Formats: GC, PS2, PSP (reviewed)
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it; Monkey Balls new adventure rolls right out of the level.
This latest addition to the Monkey Ball family offers a new take on the rolling primate theme, sadly to not much avail. In this iteration of the game we break away from the platform-puzzle genre and take on a more adventure style of gameplay. Sadly this transition detracts from the quirky addictive nature of the series and instead becomes more repetitive and frustrating.
Trouble is brewing in the five kingdoms of Monkey World, and the love kindled between Princess DeeDee of Monkitropolis and Prince Abe-abe of Kongri-la has brought the feuding to a head. It’s up to you, playing the familiar role of AiAi, MeeMee, Baby or GonGon, to return peace and happiness to the simian world.
The principle of the game remains the same as you roll, bounce and bump your way around a variety of quite scenic little areas in your attempt to see stability return and love reunited. Unfortunately in the Story mode, rather than just getting on with it, you have to keep stopping to talk to the other inhabitants of the islands and perform a variety of tasks for them to help bring a smile back to their furry little faces and progress your way to the other islands which offer harder and harder tasks. To help you complete these tasks you now gain new abilities over the course of your adventures such as bouncing, flying or sticking to walls. These manifest themselves with a chanting that is more reminiscent of feeding time in the monkey pen at the zoo, and had me reaching quickly for the mute button after the first times.
As well as feeling jerky, the story mode is also confusing, after completing the first few missions I was already completely lost and confused about what to do next. The radar system is about as useless as something can be while still actually existing; it’s difficult to see and is very vague given the rather tumultuous terrain you are on most of the time, and I frequently found myself falling off the edge of the world while concentrating too much trying to direct myself with the radar. While you’re rolling around helping out your fellow primates can also try and collect as many of the bananas scattered around the place as you can get. As you might imagine, some simply require rolling up to, while others are secreted about in very hard to reach areas that require a great deal of skill and even more luck to reach. These can then be traded with shopkeepers to unlock a few bonus items for instance extra payable characters in party games.
Story mode aside it’s the mini-games that really make this game fun, it’s great pick-up put-down action that you can play on your own or against your friends as you race, glide, box, bounce and shoot your way into the annals of monkey legend. For the adrenaline junkies out there the challenge mode pits your skills against the clock as you race toward the goal collecting as many bananas as you can get your paws on.
Although the controls are quite intuitive, using the analogue nub to control your character, the nub’s small radius can make finer movements and sudden alterations very tricky. Similarly rotating the camera with the shoulder buttons is nice, but leaning the camera with the D-pad feels cumbersome as you have to keep moving your hand off the analogue stick, and the camera resets as soon as you let go of the directional button.
Whilst quite scenic and colourful, the graphics aren’t as pretty as I’ve seen on the PSP, but it does run smoothly and the load times between areas and missions are quite short. The various islands are each based on varied themes, meaning you aren’t stuck staring at the same buildings and colour palette from beginning to end.
Sounds are exactly what you’d expect if you played any other game from the Monkey Ball family, a series of simple, catchy melodic tunes, that you’ll bopping you’re head to in no time. Similarly the frightful chattering your monkey makes in dangerous situations and companiable noises made when getting quests is equally cute; although, as mentioned earlier, the monkey-screeching chanting whilst powering up your ball can begin to grate the eardrums very quickly.
In essence this game can be addictive, especially the mini-games which are a great reminder of what the Super Monkey Ball series is supposed to be about, but the attempt to change the nature of the game with the focus on an adventure story mode is something of a let down, and I wouldn’t be running out get it unless you have a fair few friends you can play against multi-player.