It was surely only a matter of time. Sega’s evergreen Monkey Ball behemoth continues to roll onward, and after making appearances on almost every new and available format over the last ten years (including the Nintendo DS and the iPhone) it now returns to the Nintendo Wii with a brand new control scheme; and it is a system that will make this iteration a must-buy for series devotees. Fans will always argue rabidly about the perfect control method for the series, with some favouring the familiar precision of a thumbstick, and others the enjoyably haphazard exactitude of a DS stylus or Wiimote.
And now the Wii Fit Balance Board has joined the running, and the impatient definitely need not apply. It isn’t that the device is not precise; it’s that it is beyond precise. Your first few rounds are certain to be entirely flummoxing, and those unwilling to adapt will bail on the experience before it has begun to exert its considerable power to enthrall. Once you get to grips with it though, it becomes as intuitive and fluid a control device as a Gamecube thumbstick, and many people will find it to be immeasurably more entertaining. The Balance Board adds to the ineffable status of it as a family party game – something that has always been a fundamental element of the Monkey Ball formula. Regardless of whether you buy into this or not, you are free to use the Wiimote as a controller instead if you so wish – a method first implemented to considerable success in Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz.
Co-op mode is also a solidly entertaining diversion. Player one will play the game as normal, with player two clearing obstacles from the path, using the Wii pointer as a makeshift bazooka. The slanted, downhill levels accentuate this style of play in the most amusing fashion, as moderating the speed of the ball whilst keeping an eye on obstacles ahead makes for some hilariously frenzied moments. Needless to say, hardcore players are going to want to tackle this mode single-handedly, and some of the later worlds are going to offer up a considerable challenge.
The package is rounded out by the standard collection of stellar minigames, with a whopping 22 included here. Some new additions are destined to be permanent fixtures in future iterations. The ‘Fruit Basket’ game in particular, even without the hilarious addition of the Balance Board, is as entertaining as anything in the main game. That said, as wildly entertaining as some of those new games are, they are simply no match for the classics. Monkey Target and Monkey Race were perfected back when the series debuted on the Nintendo Gamecube, and that perfection hasn’t been tinkered with. Fans are sure to jump back into those classic modes with both feet, whilst newcomers should be prepared to lose some serious hours to them. The horrifyingly addictive mini-masterpiece that was Monkey Bowling sadly hasn’t returned, but you can’t have everything.
Gamecube owners in particular will always have a monumental soft spot for the Super Monkey Ball series, and that isn’t just hollow nostalgia. The first iteration of the game was a masterpiece that rewarded many people’s decision to invest in Nintendo’s miniature purple box at launch, and wonderfully, the series only ever returns now when it has something new to bring to the table.
And although is isn’t as immediately rewarding as some of its predecessors – it does take a bit of time to get to grips with, after all – this new game is amongst the series’ most accessible and readily appealing. A strong case will surely be made by one faction of the rabid fan community for years to come: that this was the definitive Super Monkey Ball