If there's one thing that the Japanese game development community is really good at, it's taking a super cute exterior and putting one of the most damn difficult but fun games you'll ever play in your life underneath it. SUPER MONKEY BALL is the latest example of Japan's way to force me to buy new controllers after smashing mine into the wall.
The concept is very simple: you have a monkey in a plastic ball. Your goal is to tip the level so that the monkey gets to the goal. All too easy you say? Think again. Narrow platforms, moving pieces, slopes and bumpers all try to make your life a living nightmare. The beginner mode starts off innocently enough, but by the time you're ready to start the expert mode, it's likely you'll have damaged at least one controller.
But the crazy thing is that the game is addictive! After steering your first monkey through the goal, you'll want to keep playing and playing. The other reason to keep playing is that by completing levels, you unlock the mini-games that are phenomenal (more on those below). Plus, I have to say that I've never backed down from a videogame challenge, so a good portion of my Thanksgiving was spent trying to overcome the expert setting.
The level design is superb too. There are several different themes and sometimes the level design reflects the area theme. For instance, in the music level there is a guitar. The easiest way across is the thickest string, but there are no extra bananas. But if you're daring (and perfect), there are a bunch of bananas on the thinner strings. That level sticks out in my mind as one of the best designs in the game.
So what else is there to do? Well, there are a few party games, including Monkey Race and Monkey Battle. Both are great for getting a bunch of friends over for four-player action. But where SUPER MONKEY BALL really shines is its awesome mini-games. You have Monkey Billiards, Monkey Bowling and Monkey Golf. These mini-games carry over the dead-on physics that are represented in the main game and are a blast to play. I spent hours playing 9-ball with friends (strangely, this mini-game is one of the best pool videogames I've played!). The other two mini-games are just as good and can easily suck away hours of your life.
It essentially boils down to SUPER MONKEY BALL being the best party game in history. I've spent countless late night hours playing Monkey Battle and loving every second of it. At this point, it's the best multiplayer experience on the console (until SUPER SMASH BROS. MELEE appears, anyway).
On the graphics side, the game is colorful and bright. It's all very fluid and looks really good. On the other hand, it is very simple. Still, it's a sharp colorful title for the GameCube, but nothing revolutionary.
On the sound side, there's simple sound effects and arcade music. Again, there is nothing terrible and nothing revolutionary. I never really found the music to become annoying, and that was probably the most important aspect I was looking for when I went into the game.
SUPER MONKEY BALL is a blast. I recommend this to all gamers of any age. Even more important, it's a milestone - Sega's first non-Sega console videogame.
ESBR Rating: Everyone
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Fun Factor: A
Reviewer's Wild Card: A+