Platforms: PS2, Xbox. PS2 version reviewed.
Like so many great ideas, Super Monkey Ball Deluxe is ludicrously simple. Take a hairy ape, stick him in an oversized hamster-ball and stick that hamster ball at one end of a floating, essentially 2D surface, with a goal at the other end. Ensure the terrain in between is full of gaping chasms, tiny catwalks, moving platforms and assorted paraphernalia, then ask the player to get the ball from one end to the other. While they’re at it, they may wish to collect some bananas. Oh, and remember the twist: the player can’t actually move the ball; only tilt the landscape to influence the ball’s movement. Scratch what I said first – this idea is simply ludicrous.
But then it works. Super Monkey Ball was arguably the star game of the Gamecube launch, and SMB2 made it work even better. The only bad news was that you needed a Gamecube to play it, leaving our beloved apes to languish in undeserved obscurity while the casual-gaming masses bought Sonic Heroes instead. Hopefully, the arrival of SMB Deluxe on PS2 and Xbox could change that.
Essentially, this is a SMB compendium, with the single player story mode added to SMB2, plus SMB’s levels, some of SMB2’s levels and 49 brand spanking new ones as well packaged into the challenge mode. And don’t worry – those legendary party games are here in full attendance.
It’s probably Story Mode that gets your attention first, and it’s here that anyone over the age of five might have that make or break Monkey Ball moment. The graphics are lovely, but in a relentlessly cute way, and the plotline is amongst the most bizarre ever committed to a video game. Apparently, the shunned Dr BadBoon takes revenge on the monkeys of Jungle Island by stealing all their bananas, then, rejected by SMB heroine MeeMee, he decides to sink the whole shebang by placing a bomb in the volcano. Later, BadBoon and the four SMB heroes, AiAi, MeeMee, Gongon and Baby are swallowed by a giant whale, for no apparent reason. You’ll either like – or at least tolerate – this quirkiness, or you won’t. But if you don’t, then you’ll end up being the loser.
Here’s what you really need to know about Story Mode. It starts out fairly challenging, and soon gets fairly tough. Just when you’re getting used to the slim, undulating paths and nasty bevelled surfaces, in comes jumps, tight curved runways, shifting or twisting platforms, rapidly moving goals, conveyers and a range of other horrors. A few worlds in, it starts to combine them. As a single fall off the edge means repeating the level, it’s no surprise that playing SMB is an experience right on the edge of frustration – Super Monkey Ball now, Ultra Stomach Ulcer later.