Though Super Monkey Ball enjoyed a revival in 2008 courtesy of a tilt-controlled iPhone title, this 3DS game goes a step further, adding the new DS's glasses-free third dimension to the motion-controlled action.
Who's making it? Sega Studio Japan is on development duties. Sega has been publishing the Monkey Ball games since the original arcade title at the beginning of the century.
What does it look like? Crisp, colorful, charming--not so far from the iPhone version, but now in three dimensions. It won't be the game to push the 3DS's graphical capabilities to the limits, but the levels look good, with the 3D effect really making them pop.
How does it use 3D? In the main mode, in which you roll the titular simian sphere around the level, the 3D effect draws the ball into the foreground, with the tilting level leading off into the "distance." In the Race mode, the 3D effect similarly foregrounds your racer, adding perspective, with the racetrack appearing to stretch back into the screen. The third mode, Fight, is a platform-based side-scrolling affair. Here the 3D adds just a shade of depth to the otherwise 2D levels.
What do you do? In the Challenge mode, you collect bananas with your imprisoned rolling monkey, aiming for the goal hoop at the end and trying not to fall off the edge of the free-floating level. Familiarly, you maneuver the ball by tilting the level. In the Cart Racer mode, you race against other chimps, zipping through hoops on the track and doing sweet jumps off ramps. In the Fight mode, your monkey does battle with three others along those 2.5D platforms, initially nabbing bananas as fast as you can; then, once there are no bananas left to be nabbed, you knock seven bells out of each other to steal banana caches. The winner is the monkey left with the most bananas at the end of the timed battle.
Though the demo at the Amsterdam showcase event was single-player throughout, there were non-selectable Versus options in the menu screens, indicating the expected multiplayer modes.
How does it play? The Challenge mode offers two control schemes: One uses the 3DS's gyroscopic sensors, letting you tilt the device to tilt the level, as in the iPhone game; the other has you use the analog thumbpad (the "circle pad," the game calls it) to do the same. The latter seemed to work best; the circle pad is comfortable and precise, while using the motion sensors in the 3DS occasionally led to us tipping the screen in such a way that spoiled the 3D effect--the effective viewing angle for the 3D effect is rather narrow, remember. Someone who prefers the motion-sensitive scheme could use the 3DS's slider to turn the 3D effect down, at least.
The Race mode uses the circle pad for steering, with face buttons used for braking and accelerating. The handling is as easygoing as you might expect, geared for competitive cart racer fun rather than serious sim racing. The Fight mode incorporates the circle pad for navigating left and right along the platforms, with face buttons used for jumping and punching.
What we say We took a look at the Monkey Island and Aladdin's Castle zones in the Challenge mode, trundling along magic carpets in the latter against a distant Taj Mahal-like backdrop. The handling was nicely tuned--not too sensitive in either control scheme. Though, as mentioned, the screen-tilting method seemed to impact the 3D effect. There's plenty of charm, smart visuals, and variety among the three distinct game modes.