Hey, hey, we're the monkeys!
I'm totally convinced that working for a Japanese video game company is one of the best jobs in the world. In what other job can you capitalize on cockamamie ideas born from a long night of drunken debauchery (uh… besides Game Revolution)? Some of the weirdest video games on the planet have come from the land of the rising sun, and while not all of them successfully make it across the Pacific, a few of them do.
So when you dream of a hit game, what do you think of? A counter-terrorism action romp? A violent free-for-all in a huge, corrupted city? What if someone said that they wanted to make a party game with cute mini-monkeys in giant hamster balls? I bet you'd tell them they've been eating too many "special" bananas, right?
Well, those monkeys are about to be unleashed on American GameCubes thanks to Amusement Vision, Sega, and an absolutely insane idea. It sounds like a game doomed from the start, but ultimately turns out to be a stroke of genius.
Super Monkey Ball is an action party game that takes a family of four monkeys in hamster balls on a wild ride through mazes, billiards tables, golf courses, and more. The main game plays much in the same way as the classic game Labyrinth. The monkey you choose is essentially a marble placed into a gigantic maze. You control the "ground" and try to tilt the monkey all the way to the goal before he falls off the edge of the world. It's easy in theory, but pretty tough to execute. Three levels of difficulty offer from 10 to 50 mazes, which can be played both in single and multiplayer modes.
Perform well in these challenges and you'll be rewarded with player points that can be used to unlock three mini-games: Monkey Billiards, Monkey Bowling, and Monkey Golf. Monkey Billiards is a simple game of 9-ball played on a giant table with - you guessed it - a bunch of monkeys inside billiards balls. Monkey Bowling has your monkey running head first down a polished lane, trying to take out those elusive ten pins. Both power and spin can be implemented, making this one a decent little video bowling sim. Lastly there is Monkey Golf, a simple little mini-golf game that requires you to putt your monkey home.
Although I'm extremely happy that these mini games are included, they're a little dry. Monkey Billiards seems incomplete without a basic 8-ball game, Monkey Bowling is just plain repetitive, and Monkey Golf is mini-golf without all of the wacky castles and structures. The concept is there, but execution is not.
These little mini-games are a nice distraction, but the game really shines with three very cool party games. The first is Monkey Fight, where you and up to three other monkeys are outfitted with giant boxing gloves with plans to pummel each other off of the platform. Next is Money Race, which plays exactly like a standard kart racer with plenty of power-ups. Things get very fast and wily and, admittedly, fun.
Then there's my personal favorite, Monkey Target. And what is Monkey Target? Well, the short story is that you launch your monkey off a large platform, pop open the glider ball, and try to land on floating targets while avoiding any unpleasantries that you may have picked up from the Wheel of Death, such as bombs or spikes. Of all the multiplayer games, this one has gotten the most play in the GR office.
Seeing how your monkeys tend to roll around a lot (they are in a ball after all), physics play an important role. In a great twist, Super Monkey Ball nails the physics model perfectly. The monkey ball rolls exactly the way it would if you actually put a real monkey in a giant hamster ball! (Note: no live monkeys were harmed in this test, except that one, and he had it coming to him). The developers did a very good job here.
Combine that with bright, colorful graphics and some happy (if somewhat grating) monkey tunes and you've got a pretty fun little party game for all ages.
While Monkey Ball's single player game is better than most party games, it still doesn't have a very long shelf life. Most players' desire to conquer the single player game will probably flag after gaining enough points to unlock all of the mini-games. Then, it's just a matter of searching out more people to play with. It is a party game after all…
So if you've got a few monkeys hanging around your tree, be sure to check out Super Monkey Ball. It's everything a party game should be, and it sure beats jumping on the bed.