In our last look at Super Monkey Ball we gave you an overview of the game and what it had to offer. Now that the GameCube has launched in Japan, we've been able to thoroughly explore the import version. While lacking the marquee value of Waverace and Luigi's Mansion, Super Monkey Ball manages to hold its own against those titles with sheer playability and a robust offering of gameplay modes. We've come away thoroughly impressed by the game and its strong multiplayer components.
Super Monkey Ball will offer three modes of play: main game, party game, and minigame. The minigame mode can be unlocked when you earn points in the main game. Each mode offers a solid amount of variety thanks to a meaty selection of games to play through. The main game is broken down into normal mode, which is essentially the original arcade game that it's based on; practice mode, which lets you familiarize yourself with the various boards; and competition mode, which will have you competing against one to three friends to see who can score the most points on a board. The game initially offers three difficulty levels--beginner, advanced, and expert--but it's possible to unlock three additional difficulty settings if you make it through each of the initial difficulty levels without dying once.
The party game mode offers three games--Monkey Race, Monkey Fight, and Monkey Target--and you can play with up to three friends. Monkey Race lets you choose from three races: a six-course grand prix, time attack, or a one-course race. Control is basic: You control your monkey's speed and direction with the analog stick, and you control trigger items with the A button. You can collect a variety of offensive power-ups, such as bombs to knock opponents away, bananas to make them lose control, or items which morph their monkey's ball into a multisided cube to slow them down. In addition, the game offers turbo pads on the track, which speed you up and boost power-ups.
Monkey Fight is a one-to-four-player brawl on one of three boards featuring a jungle, ice, or space theme. Your monkey's ball is outfitted with a telescoping fist, which you shoot out with the A button. The goal is to maneuver your monkey with the analog stick and knock your opponents off the board as many times as possible to win a point. Whoever earns three points first wins the game. To make things interesting, the game will randomly drop power-ups on the board that will increase the size of your monkey's fist, increase the range it can travel, or let you perform a 360 spin attack that will send your opponents flying.
Finally, Monkey Target is an eclectic game for one to four players that mixes Pilotwings and darts. The goal is to earn points by launching your monkey off a platform and gliding it to a pad floating in the surrounding ocean. When in the air, your monkey ball becomes a pair of glider wings, which you spread and retract with the A button. At the start of each round you'll hit the A button to stop a roulette wheel that will determine what hazards you will face. The game will place hazards in your way depending on where the wheel stops. Lucky players will land on blank spaces, which offer safety, while the less fortunate will earn vision-obscuring clouds, bombs that prevent safe landings, or air mines that block your travel through the air. An onscreen meter will show you current wind conditions to help you maneuver your monkey, while an altimeter keeps you informed of your altitude so you know how much time you have before you crash into the ocean. As you make your attempts, it's possible to use the points you've collected to earn power-ups such as point multipliers or grip enhancements for a safer landing, which will help your performance.
The minigame mode has three games for you to unlock--Monkey Billiards, Monkey Bowling, and Monkey Golf--when you earn 2500 points for each game in normal mode. Monkey Billiards lets one to two players try their hand at 9 ball, monkey style. You can choose between two game types, versus or tournament mode, and set the number of points required to win from one to 99. Control is simple: The analog stick will let you line up your shot and alternate between a normal and a hard shot, and the A button will let you set your power. The yellow C stick lets you adjust the camera for a better look at the table, while the Y button switches the camera to a traditional overhead view. The X button calls up an overlay with the numbers of each ball. Overall, this game offers up a very solid pool experience.
Monkey Bowling is a bowling game that offers two game options, standard and challenge. Standard mode is a straightforward bowling game for up to four players. You'll use the analog stick to line up your monkey, then press A once to call up a moving pointer, again to set the pointer's aim, and a third time to set the power of your throw. The L and R triggers can be used to give the ball a bit of spin to compensate for bad aim. Challenge mode is a single-player game that tests your bowling skills by offering different pin layouts in the lane for you to knock down. Finally, Monkey Golf is a miniature-golf game with two variations, stroke play and match play. Stroke play is a one-to-four-player game of 18-hole golf. You'll aim your monkey with the analog stick and set the power of your shot with the A button. Pushing up or down on the analog stick will let you switch between four club types. The Y button will overlay a grid on the green to help you map out your shot. For the truly dedicated player, the C stick can be used to map out a line to your shot and measure distance when in grid mode. The X button calls up your stats for the current game. Match play is a two-player competition where your goal is to get your ball in the hole before your opponent does.
We'll admit we were more than a little surprised at everything that's been packed into Super Monkey Ball's Japanese release. It's rare that a developer can get so much mileage out of a home conversion of such a basic game. Needless to say we are extremely pleased with the creativity Amusement Vision has shown with the extras in Super Monkey Ball, and we look forward to the game's domestic release. Gamers eager to get their monkey ball on can look for it in November at the GameCube launch.