IGN Review of Super Monkey Ball Adventure
Super Monkey Ball Adventure from Traveller's Tales and SEGA is digital proof that bigger is not always better. After all, this game seems to have it all, including a brand new storyline and a full-blown adventure mode complete with a giant overworld, but all of these additions are distractions from what remains the most enjoyable portion of the franchise: the simplistic puzzle mazes. As you continue onward with this review, you're going to see us use the word 'simple' again and again because it happens to be a descriptor that best sums up the original Super Monkey Ball games and it is also the very thing that Super Monkey Ball Adventure is not. Traveller's Tales' take on the series still captures some of the spirit of previous endeavors, including an assortment of classic-style puzzle mazes and mini-games, but everything in-between is regularly more complicated than necessary and more chore than fun.
The Super Monkey Ball franchise was born of classics like Marble Madness and has always been an arcade-paced affair. At the heart of previous games was a series of puzzle mazes, each designed to challenge your brain and your reflexes. The goal was simply to reach the goal by any means necessary. If you were a pro, you found ways to bounce your glass-encased monkey off objects and around turns for spectacular shortcuts. If you were a novice, you probably jerked your way through the obstacles, all the while twisting your controller as though you might be wrestling it from a monkey's grip. But either way, you could pick up and play the titles from the start and whether you were a whiz or a joke, you found yourself having a lot of fun.
Super Monkey Ball Adventure altogether loses the immediately accessible nature of previous games for an uninteresting storyline that revolves around a newly implemented and equally uninteresting hub world. We learn through a series of load screens and offensively archaic in-game cut-scenes that the heroes of previous games - namely GonGon, AiAi, MeeMee and Baby - must embark upon a quest to spread joy through the five kingdoms of Monearth. The only way to do this is to travel the overworld, complete menial tasks for the inhabitants and at long last take part in some fun puzzle mazes.
If you're a more traditional Monkey Ball fan, all of this added exposition is probably going to frustrate you. But as far as basic adventure outings go, Traveller's Tales project seems to have a passable formula. The overworld itself is colorful and varied and there are indeed some enjoyable moments, such as the first time your monkey glides across the ocean to the nearby island. Meanwhile, an entertaining new character upgrade system plays hand-in-hand with objectives and island puzzles. For example, monkeys can eventually gain chant powers that enable them to use boxing gloves, turn to fire, stick, and so on, and the studio has done a fine job of using these attributes within the world. It is at precisely during these moments that the very forced nature of the adventure mode seems to relent.
But things go from simple to overly complicated and indeed downright clunky when you try to stray from the body of the hub world to its many arms and legs, as each section is separated by a momentum-breaking load time. Furthermore, interacting with the monkey inhabitants of the island is a tedious undertaking due in part to the outdated animation and in part to some of the most awful, repetitive, and compressed voice samples ever devised for characters. If your tastes coincide with ours, you'll want to pull your hair out after every conversation.
You will at least be able to retreat to some 50 classic-style puzzle stages, which feel and look nearly as good as their predecessors. While Traveller's Tales has mimicked these traditional challenges and even designed some clever obstacles of its own, the disappointing truth is that even these areas lack the spectacular polish of previous endeavors. Say what you will about Super Monkey Ball 1 and 2; perhaps they were not your thing. But they controlled beautifully and ran in both progressive-scan and at 60 frames per second, at least on GameCube. Neither is true of the puzzle mazes in Adventure, which, while still generally satisfying, are sometimes hampered by an inconsistent framerate and a cumbersome camera. And no, despite arriving years later, the title does not support progressive-scan. Of course, these areas are still the big draw for Monkey fans, but you have to ask yourself, why aren't they as polished as their aged predecessors? There's really no excuse.
The lack of polish unfortunately carries over to the adventure mode, too, where the framerate is almost always inconsistent. And depending on where you are or what you're doing, sound samples may skip repeatedly or drop out altogether.
When the single-player affair grows tiresome, you can take part in a series of four-player compatible mini-games, some of which are carried over from older versions and some of which are brand new. Games like Monkey Target, which jettison your primate into the air for target practice, are still as fun as ever, while newbies like Monkey Tag, which challenge you to collect balloons, are less so.
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