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Super Monkey Ball 3D (3DS) artwork

Super Monkey Ball 3D (3DS) review

"In appearance, itís the polished follow-up to Super Monkey Ball, with moderately large environments full of bumpers, slopes, sharp curves and rail-free edges that allow you to drop frequently to your doom. Purists will probably object, however, to the fact that many of the 80 included courses are much simpler than those that were featured in earlier titles. I promise thatís not just a complaint resulting from me becoming a pro at the series after all of these years. I still suck."

The first thing you probably need to know is that I really wanted to like Super Monkey Ball 3D. I was even prepared to love the game, if it warranted that affection, but that wound up not being the case. All that the newest title in the series did was convince me that perhaps itís time for my infatuation with monkeys in balls to come to an end.

Super Monkey Ball 3D is an okay game, but not one thatís likely to form a fanbase. When I played Super Monkey Ball, it was the first GameCube title that I had purchased and it was a magnificent experience all around. I delighted in the challenging courses, the retro vibe I got from rolling over platforms hanging in space, the cheesy mini-games and the little secret warps and tricks that it took me forever to find and master. The game was wonderful, and its sequel wasnít half bad, either. I had officially become a fan. The series went astray after that, however, and reached a point where the only people who had much reason to keep playing were folks like me who just couldnít let go. I hoped that with 3D and a streamlined approach, Super Monkey Ball 3D would be the title to reverse that trend. I hoped in vain.

One problem is that the gameís attempts at streamlining have done more harm than good. There are now only three main options in this new outing: Monkey Ball, Monkey Race and Monkey Fight. There are no other mini-games, so those hoping for baseball or Monkey Target are out of luck. Previous games doubled as party titles and included enough diversions to make even early Mario Party carts blush--if only plastic could blush--but the developers seem to have decided that such an approach wouldnít work this time around. Or maybe they just didnít want to waste time finishing their game. Iím really not sure which it was.

What I do know is that Monkey Race is a mess. I have christened it ďthe worst kart racing experience that Iíve ever had,Ē and itís worth noting that Iíve had a lot of kart racing experiences. While Iíve never found anything that in my mind definitively tops the first one that I played (Super Mario Kart), there have definitely been some admirable attempts both in and outside of that pioneering franchise. SEGAís own recent attempt, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing, comes most immediately to mind. That was a great game.

Kart racing in Super Monkey Ball 3D is a disappointment primarily because of the atrocious control scheme. If you drive toward a corner, you either have to slow to a crawl, brake hard and steer sharply to the side, or you have to press the ĎRí button to settle into a drift. Turning while in a drift is a joke; you turn so sharply that unless you only tap the button, youíll rotate most of 90 degrees before you even realize it and probably charge directly into a wall or off the course once you release the button. Meanwhile, simply tapping the button might result in only a slight nudge that leaves you careening along a course that you didnít want to follow. Thereís little room for finesse.

Besides boasting a control scheme that forces you to either memorize every track or bump around it like a blind old woman driving a semi-truck, the kart racing segments of Super Monkey Ball 3D also feature the usual item abuse that even the best kart racers fall victim to. Unfortunately, those effects are exacerbated here by their ridiculous duration. If you get hit with an opponentís special weapon on the last lap in a race, thereís a good chance youíll go from third to eighth place and have no chance at recovery. Whether youíre spinning like a disco ball for seven or eight needlessly frustrating seconds (seriously, why do the effects last that long?) or sliding slowly along in an ice block after an opponentís spread shout bounced into you, the common quotient will be your extreme disgust with how things go.

The gameís Monkey Fight mode is a great deal more successful as a sideline diversion. It most closely resembles something like Super Smash Bros. only without the depth. There are a number of characters available, but they are all monkeys and you have little if any reason to care about any of them, so the draw of your favorite mascots beating on one another is missing. Still, itís hard to argue with the mayhem that is available in the modeís six event types, which include your basic fights and also a few with supercharged fighters or ships that fire explosive cannonballs from the backdrop.

Then, of course, thereís the main Monkey Ball mode. In appearance, itís the polished follow-up to Super Monkey Ball, with moderately large environments full of bumpers, slopes, sharp curves and rail-free edges that allow you to drop frequently to your doom. Purists will probably object, however, to the fact that many of the 80 included courses are much simpler than those that were featured in earlier titles. I promise thatís not just a complaint resulting from me becoming a pro at the series after all of these years. I still suck. Yet even if you suck as much as I do, youíll be halfway through the mode before you have to tackle anything that gives you as much trouble as a stage from the original gameís ďAdvanceĒ series of courses might. Even the final course isnít especially difficult. I had to play through it probably 15 or 20 times before I beat it, Iím ashamed to admit, but that was about as long as I spent tackling any course in the game. Most players of reasonable skill should be able to get through every course in 2 or 3 hours, tops. There are in-game achievements if you gather every banana in ever course, and for accomplishing other feats, but many of them are hidden and itís difficult even to guess what might net you an inconsequential reward. That prevents them from doing much to extend the time that you are likely to spend playing the game.

For the most part, then, Super Monkey Ball 3D feels like SEGA had its ďBĒ team working on another Wii installment and then had those folks port it to the 3DS in order to have something familiar ready for the system at launch. There are some elements that take definite advantage of the hardware, such as content that can be unlocked with Play Coins, but the systemís 3D capabilities are put to only minimal use. Stages donít really play any better with it activated, nor are they suddenly imbued with a sense of wonder. Races are blurry at almost any setting (and not fun, anyway) and the Monkey Fight mode offers some nice depth but doesnít put it to any practical purpose. You can also play Monkey Ball mode by tilting the system this way and that, but of course to do so youíll need to deactivate the 3D visuals or theyíll flicker in and out until you feel like a drunken fool.

You might feel like one anyway, if you spend too much money on this disappointing launch title. The game avoids being a total disaster and may even please you if youíre ready for ďSuper Monkey Ball for beginners,Ē but as the latest installment in what was once a proud and excellent franchise, it definitely falls short. I wanted to love it, but it didnít let me.


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (April 21, 2011)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted April 21, 2011:

Great review, Jason! I've always wondered about the Monkey Ball games. Never did play one, mainly because they haven't been a high priority for me.

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