As gaming has matured, games have grown in complexity. Complex games have their place in the market, but sometimes you just feel like something different. Sega is one of those companies known for fairly regular treks into the "something different" zone. As the company shifts to multiplatform development, it seems to be in fine, quirky form with Super Monkey Ball, its first GameCube release. An enhanced port of developer Amusement Vision's arcade title Monkey Ball, the game makes a strong case for the power of simple yet incredibly addictive gameplay.
Super Monkey Ball's simple, albeit slightly left-of-center premise finds you guiding a monkey encased in a transparent ball to a goal. There are two catches: You control the environment, not the monkey, and the path to the goal becomes increasingly perilous. The simple formula works incredibly well and calls to mind the classic gaming of Marble Madness. The main game is broken down into three modes--normal, practice, and competition. Normal mode is essentially a port of the arcade game, offering a choice of three selectable difficulties. Each difficulty setting offers its own set of progressively difficult levels. Practice mode lets you perfect your skills on stages you've already cleared. Competition mode shows off one of the game's biggest strengths: its multiplayer support. While one to four players can play normal mode, they have to alternate turns. Competition mode, on the other hand, actually lets two to four players play the game simultaneously on a split screen.
In addition to the main game, Super Monkey Ball offers two original modes, party game and minigame, which offer a variety of gameplay but keep to the simplicity that makes the main game mode so appealing. Party game mode offers three games--Monkey Race, Monkey Fight, and Monkey Target. Monkey Race is a solid little racer for up to four players, complete with power-ups. You'll choose from three types: a six-course grand prix, time attack, or one-course race. Monkey Fight is a one-to-four-player brawl in one of three arenas featuring a jungle, ice, or space theme. In this mode, your monkey's ball is outfitted with a telescoping fist, which you smack opponents with. The goal is to knock your opponents off the edges of the stage as many times as possible. Monkey Target is an eclectic game for up to four players that's one part Pilotwings and one part 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. Different parts of the pad are worth different numbers of points--and successfully coming to rest on them will earn a certain score. To keep things interesting, you'll spin a roulette wheel at the start of each round to see if the game will place aerial hazards in your way.
Minigame mode makes you work to unlock the games it has to offer. When playing through the main game in single-player mode, you'll earn points. For every 2,500 points earned, you'll be able unlock one of three games--Monkey Billiards, Monkey Bowling, and Monkey Golf. Monkey Billiards lets one to two players try their hand at nine ball, monkey style. 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. 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. Match play is a two-player competition in which your goal is to get your ball in the hole before your opponent does.
Super Monkey Ball offers a nice upgrade of the arcade version. While the graphics are very simple and cartoony, they have been freshened considerably. Super Monkey Ball makes good use of the GameCube hardware, offering clean, colorful graphics. While the four selectable monkey models and the various levels are simple in design, they are generously modeled with well-textured and shaded polygons and have a very rich look. Reflective chrome, particle effects, lighting effects, bump mapping, reflection mapping, and hi-res textures are all on display to varying degrees. The hardware handles the onscreen action quite well, maintaining a high frame rate even in four-player split-screen. The game's sound, while good, is probably the weakest aspect of the game. The game's soundtrack is a catchy mix of tunes that calls to mind some of Sega's best game music from back in the day. The monkey cries are a bit weaker, however, as they lack variety. The other sound effects in the game are solid but unspectacular.
Super Monkey Ball should be a pleasant surprise in the GameCube lineup when the system launches. Solid graphics, addictive yet accessible gameplay, and some of the best multiplayer action on the system make it a winner. New GameCube owners couldn't ask for a better party game to play with friends.