Some of the best games are also the most simple, and truly good game design doesn't require the distraction of flashy graphics or ultra-violent themes. When a title has tight enough gameplay it can be based on almost anything, even a league of monkey heroes that travel in translucent spheres. Hence the success of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe
, a title that is both accessible and challenging with a wacky style that is sure to put a smile on the most jaded gamer's face.
For gamers that have missed out on the Monkey Ball phenomenon here is short explanation of how the single player game works. The gameplay resembles Marble Madness in that a ball must be navigated around obstacles towards a goal. In this case, the player uses the analogue stick to tilt the board underneath the ball, causing it to roll in different directions. Each stage has a time limit and contains environmental hazards that stand between the monkey and the checkered finish line. Completing each stage in a timely fashion and collecting bananas boosts a player's score. Falling off the edge of board results in a "fall out" and ends the round.
There is no jump button, no firing of projectiles, and no power-ups. The premise sounds simple enough but true ballers know that the advanced stages of this game require a tremendous amount of strategy and coordination. The boards have names like "Stepping Stones" or "Totalitarianism" and each one offers a unique challenge. Stages are filled with moving obstacles, ramps, and even varying levels of gravity. Often there are switches that can be rolled over to slow down active barriers, but this takes time, which ultimately takes away from the final score. Some levels also contain more than one finish line, with hidden drops and jumps along the way.
Taking it slow will get most gamers through any level. However, stages have more than one path to the finish line and advanced players will send their monkeys over seemingly impossible gaps and around hair-pin turns to save precious seconds. Include the point bonus given for rolling over bananas and game play becomes even deeper. In this way, Super Monkey Ball can appeal to both new and experienced players.
It has been four years since the first Monkey Ball rolled onto the GameCube but for Xbox owners it may have been worth the wait. This version contains 114 levels from the first game, 140 levels from Super Monkey Ball 2, and 46 brand new maps. In order to arrange these maps into a coherent order there is a story mode and a new challenge mode. The plot of the story-based game has all of the coherence one would expect from a game starring monkeys with super powers. Dr. Bad-boon has decided to steal all of the bananas from the island where the four protagonists are living. This forces the monkey heroes Aiai, Meemee, Baby, and Gongon to enter the doctor's deadly mazes and reclaim the bananas.
Story mode is broken down into worlds which contain a selection of maps. Players need to complete ten maps of any difficulty to advance to the next world. Super Monkey Ball Deluxe also includes a challenge mode that organizes the levels by varying degrees of difficulty. There is a beginner setting with 40 stages, an advanced setting with 70 stages, and a mode for true experts with 100 stages. Part of the challenge is completing each map without "falling out." Each monkey is given 15 chances (three lives and five continues) to complete every level. There is also a multiplayer option where four players compete in a race to the last level of the challenge.
Super Monkey Ball Deluxe offers a huge single-player experience, but its strongest aspect is the expansive multiplayer mode. Under the main game there is a competition mode which allows up to four monkeys to compete across any of the maps unlocked in challenge mode. The same rules from the single-player game apply and the monkeys cannot bump each other off of the board. The game allows you to change the consecutive number of maps played and the size of the banana bonus given to the winners. Bananas determine the winner, and of course, the quicker each player finishes the more fruit they collect.
With more than one hundred maps, competition mode contains hours of enjoyment, but only accounts for a small portion of the multiplayer possibilities. A second option in the main menu leads to 12 party games. This section of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe is deep enough to exist as a separate game. These mini-games include:
Monkey Race DX
Monkey Fight DX
Monkey Target DX
Monkey Golf DX
Monkey Billiards DX
Each mini-game offers a unique take on a familiar theme and each one has a surprisingly high level of customization. For example, in Monkey Baseball you can play a single game or a tournament, choose a stadium, set the number of innings, and toggle a mercy rule. Not every mini-game is a complete success. The controls of Monkey Dogfight and Monkey Boat are a bit clumsy, and these games will be passed up in favor Monkey Shot and Baseball every time.
The only element missing from this game is an online component. The multi-player games are best experienced in the presence of friends, but the mini-games would have been a fun online distraction. It boggles the mind to think of the possibilities of online Monkey Ball tournaments and leader boards.
It is difficult to criticize the graphics of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe. The simple gameplay requires very little visual flair and even the GBA version of the game is just as fun as the graphically detailed console version. The art is well suited to the ridiculous characters and on the Xbox version there are no loading times or frame rate issues.
Another area of the game that could stand to be improved is sound. The sound effects are almost abrasive and will quickly annoy anyone within hearing distance who isn't playing. The countdown clock and the monkey's exclamations are far too loud compared to the ambient noise and music. While this works fine as background noise in a party atmosphere it will quickly get on gamers nerves in single player mode.
Super Monkey Ball Deluxe is a testament to simple game design. Anyone can pick up a controller and enjoy the early boards and mini-games. The game really shines when a group of friends get together for some multiplayer monkey action. If you enjoy gaming with friends the party mode alone may be worth the purchase. Give this game a try and you just might become addicted to the frantic and accessible Monkey Ball.
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