E3 2001 Hands-onSuper Monkey Ball

We played Sega's monkey-based GameCube game. Check out our impressions.

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When playing Super Monkey Ball, the first analogy that comes to your mind is Marble Madness. Indeed, the game seems like a modern 3D interpretation of the classic, surreal roller, though with a few notable exceptions--namely, smaller, more compact levels and a more precarious overall feel.

In Super Monkey Ball, you play as a monkey that's inside of a translucent sphere. Any of three monkeys are available: a male, a female, and a baby, each having has different characteristics, including weight, speed, and the like. You don't control the monkeys themselves, however--instead, you tilt the playfield, causing your monkey ball to move by means of momentum. With a little practice, this quickly becomes second nature.

The point of each stage is to get from one checkpoint to another without falling off the level. Frequently more open-ended than linear, the game's stages are very dynamic, often full of shifting terrain, deadly gaps, and bananas aplenty. Super Monkey apparently has the Dole license, so every piece of fruit you'll pick up will be spangled with the company's fine logo. You pick up bananas for extra points, and they're scattered around the levels. There's a time limit in each level, though, so you'll have to balance your desire for high point totals with getting to the level's goal in a timely manner.

The game's stages seem simple at first, but they get pretty elaborate as the game goes on. One of the later stages we played in our demo took the form of a giant guitar, complete with strings, knobs, and even a tremolo bar. In order to reach the goal, we had to roll on one of its strings--a very precarious endeavor, needless to say. Each of the six strings got progressively thinner, with a greater number of fruit occupying the thinnest paths.

We also got to try out the game's multiplayer mode. Essentially, it's the same as the single-player mode, only this time, you're racing against your opponent to reach the goal first. You're not in the same map, however--rather, each of you has your own map to clear. Strangely enough, the experience is pretty engaging. You'll constantly check out your opponents' screens to see if they've any edge on you. Up to four players can go at it at one time, and, at this point, the frame rate doesn't drop too drastically.

Super Monkey Ball seems like a light, frivolous game, though it's one that's fairly addicting. The game is coming to the GameCube sometime this fall, so keep with us for an update as soon as one is available.

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