Review: Super Monkey Ball 3D (3DS)

SEGA’s Super Monkey Ball titles have been an evergreen favourite since the Gamecube, the simple but innovative gameplay married with bright, primary colours meant that the games have always been appealing from the off but backed up with a smooth difficulty curve that traditionally meant only the best would see the ending.  For those that didn’t, an ever-growing collection of minigames would mean that distraction was only a button press away.  It’s a crushing disappointment, then, to discover that Super Monkey Ball 3D, SEGA’s initial outing onto the new 3DS, is a marked step back for the series.

For starters, Monkey Ball (the core game), Monkey Fight (a Smash Bros. riff) and Monkey Race (a risible Mario Kart clone) are all given equal billing on the single player select screen, rather than hiding the two lesser games away under the sensible banner of ‘mini games’.  It’s not the menu position that’s the issue here, though, it’s that each of the three portions feel considerably dumbed down from what you might expect given their presence, and because these are the only three games on offer the whole package feels empty and vacuous.

[drop]The first in the menu, then, Monkey Ball, has been watered down considerably, presumably to make way for an easier entry for the motion controls.  Tilt control is optional, but having massive red barriers over half the courses to keep you on track isn’t, so regardless of whether you want to use the 3DS’s able new mechanic or not, the levels play out the same.  Thankfully, the circle pad does a stellar job of keeping your Monkey well and truly in the groove, but the tilt control feels out of place and unnecessary, is unusable in 3D and requires far too much actual tilting before the ball starts to roll.

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With infinite continues, it’s likely most players will get through Monkey Ball in a very quick time indeed.  Sure, using a continue resets your score, but with only three scores on each high score table (for each world) and without any internet competition, the long term appeal of this feature is diminished somewhat.  There’s a handful of themed worlds, and whilst they all look great in game and come complete with cute pop-up book style intros and individual distinct styles throughout, they are all mostly too easy, especially for seasoned veterans of the series.

Other issues?  Niggly, Monkey Ball fan issues: the bananas now make a horrible ‘smash’ sound when collected, the camera’s been moved down lower (presumably to boost the 3D effect) which actually impairs your view a little, the little ribbons at the gates have been removed and we’ve had the game crash the 3DS at the end of the first world.  That said, the visuals are lovely, the framerate’s locked at 60fps and the increased depth offered by the 3D is one of the best we’ve seen on the console.  It’s gorgeous.

[drop2]It’s the other two modes that spoil the party a little, though.  Monkey Fight simply fails at being an attempt to emulate Nintendo’s Smash Bros. by way of confusing controls and far too much onscreen noise to be able to distinguish what’s actually going on.  And although you can play the game with friends locally, the lack of an online mode dampens the experience further.  The same can be said of Monkey Race, which feels terribly tacked on and isn’t fun to play at all.  Still, in the absence of a real Mario Kart for launch, at least it’s something.

What hurts the Monkey Ball fan inside more than anything, though, is the disregard for one of the series’ core highlights: Monkey Target.  This seemingly simple minigame from the first Super Monkey Ball (which sees your Monkey flying down a ski-ramp and attempting to land on targets floating in the water) was endless addictive and almost certainly would have played better with the added bonus of 3D.  Instead, it’s missing, along with all the other party and mini games we’ve come to love over the years.  Monkey Bowling would have been a real treat, too.

As it stands, Super Monkey Ball 3D offers up a competent attempt at Monkey Ball, albeit one that’s mostly too easy, and the rest is forgettable.  For Super Monkey Ball fans the thrill of playing the game on a 3DS is certainly there, it’s just diluted and simplified to the point of apparently focusing too hard on the hit and miss tilt controls rather than offering a core game for those that have supported the series since 2001.  And at an RRP of £40, the content provided is something of a joke when you glance at the iPhone shaped elephant in the room…

Pros:

  • Save for a few dodgy UI decisions, the presentation is lovely
  • The graphics are nice and sharp, and flow well at 60fps
  • Circle pad controls are precise and immediate

Cons:

  • The new lower camera was an odd decision
  • Motion control doesn’t work in 3D mode
  • Monkey Ball is too easy
  • Monkey Race is a disastrous attempt to ape Mario Kart
  • Monkey Fight is confusing, the older Monkey Fight games worked much better

Some will love this – we’re thinking Nintendo’s ready made casual audience and anyone new to the Monkey Ball experience.  The rest of us will feel like SEGA have rushed out a game that could, potentially, have been utterly brilliant.  A couple more minigames, the option to remove the bumpers if the player is using the circle pad, and the refining of the two alternative game modes would have pushed this one into the must-have bracket and been a contender for the best launch title.

And that’s the most frustrating thing, because although Super Monkey Ball 3D ends up distinctly average, it could, easily, have been unmissable.

Score: 5/10

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5 Comments

  1. Think I’ll stick with the iPhone version that I got for 59p!
    Reading this just makes me want Smash Bros + Mario Kart 3DS… make it happen, Nintendo!

  2. I was going to buy this next time I had some money… Still might. Maybe “average” is good enough for me?

    • Depends how hardcore you are with the Monkeyz. It’s a nice intro game to the series, for sure.

  3. Oh shit – 3DS is having a real bad start. Glad I didnt bother :-). Maybe later on in its life I might get one!

    This and Splinter Cells with average, plain scores. Expected much, much more, esp from Samuel Fisher….

  4. No surprise there, it smelt like cashware, the moment it was released, just like some of the Monkey Ball titles for the Wii.

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