Since its early arcade days, Super Monkey Ball has gradually grown in popularity in Japan, North America, and Europe, spawning several ports and sequels throughout the years for the Nintendo GameCube, the PlayStation 2, the Xbox, the GameBoy Advance, the DS, and, most recently, the Wii.
Although its concept is simple--rolling a monkey around in a giant transparent ball--its platforming elements are increasingly complex, giving the series longevity and popularity across different age groups. While in Japan, we sat down with producer Yasuhito Baba, whose first-time involvement with the Super Monkey Ball series led to the upcoming Wii title Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll.
According to Baba, the new title’s biggest improvement over the last Super Monkey Ball on the Wii, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, is the use of the Wii Balance Board in gameplay. The reason for this was to give players a new way to play the game and increase the “party feel” of the title.
“Super Monkey Ball has always been a very simple game with very simple gameplay,” Baba said. “We didn’t want to change this. We just wanted to come up with a new experience. The Wii Balance Board has been around for a long time, and we wanted to take advantage of it. The simple game mechanics of Super Monkey Ball made this a possibility, and we hope fans of the game enjoy it more with this new addition.”
In order to play the game, you must think of the Wii Balance Board as the floor--tilting forward will make the ball roll to the front, tilting back will make the ball stop, and so on. Players can also choose to play the game using the Wii remote, which has the same control scheme (that is, tilting it in different directions to make the ball roll).
Of course, the core experience has not changed. The heart of the Super Monkey Ball franchise is in its level design, and Baba is confident that the new title will live up to players’ expectations in this aspect.
“We’ve designed each level in accordance with the colours of the rainbow,” Baba said. “This means each stage will feel very different and, as usual, will increase with difficulty.”
At first Baba wasn’t convinced he could use the Wii Balance Board in the game’s control scheme and still keep the complex platforming elements that make up a Super Monkey Ball experience. But he was reassured after a few hours of testing the new control scheme.
“When playing with the Wiimote you find yourself gradually improving. But with the Wii Balance Board, you go from being unsure to suddenly being great. You actually feel the game becoming harder and you can keep up. We also concentrated on giving players hints throughout the game.”
There are also 21 new minigames in Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll, which was created so that players can play with one Wii Balance Board and three Wii remotes. According to Baba, the minigames have been designed to get players to battle amongst each other, with some designed to be especially difficult to play. There is also a new monkey character named Jam, which will make an appearance in this part of the game.
According to Baba, Super Monkey Ball’s popularity comes from the game’s simplistic control scheme and variation in level design. While it might be viewed as a casual game, Super Monkey Ball attracts a lot of hardcore fans, and this is something the developers kept in mind when creating Super Monkey Ball: Step and Roll.
“We didn’t want to ignore our loyal fans, so we kept both markets in mind [hardcore and casual] when designing this game. It’s a huge franchise, but it has a lot of depth.”
In the future, Baba believes that even with the advent of new technologies like Project Natal, games like Super Monkey Ball should always stay simple and fun. While the pressure to increasingly innovate is always there, Baba says his aim will always be to make a solid game.
“Looking forward, we’d like to consider online functionality with the next Super Monkey Ball title, but we haven’t decided if we will. We still don’t know what platform the next game will be on, or when it will be released. However, we feel online functionality would mean people can enjoy playing the game for a longer period of time, and that’s something we want to do.”