One of the standout launch games for the Nintendo Wii was Sega's Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz. While the series has suffered from a number of disappointing instalments over the years, the primate party game returned in force to prove it still has something to offer. The game also introduced the Wii Remote's new control scheme, a stack of multiplayer minigames, and a visual overhaul in the process. Building on the success of Banana Blitz, Sega is cranking out its first Monkey Ball sequel for the Wii, Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll, and it appears to remain faithful to the series while adding some great new features.
For those unfamiliar with Monkey Ball, you control a monkey enclosed within a hamster ball. The aim is to manage your momentum through increasingly difficult courses, adding obstacles, ledges, and platforms to make you fall off the course. The biggest addition is Wii Balance Board support, something that seems perfectly suited to Monkey Ball's gameplay. While controlling a ball with the Wii Remote felt intuitive, the balance board takes control to another level. Leaning to either side rolls you in that direction, and leaning forward increases your speed. Courses tilt according to your balance, and while it feels disorientating at first, it actually helps you know precisely where your centre of gravity lies. This is also represented by a balance board graphic in the bottom-right corner of the screen. The remote is another acceptable control scheme, and while we asked Sega if there are any plans to include Wii MotionPlus support, this is yet to be confirmed.
Like Banana Blitz, Step and Roll gently introduces you to a new control scheme through a number of basic courses, and we saw several tropical-themed levels complete with palm trees, bright colours, and a blue ocean beneath the suspended courses. Things start easy, and you simply need to roll in a straight line to reach the finish line. However, it won't be long before you run into more challenging levels, which require deft control of the ball. While the complete lineup has yet to be revealed, Monkey Ball fans will see Aiai, Meemee, Baby, and Gongon make a return.
In addition to familiar stages, we came across a bonus stage, which featured an Archimedean spiral sunk into the ground. You need to reach the centre of the spiral, collecting bananas as you go, and it gets tricky as you gain speed when approaching the centre. We also saw several party games, including Seesaw Ball, which features numerous 2D seesaw platforms. Players take turns to steer their monkey from platform to platform, collecting as many bananas as possible on the way down. Another fun party game we saw was called Red Light, Green Light: a simultaneous four-player game where the goal is to reach the finish line first. However, making your job more difficult is a sleeping monkey that will order you straight back to the starting line if he catches you moving. He wakes up several times in each round, so you need to move as fast as you can without getting caught. Because the Wii only supports one balance board peripheral, additional players can use the remote and nunchuk to simulate running in this fun, panic-inducing game.
The final multiplayer game we saw was called Island Road. This five-lap race makes more than a passing reference to Mario Kart and features turbo pads on the track, as well as power-up boxes. These include speed boosts, rockets, bombs, and one that expands your ball size, making it easier to knock other competitors off course.
From what we saw, Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll looks like it will make a great addition to the series. It adds an interesting new control scheme with plenty of fun party games, and we're looking forward to going hands on with the game at a later date. Step and Roll will be rolling onto retail shelves in early 2010, but you can get up to speed by watching the official trailer.