Super Monkey Ball iPhone, iPod touch Review

Super Monkey Ball always seems to be Sega’s top choice to first venture onto a new console. The GameCube, Wii, and DS all got versions of the game near to the launch of each platform. More so, Sega also used the title as a means to test the unique controls of the latter two. As such, it’s not all that surprising to see the company carrying on in similar vein by releasing SMB as one of the first games for Apple’s burgeoning system.

With the Wii version Sega showed the game can work respectably with tilt controls, then on the DS using the touchscreen as a useful interface. So, when you combine both on one platform you should expect a match made in heaven, right? Well fortunately, for the most part, Sega have put their best foot forward, and taken quite the tasty bite out of that emblematical Apple.

It all starts out well enough, and as you’d expect you’re tasked with guiding a monkey trapped in a ball round a course. As you go pick up bananas and listen to him shriek in fear should you get too close to the edge. What’s surprising is that the visuals in the game are amazingly vivid and detailed. Even though they mix 2D with 3D they manage to look excellent, especially for a launch game. Music is rather good too, with each stage offering what seems to be a remixed theme from SMB games of old. Presentation is top-notch as well, with the menus very easy to navigate via a selection of taps and double taps on the screen. The game also boasts 55 stages (5 worlds of 11 stages each), with two difficulty levels for every stage. This is quite respectable for a mobile game, especially one that is 35MB in size. Obviously the further you get in the game the more intricate the stages get, with hump and bumps, moving platforms, elevations and slides all showing up as you go.


Unfortunately, the game’s one sole problem is a bit of a biggie, and one that I’ll probably spend the rest of this review trying to explain, as the way the Super Monkey Ball controls is not initially as intuitive as you’d expect. However, it would be unfair to say the game controls badly either. In fact, twitchy is perhaps a better way to describe them, as at first it is very hard to figure out how much you need to tilt in a particular direction to move the amount you want. As a result there are many times you’ll roll off at platform by tilting forward to much, misjudge a corner by tilting left or right too early, or just completely mess up a section and then fall off the stage, losing a life. Because of these problems, and due to an accumulation of them there is bound to be somewhere mid-game that you’ll come upon a stage and end up messing up multiple times, getting increasingly maddened as a result.

At that point the game basically forces you to learn its nuances, and you’ll have to figure put the right way to play the game before you can go any further. For me this took almost 1 solid hour of play on a single level that tasked me with getting past a zigzag’s of planks, and creeping past a collection of bumpers that could all to easily unapologetically knock me off the side of stage. I played through that stage multiple times, sometimes the clock beat me, other times I lost patience and tilted too much and fell off, and other times it was a combination of both.

However, after many attempts I finally beat the course, and from that point forward I actually felt confident in the controls, and felt like they did what I asked of them. I then ended up blitzing my way through almost a dozen of the levels that followed, and felt rather chuffed with myself. Of course, latter levels will once again cause some annoyance, but that should be because the stages are truly a challenge, rather than a reoccurrence of the sensitivity problem.


However, at times though I wished there was just an option to toggle the sensitivity of tilt controls, as each player will most likely want something slightly different from the other. To tell the truth I think all these problems could have easily being sorted out if something like that was included in the package. Nevertheless, for those that chose to persist through the early period of frustration and show a bit of patience then there is loads of fun to be had for a game that only costs £5.99 (€7.99).

All in all, SMB is a top-notch effort by Sega, and shows what Apple’s up-and-coming gaming platform is capable of in terms of graphics, presentation and unique gameplay. To tell the truth, I always looked at mobile phone games as a step down from ‘real’ games, and for whatever reason basically ignored just about each and every one of them over the course of the last few years. However, in one foul swoop the release of SMB has changed my mind, leaving me excited for other games in the iTunes Store, and in particular future games on the platform down the line.

7 out of 10
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