Friday 7 October 2016

Super Monkey Ball (Nokia N-Gage review)

Developer: Amusement Vision
Publisher: Sega
Released: 2003

Super Monkey Ball is an Arcade style platformer that was a launch title for the Nintendo GameCube (2001).

The objective is to roll a ball through 50 courses and reach the finish line before the clock runs out. You can only tilt the floor and if you fall off or the timer expires you lose one of your three lives (collecting 50 bananas gives you an extra life). Considering the GameCube version used the precise analog sticks, it's impressive how well the game has transitioned to the N-Gage's d-pad; while the frame-rate can be a tad choppy, failure is never down the controls which is a real testament to how fine-tuned they are. The levels start off small before eventually morphing into huge, sprawling environments with multiple paths. Each is carefully crafted to challenge your skills in different ways with narrow ledges, slanted platforms that require careful speed management to cross, and mechanical objects that try to push you around. It reminds me of the Rock 'n' Roll Maze toy (1980s, Tomy) as there's lots of fun hazards to compliment the precision-based action and playful level design. There's tons of shortcuts too which makes it perfect for speed runners. Even the credit sequence is enjoyable, as you move along an auto-scrolling level while collecting as many bananas as you can. My main gripes are that the camera doesn't always give you the best angle and the action can freeze for a split-second on occasion. There's also three mini-games; Monkey Race (half-baked idea where you race against opponents on a singular track), Monkey Fight (punch opponents off a stage while dealing with miniscule sprites that render it unplayable) and Monkey Target (compelling Pilotwings style game where you launch off ramps and try to fly towards point targets).
Super Monkey Ball is an ideal handheld game to dip in-and-out of, and despite its minor shortcomings this N-Gage port is very playable. The level design is top-notch with a perfect degree of difficulty, and overall it has an addictive charm that's impossible to resist.
Random trivia: The game was originally released in the Arcades in Japan (2001) with a shortened title of Monkey Ball.

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