E3 06: Super Monkey Ball Adventure Preshow Impressions

More monkeys. More adventures. More balls. You know you want to read more.

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Super Monkey Ball Adventures is Sega''s next exploration into the fascinating world of monkeys rolling along precarious pathways in translucent balls. Whereas previous Monkey Ball games were more of the puzzle variety, Super Monkey Ball Adventures is, as its name implies, an adventure game that will feature the entire gang of fun-loving monkeys getting into and out of all sorts of mischief as they explore five unique levels. We got a sneak peek at Adventures during a recent Sega pre-E3 press event.

Developed by Traveller''s Tales (the studio behind Lego Star Wars), Adventures' main single- player mode is its story mode, which blends the open-ended nature of a traditional adventure game with the puzzle levels that have been around since the first Super Monkey Ball game. The game''s story mode is a classic tale of forbidden monkey love, as a Hatfield/-McCoy-type feud between battling families serves to rip apart the entirety of the Monkey Ball universe. OkayOK, it''s probably not that dramatic--, but that''s the basic gist, anyway.

As you roam around the multiple levels found in the game (with evocative names such as Monkeytropolis and Kongri-la), you''ll be interacting with plenty of characters who dole out quests for you to complete. One quest we saw during the game demo required the hero monkey to gather a certain number of honeybees and return them to the resident bee -keeper. In order to collect bees, the player must roll over the bee hives which, along with flowers, act as bounce pads that can shoot your monkey ball high into the air and allow you to access areas you might not be able to reach otherwise. By completing these quests, you''ll restore ""joy"" to the game world, and unlock new content to explore as well.

Bouncing bee hives isn''t the only new mechanic in Adventures; the game will also feature a number of new powers that have yet to be seen in a Monkey Ball game. By transforming his magical ball into wood, your little monkey will be able to float on water. Should that wooden monkey ball catch fire, however, don''t despair--flaming monkey balls have their uses as well. When encountering enemies in the game, you''ll want to be able to give them a good smack--and the boxing glove power is the perfect tool for the job. There''s also an invisiball, which camouflages you from enemies, and a hover ball that lets you float off of the ground (which is slightly different from the glide ball that let's you float across the sky). Our favorite was the sticky ball, which you earn late in the game; it''s covered in suction cups and allows you to climb up hills and obstacles that would otherwise be insurmountable.

By defeating certain enemies in Adventures, you''ll unlock access to new monkey ball puzzles, which are the fascinating and sometimes aggravating levels that comprise the older Monkey Ball games. The puzzle levels we saw in the demo were full of the kind of shifting and sliding landscapes that fans of the series are used to--it seems like the developers at Traveller''s Tale are intent on giving Monkey Ball veterans the challenge they desire through the more than 50 puzzle levels that will appear in the game.

Though story mode comprises the majority of the single-player experience in Adventures, the multiplayer aspects haven''t been ignored. One of the coolest parts of multiplayer Monkey Ball is a new mode called monkey target. Monkey target features four players trying to destroy their opponents'' castles using cannons that shoot--what else?--monkey balls. In the first round, you fortify your castle''s defenses, placing special monkey-proof armaments on the individual bricks that comprise your castle. These fortifications include boxing gloves, spikes, and force fields. In the second timed round, you blast away at your opponents'' castles with your cannon, trying to completely level their defenses. It may sound silly, but, hey, this is Monkey Ball. Silly is part of the package. Another mini-game is monkey bounce, which developers compared to a monkey-themed version of the Chinese strategy game "Go."

Super Monkey Ball Adventures is scheduled for release later this year for the GameCube, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable. Owners of the PSP game will enjoy all of the modes found in the console games, and will also be able to swap story mode saves between the PSP and PS2 versions of the game, play the mini-games with up to three other folks using the ad hoc wireless mode (including a PSP-only collectible card game), and enjoy 15 unique puzzle levels not found on the console versions. We''ll have a full review of all versions of Super Monkey Ball Adventures after the game bounces its way to store shelves.

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