Super Monkey Ball Jr. Review
by Colin K. Yu
During the past week, I had the unique experience of reviewing two Gameboy Advance games, Majesco's Turbo Turtle Adventure and THQ's Super Monkey Ball Jr. Both games have the same theme in that they both have a main character that rolls around trying to get from start to finish in labyrinth-like levels. First it was a rolling turtle, and now it's a monkey in a rolling ball. And let me tell you, that's a lot of rolling around for one week. In comparison, I cannot only say that Super Monkey Ball Jr. is the better game, but I can also confidently say that it is one of the best Gameboy Advance games of the year.
Super Monkey Ball Jr. is what it claims to be, which is an offspring of the original Super Monkey Ball for Gamecube. And Super Monkey Ball is somewhat like a non-blood related relative of the classic Marble Madness. Super Monkey Ball debuted with the launch of the Nintendo Gamecube, and barely held any interest to the average gamer.
In Super Monkey Ball, the main character is a monkey in a ball (why would that sound out of the ordinary?). The monkey can roll around on the level just like a hamster rolls around in its ball. The objective of each level was to navigate the monkey from the start of the three-dimensional labyrinth-like level to the Goal gate. With each completion, the levels get increasing more difficulty, throwing in more twists and turns, and obstacles along the way. But due to Sega's insatiable knack for ingenuity, and the game's incredibly addictive multiplayer games, Super Monkey Ball began to have a cult-like following. Even today, Super Monkey Ball is one of the best multiplayer games on the Gamecube.
The biggest concern about Super Monkey Ball's port to Gameboy Advance was, "How will we mimic the gameplay while maintaining the 3D appearance on a less powerful system?" The answer is, practically perfectly. Super Monkey Ball Jr. is instantly identified with its predecessor on the Gamecube. Realism Ltd. did a fantastic job of recreating the Gamecube experience, and keeping its main components intact, without sacrificing a lot.
The gameplay is spot on. The ball rolls fluidly on the screen, and being that it is the main component of the game, the fluidity is essential. Contrary to what one might assume, in Super Monkey Ball the player does not directly control the monkey in the ball, but in fact controls the landscape which it's on. So tilting the level to the right will vicariously tilt the ball to the right. And since the player need only control the tilting of the level, the only buttons the player needs to be concerned about is the directional pad. Perhaps the only nitpicking that I can say about the gameplay is that the ball tends to roll faster than its brothers on the Gamecube. Otherwise the game sounds simple, right? As usual, that is far from the truth.
Super Monkey Ball Jr. begins with three difficulty sets, a Beginners set, an Advanced set, and an Expert Set. The first stage of the Beginners set is like a friendly welcome mat to the game. Its design is a simple oval-shaped level, where the task is to get from one side to the other. But as the player completes each stage and progresses, the stages get more and more intimidating. There are more tight curves to turn on, hairpin bridges to cross, moving platforms to roll on, and bumpers that are unfriendly to monkeys in rolling balls. Completing the Expert set requires Zen-like patience and nerves of steel, and completing these "How the heck am I supposed to this?" levels will probably give you the same satisfaction and excitement as one would have from finishing Halo on the Legendary difficulty. Unfortunately, the stages in these sets are mostly replicas of those from the original Super Monkey Ball. Therefore, if you've played them on the Gamecube, you'll see the same ones on the GBA.
Realizing the difficulty of porting Super Monkey Ball from Gamecube to Gameboy Advance, I think most of us would have been satisfied with just the single-player game. But Realism went the whole nine yards and transferred the multiplayer games as well. And just like the single-player port, the multiplayer port is practically perfect. Included are four unlockable mini-games, as well as the Link cable capability. Playing the single-player levels and earning play points can unlock the mini-games. The four mini-games are Monkey Fight, Monkey Duel, Monkey Bowling, and Monkey Golf. Sadly, one of the most popular mini-games from the original, Monkey Target, was omitted. But with the four that Realism did include, they're more than enough to fill your gaming pleasure.
These mini-games will keep you and your friends very happy. Monkey Fight pits each monkey for itself, as each player tries to knock their opponents off the playing level with their oversized boxing gloves. Monkey Bowling rolls your monkey-in-a-ball down the lane with a twist of rolling in an unpredictable direction. Monkey Golf sets your monkey-in-a-ball as a golf ball, as you attempt to navigate through one of the zaniest golf courses ever. Monkey Duel, a new addition to the original game, rushes you and your opponent to finish a course in the least amount of time. No matter which mini-game you choose, having fun is almost guaranteed.
The sound is directly from the original as well. Every sound from the selection beep to the sound effects of each monkey is included, and comes through with clarity. The only nitpicking that I can possibly point out is the visuals. Each of the original four characters, Aiai, Meemee, Baby, and Gongon, are intact in this version, and even though it's not an integral part of the gameplay, they barely resemble monkeys. The level design also needs to be commented on. The structure is fine, but the pixelation and the color schemes remind me of the horrible Bubsy 3D (*shudder*). And one of the worst aspects that come along with the port is the camera. At times it can be unresponsive, and most annoyingly, the camera can't be repositioned to see something off-camera.
But these small complaints should definitely not stop you from buying Super Monkey Ball Jr. Realism did an incredible job, and deserves attention. Just like how Super Monkey Ball should be required in one's Gamecube library, Super Monkey Ball Jr. should be required in one's Gameboy Advance library. The only factor that should really affect your decision is if you've played the Gamecube version, it's essentially the same game on the GBA but with the option of being portable. Otherwise, Super Monkey Ball Jr. should definitely be on your holiday wish list this season.
Colin K. Yu (12/22/2002)