E3 06: Super Monkey Ball Adventure Hands-On

We roll on over to the Sega Booth to check out the next game in the Super Monkey Ball series.

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LOS ANGELES--Among Sega's stable of franchises making an appearance at E3 this year are Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz for the Wii and Super Monkey Ball Adventure for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube. That's a lot of Monkey Ball, but when it comes to rolling cute little monkeys around in balls, we just can't get enough. We made our way through the crowds in South Hall to hit up the Sega booth and get our hands on Super Monkey Ball Adventure, and it looks like a promising, if not radically different, addition to the Monkey Ball universe.

Super Monkey Ball Adventure is the story of four cute little monkeys named Ai Ai, Mee Mee, Baby, and Gongon. The story begins with the monkeys enjoying a banana barbecue on Jungle Island. All of a sudden feathers start to fall from the sky, and when the monkeys look up they see two monkeys, who appear to be royalty of some sort, riding on a huge bird. The group seems to be distressed, and they are rapidly losing altitude. Just then the alarm bells of Tree Palace start to ring, so the four monkeys set off to see if they can help.

At this point we took control of Ai Ai, who was the monkey we chose before starting the game. We rolled our way up a path, collecting a few stray bananas here and there and talking to the locals, who encouraged us to go to the palace and see what was wrong. We followed some signs that pointed us in the direction of the tree palace, and eventually we ran into a rather portly enemy who blocked our path. He spun around and knocked us away with his arms, but then he eventually got dizzy, and while he was stunned we rammed him out of our way. This seems to indicate that combat will play a role in the game.

Once we passed the enemy creature, we reached a large locked door at the base of a tree, with five shimmering portals in front of it. After chatting with a friendly guard, we learned that we had to enter the portals and clear the correct stage to unlock the door. The first portal we entered took us to the shuffle stage, which was just a wide, straight stretch of floating land with movable sections that shuffled back and forth in the middle. The second portal we entered took us to the over-the-hills stage, which was a straightaway with a succession of large hills that we had to roll over. It wasn't as easy as it sounds, though, because getting too much speed caused us to catch air off the apex of a hill and then fly off the edge of the map. The final portal we entered took us to the cascade stage, which was a vertically oriented stage where we started out on a sloped platform with several large holes in it. We had to fall through the correct holes to reach the lower platforms and roll to the goal line. After clearing the cascade stage, Ai Ai did a little victory dance, and then the door opened.

That was the end of the single-player demo, but we also had a chance to check out the multiplayer party games. There were six minigames available in the demo. Cannon required us to shoot a monkey ball out of a cannon at a target. Bounce required us to bounce around a map and change as many of the squares as possible to our assigned color. Fight was the usual king-of-the-hill type of game--each monkey ball had a boxing glove attached that could be used to bump opponents off the edge of the map. The target minigame is the same as in previous Monkey Ball games--you roll down a ramp and then glide toward a target, closing your ball at the right moment and trying to land as close as possible to the high-point zones of each target. There's also a tag mode, where everyone has to avoid the player that's "it." Finally, there's a straight-up race mode, where you simply roll along a course as fast as you can and try to finish in first place. All of the games are playable by up to four players.

The graphics in Super Monkey Ball Adventure are as cute and colorful as ever, but they look dated by today's standards. There isn't a lot of detail to be found, and the stages are kind of empty. Jungle Island had plenty of scenery to check out, but nothing especially interesting. That said, a game like Super Monkey Ball Adventure doesn't need slick graphics or eye-popping effects to be enjoyable.

Super Monkey Ball Adventure looks like it will offer some unique interaction and exploration elements to the standard Monkey Ball formula. We were hoping to see something a bit new and different, but what is there is just as fun and easy to pick up and play as in previous games in the series. The game is scheduled to ship next month, so be sure to check back soon for our full review.

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