- Review Price: £25.00
If ever there was a game that cried out for the Nintendo DS touch-screen control method it’s Super Monkey Ball. Super Monkey Ball rose to fame on the Nintendo GameCube where it was aided by Nintendo’s superb analogue controller, but using the touch-screen on the DS allows for even more subtle control than the original. Anyone who thought that the touch-screen ability of the DS was just a gimmick needs to play Super Monkey Ball: Touch & Roll, then you’ll just “get it”.
To gauge just how important a sensitive and accurate control method is in the Super Monkey Ball world, you just have to look at last year’s Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. This amalgamation of the previous two games was launched on both PS2 and Xbox last year and while the Xbox controller was sensitive enough to guide your monkey around the treacherous environment, the PS2 controller just felt too clumsy to get the best from the game.
Before going into the dynamics of Super Monkey Ball on the DS, I better cover the game in general. At its most basic level, SMB is an evolution of those maze games that you played as a child (if you’re as old as me that is) – you know the ones, where you had to guide a silver ball around a maze avoiding all the holes along the way. This game play was first transferred to the video game world in the classic Marble Madness, but SMB took the concept a step further.
Rather than just guiding an inanimate ball bearing or marble around a maze, in SMB you’re guiding a monkey inside a ball – it makes perfect sense right? Using the stylus you guide your monkey around the maze, trying not to fall off into the abyss. You can also collect bananas along the way – for every 10 bananas collected you get an extra life, which definitely comes in handy once the maps get tougher.
Although the stylus control method is perfect for careful and accurate movement of your monkey, it’s difficult to empower your primate with a quick burst of speed like you could using an analogue stick. Thankfully Sega has thought of this and has enabled the D-pad as well as the touch-screen – the upshot being that when you need your monkey to get a move on, you can resort to the D-pad instead of the stylus.
The main SMB game is split into different levels across a larger landscape. Each level is made up of several maps that have to be traversed, with each one increasing in difficulty. Although some of the maps seem to be impossibly frustrating at first, a little perseverance will usually result in your monkey prevailing. Of course there’s nothing worse than getting stuck on one of the last maps in a level and having to go back to the beginning every time you get the game over screen, so it’s a good thing that there’s a Practice option thrown in – this allows you to jump straight to the level that’s giving you trouble and keep at it until you’ve got it cracked. Then you can go back into the main game and (hopefully) waltz past it.
It’s also great to see that Sega has included many of the sub-games seen in the previous Super Monkey Ball outings. Monkey Bowling is one of my favourites, while the Monkey Race can be even more challenging than the main game. There’s even a first person shooter thrown in, with you wandering around a 3D maze trying to take out your fellow primates – at first the control method for this one feels unfathomably convoluted, but after a bit of practice you soon get used to it.
As anyone who’s played Super Mario DS will tell you, these sub-games can become scarily addictive and often you can end up spending more time playing these than you do the main game. But many of these games are at their best when you’re playing against real opponents rather than computer controlled ones – if you’ve played Monkey Boxing on SMB Deluxe on your Xbox you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. So, you’re going to want to play some of these with your friends using the wireless linkup. Some multi-player action can be had with a single cartridge, while other games will need each player to have a copy of the game, but if you and your friends are fans of the original SMB games, you’ll probably all have Touch & Roll anyway.
Graphically SMB looks as good as it possibly could on a platform like the DS – the colours are bright, the terrains attractive and the animation perfectly cartoonish. Likewise, the sound is all happy little ditties and monkey squeaks and squeals – pretty much exactly what you’d expect. But SMB has never been about flashy graphics or awesome sound effects, it’s about gameplay.
As I said at the beginning of this review, Super Monkey Ball on the Nintendo DS just seems like a marriage made in heaven, but just like any marriage it’s not all plain sailing. As you get to the tougher levels, navigating some of the passages, drops, jumps or obstacles requires a dexterous combination of both the stylus and the D-pad, and if you can’t quite get that right you’ll find yourself falling into oblivion time and time again. That said, SMB is all about how dexterous you are, and always has been, Touch & Roll just takes that to another level.
If you’re a fan of previous Super Monkey Ball games and you own a DS, it’s a no brainer – you will want this game. However, if you’re new to the series that proposition may not seem quite so compelling. In fact many mainstream gamers may find SMB too basic, too old school and definitely too frustrating at times. But let’s remember that the Nintendo DS isn’t aimed at mainstream gamers, they’re all busy showing off their PSP to anyone who’ll take notice. Nintendo DS users are all about the “special” games, the ones that may not have the best graphics or sound, or have big budget licenses to drive them along. These “special” games rely on an altogether different ingredient, they’re fun, plain and simple, just like Super Monkey Ball.
Super Monkey Ball: Touch & Roll is one of those games that reminds me why I’ve been playing my Nintendo DS more than my PSP lately – it’s easy to get into, horribly addictive and most importantly, it’s great fun to play. It’s even taken my mind off how terribly neglected my Nintendog is – what more could I ask for?