Super Monkey Ball 3D 3DS Review

Super Monkey Ball is one of my favourite games ever, so when picking which 3DS launch titles to buy it was a no-brainer. I know the series has been in decline, and know from Banana Blitz that Sega have made some bad decisions with the franchise. But there’s always a glimmer of hope that mistakes can be rectified and past glories returned to. Usually that hope is empty, and has led to me making some questionable game purchases, but not this time.

Someone over at Sega has finally realized what they’ve been doing wrong with the franchise. There’s no story, no boss battles, mini-games have been kept to a minimum, proper analogue controls are back, and all is well with the world. I don’t know about anybody else, but this is is exactly what I wanted. Just nice simple gameplay, roll around the courses, and pick up as many bananas as possible along the way. It’s definitely a case of less is more in the gameplay stakes and it’s just as infuriatingly addictive as it was in the GameCube launch title.

Sadly there’s a mere eighty courses to play though. It all goes far too quickly and as it’s one of those games that is just impossible to put down it seems shorter than it actually is. The learning curve is a bit more gentle than it needs to be really, with the first couple of worlds offering little in the way of challenge. But it is fun despite the lack of content and its easiness – and that is what counts. You can always go back and replay the worlds for higher scores when you reach the end, finding shortcuts on the levels and extra collectible bananas, so it’s not a complete disaster in the longevity stakes.

Of course there are the mini-games to add some extra life to it; only two this time round, but they’re good ones. First up is Monkey Race, and this time the monkeys are out of their balls and into karts. Yes, it’s another Mario Kart rip-off, plus a bit bare bones, but it does the job. You get nine courses split into three cups, with versions of the usual power-ups. The computer AI is pretty decent and the courses are quite well laid out, with some shortcuts here and there. Some people would probably release Monkey Race as a full game and not feel bad about it.

Then there’s Monkey Fight, and again, it’s not what you would expect from the console games. No balls for the monkeys, and no boxing gloves, just big hammers. And it’s all in 2D, a strange choice for a 3D game you might think, but it works well. It’s just four monkeys on a set of platforms belting the hell out of each other; nice and simple, and surprisingly satisfying. Admittedly it can get a bit tedious playing on your own, but that’s what multiplayer is for. Monkey Race and Fight are both supported in multiplayer, which is good. What isn’t so good though is that it is local multiplayer only, no online play at all, there’s download play, which softens the blow a bit.

I’m guessing you’ve been waiting for me to talk about the 3D, but as a master, or mistress, of suspense I thought it best left till last. Well, it works well, better than I had imagined in fact. In fact I’d go as far as to say it actually enhances the gamplay. When you are rolling your balls around the illusion of depth really helps you gauge things. But what really makes it, in Monkey Ball mode anyway, is the illusion of height, or rather how far you will be falling when you drop off the edge. It really does add to the feeling of panic you get when you’re teetering on the edges. In race and fight modes the 3D isn’t as effective, but still works, and if you choose to play Monkey Ball mode with the handheld’s built in gyroscope controls then you really have to turn the 3D off. Still, it’s a good showcase of the 3DS’s abilities, and it does make a difference in the gameplay.

This is definitely a return to form for for the franchise. It’s not as good as the original game, and much as that was what I was hoping for, it’s not a disappointment. For a launch title you certainly can’t complain, I just hope it gets the sales it deserves. Then maybe Sega will give us what we really want, a remake of the original game with 3D and online play.

8 out of 10
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