GameCube owners have been rolling monkeys around since November 2001 when Sega released the simple yet addictive Super Monkey Ball as a launch title for the console. Less than a year later that game spawned a sequel, appropriately named Super Monkey Ball 2, which boasted improved visuals, no fewer than 100 new stages, and twice as many minigames as its predecessor. And now, finally, with the release of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe, PlayStation 2 and Xbox owners are going to find out just how much fun rolling around hamster balls containing monkeys can be.
Currently scheduled for release in March, Super Monkey Ball Deluxe will literally offer everything that its GameCube-exclusive predecessors did and a whole lot more. The game's story and challenge modes, for example, will feature a total of 300 stages--114 from Super Monkey Ball, 140 from Super Monkey Ball 2, and 46 that are brand new. Each of those 300 stages will be played against the clock, and they will require you to negotiate all manner of obstacles as you make your way to the finish line, hopefully managing to collect a few point-scoring bananas en route. One of the things that makes the gameplay unique is that, since your monkey ball is incapable of self-propulsion, gravity is both your best friend and your deadliest enemy. To move your ball, you'll basically use the left analog stick to tilt the entire level that you're playing (it quickly becomes a lot more intuitive than it sounds).
As your monkey-rolling adventures get under way, you'll find that most of the stages early on are so simple that you can beat them in well under 20 seconds if you don't bother collecting the bananas that are invariably scattered around to tempt you away from the most obvious route to the finish. It doesn't take long for the game to become more challenging, though, and before you know it you'll be dealing with moving platforms, perilously narrow ledges, and stages that are impossible to beat at anything less than the extreme speeds at which your monkey loses his footing and starts rolling around inside the ball. The stages from the previous Monkey Ball games are mixed in with the new ones and divided up into sets of 20 that are played within the same "world." To progress to the next world you'll be required to beat at least 10 of the 20 levels. This might not sound like a lot, given that it effectively allows you to bypass 50 percent of the stages, but it's great because it means that you don't have to play through a ton of stages that are all around the same difficulty, and it helps to keep you from getting frustrated.
Once you've beaten (or need to take a break from) Super Monkey Ball Deluxe's story mode, you'll definitely want to invite up to three friends over for a party game session. Super Monkey Ball Deluxe boasts the same 12 party games that helped to make Super Monkey Ball 2 a hit in 2002, including: Monkey Race, Monkey Fight, Monkey Target, Monkey Billiards, Monkey Bowling, Monkey Golf, Monkey Boat, Monkey Shot, Monkey Dogfight, Monkey Soccer, Monkey Baseball, and Monkey Tennis. A surprising number of the party games actually have very little in common with the main game. Monkey Tennis, for example, is basically just a standard tennis game in which the players holding the racquets happen to be monkeys encased in translucent balls. All of the party games feature support for up to four players and are definitely a lot of fun when played with the right people. By the same token, though, none of the games really lend themselves to solo play, so they can get boring quite quickly when played against CPU monkeys.
The PS2 and Xbox versions of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe are identical as far as features are concerned, although the Xbox game's visuals are noticeably superior. Our work-in-progress build of the PS2 game also forced us to sit through some really lengthy load times, which we hope will have been shortened before the game is released on March 15. Expect a full review next month.