Past its primate.
Hidden in the underground laboratories at Sega headquarters, there resides a crack team of language specialists. These cunning linguists have appended the word "Monkey" to oodles of other words, and so generated a veritable fountain of mini-game names such as Monkey Golf, Monkey Billiards, and the lesser known Monkey Appendectomy.
Of course, the most famous is Super Monkey Ball, which is out now for the PS2 as Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. If you've played the original or its sequel, you won't find anything new here, but at least unfortunate PS2 owners finally get some monkey love.
As a single player, you can roll around in Story mode or Challenge mode. Story mode has you traveling through worlds by completing ten levels in each, while Challenge mode contains three settings. Beginner contains forty harmless trials, Advanced contains seventy serious stages, and Expert is good for one hundred difficult levels. Every level from the previous two games is included as well as forty-six new ones.
The core mechanics of Monkey Ball are kept intact. Each level is basically a maze full of obstacles that you must roll through within a certain amount of time. While you're at it, you can collect bananas for a higher score. Most of the levels are well designed with multiple exits, shortcuts and bizarre hazards. While the control scheme in Super Monkey Ball Deluxe may be straightforward, the levels are anything but. The result is a game that's easy to jump into and very difficult to master.
Believe it or not, Super Monkey Ball Deluxe actually has a plot. Apparently, the monkeys band together to fight an evil scientist baboon. The baboon in question, Dr Bad-boon, likes the girl monkey, MeeMee. AiAi, the red-shirt monkey, is already going out with MeeMee (the two even already have a child together, not out of wedlock, but from the time displaced FUTURE!), but Bad-boon doesn't handle rejection well. First he writes some bad poetry and then he steals all the bananas.
Sorry, my brian exploded.
Somehow, this all equates to rolling your monkeys around hundreds of mazes. This is handled with the L-stick as you attempt to maneuver your ball in between obstacles and along narrow beams. While this might sound like an overly simple scheme, it's extremely responsive and easily playable by anyone with opposable thumbs. The physical joy of handling your ball as it travels up slopes, down ramps, and across narrow straights is at the heart of the single-player experience. Remember Marble Madness? This is pretty much the monkey-fied, banana-filled version...except that Super Monkey Ball Deluxe is freakin' hard and takes place in deceptively happy environments. You would never think something so pink and cheery could be so cruel and unforgiving!
Playing with your own, lonely ball is fun, but playing with your friends' balls is the name of the game [And that, folks, is the final testicular innuendo I will allow in this review. - ED.] This time around, you won't be forced to stomach the saccharine insanity of the single-player game in order to unlock all 12 mini-games. Every mode from the other Monkey Ball games is present, including Monkey Race, Monkey Fight, Monkey Target, Monkey Billiards, Monkey Bowling, Monkey Golf, Monkey Boat, Monkey Shot, Monkey Dogfight, Monkey Soccer, Monkey Baseball, and *phew* Monkey Tennis. All of these are pretty self-explanatory, but if you want a run down of how each of the Monkey Ball modes are played, check out our review of Monkey Ball 2 for the Gamecube.
The only downer on the mini-game front is the fact that there aren't any brand new games. Sure, some of the old ones are really well done and twelve is a nice number to choose from, but come on - this is a new game, it should come with some new content.
You can also choose between the Monkey Ball 1 and 2 rule sets, so for example, if you love the "Wheel of Death" from the original Monkey Target game, you can play it with the original rules. Plus, you and up to three other players can simply race through any level you've unlocked in Challenge mode.
Monkey Ball is not about cutting edge graphics. Instead, it's full of over-saturated sunshine colors that will inundate your senses with cheer. Dipping framerates, on the other hand, will turn that smile upside down, as will some anti-aliasing issues. Super Monkey Ball Deluxe can't help but look a little dated - after all, it's two old games wrapped up in one, but it doesn't have to look this dated. The music is so sweet and happy, you'll practically develop cavities in your ears.
Super Monkey Ball Deluxe combines all the competitive modes and action of the prior two versions in a nice but dated package for the PS2. If you're a ridiculously happy gamer with a passion for bright colors or a really dark one with a healthy sense of irony, give these balls a squeeze [I lied. - ED.]