super Monkey Ball 3D is the circle pad. It isn’t a traditional analog stick, so be warned. That said, the controls are good enough to make this game easily the second easiest to control in the entire franchise. I honestly don’t even know why the developers bothered with the motion control portion. You have to tilt the 3DS constantly in order to use it, and tilting the handheld breaks the sweet spot and ruins the 3D illusion. Just poor planning, as far as I’m concerned.
Super Monkey Ball 3D won’t win game of the year, it won’t be remembered as the 3DS’ best launch title and it will probably be entirely disregarded throughout the life of the system. However, as a Monkey Ball fan, it’s great to see Sega moving int he right direction. I want more, and that’s a fantastic sign.