MAKUHARI, Japan--Though it's known as Super Monkey Ball Athletic in Japan, there's no real fitness aspect to the upcoming Wii version of Super Monkey Ball. That said, don't be surprised if you work up a little sweat when controlling Aiai, Meemee, and the rest of the gang, thanks to the game's support of the Wii Balance Board. We had a chance to check out Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll today, and the new control scheme, coupled with the just-announced cooperative play, gives this entry in the SMB series some life.
First off is the balance board support. While you can control your monkey ball on the game's various levels with the Wii Remote, twisting and turning the remote to maneuver around the sometimes intricately designed mazes, doing so with the balance board brings a new level of challenge to the game. It's not hard to imagine that shifting your weight around the balance board is a good deal less precise than twisting your arm, which greatly increases the challenge of the maps--especially in the tight turns, where you need expert precision to guide your monkey ball and grab the bananas that line the levels.
The just-announced cooperative play allows two players to take part on the same level. One person guides the monkey ball around the level--using either the Wii Remote or the balance board--while the other uses a second Wii Remote to blast obstacles that are impeding the monkey ball's progress. Periodically, you'll need to reload on ammo by waving the Wii Remote.
Cooperative play is simple in concept and control but requires a level of communication between the two players--particularly for the "driver" who needs to let the other player know which way he's heading so they can look for obstacles. As always in SMB, players will be judged on how quickly they complete the level as well as on how many bananas they pick up before reaching the finish line.
In addition to cooperative play, we got a peek at some of the multiplayer minigames that will also be part of Step and Roll. These include straight-ahead events like monkey ball races as well as more esoteric games, such as one that required us to twist the Wii Remote in order to move a big leaf that would bounce colored fruit falling from a tree into baskets of the same color. The player with the most correctly sorted fruit at the end of the round was declared the winner.
Cooperative play and balance board support seem like perfectly acceptable additions to the Super Monkey Ball series without the game getting too far away from its monkey-in-a-ball roots. That's a good thing, and we look forward to seeing how Step and Roll turns out.