IGN Review of Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll
For the original launch of the Nintendo Wii, SEGA was right there with a version of its popular Super Monkey Ball series on the motion-controlled console. Banana Blitz took the established "roll the monkey in the ball around the maze" concept and applied tight tilt control that fit the design. Super Money Ball: Step & Roll takes it one step further -- along with the same Wii remote controls, you can choose to hop onto the Wii Fit balance board and shift your weight to maneuver around the courses. Beyond this added control, Step & Roll doesn't do anything particularly new for the franchise except clean up a few rough spots in presentation and introduce new mini-games outside of the main level progression.
The Monkey Ball series is a game design where you simply try and maneuver your ball-with-monkey through a series of course challenges, trying to get him to each level's goal in the allotted time and without falling off the edge of the course. Along the way you can collect bananas which will increase your stock of lives, useful for when you get to particularly difficult courses that are next to impossible to roll around without plummeting through a gap or over the side.
Step & Roll clearly has Banana Blitz to thank for its existence and quick development. Along with the similar -- but subtly improved -- visual style (the game still runs at 60 frames per second and widescreen), the sequel's Wii remote controls are virtually identical, both in the way you hold the remote and the sensitivity. The tilt functionality in Super Monkey Ball was, and still is, tight and responsive but there is the inherent camera control issue that's been a part of Super Monkey Ball since the beginning (trying to get the viewpoint to swing around you when facing the player is handled with annoying imprecision).
It feels natural to roll the monkey around with the Wii remote because you're really controlling the tilt of the environment, not the momentum of the ball, and the rocking and swaying of the course matches your subtle hand motions nearly 1:1. Now, it's sometimes too precise, especially in courses where you have to roll over extremely thin "tightropes." Because it's nearly impossible to find the resting "zero point" of the controller you'll never get that monkey ball rolling in a straight line without some off-kilter direction. This wasn't as much of a problem on a joystick-controlled version of Monkey Ball, since you could push the controller directly straight forward.
In this sequel, you can sync up a Wii Fit balance board and use that peripheral to maneuver the ball around the environment. You have to shift your weight to move it left, right, forward and backward and, like the Wii remote, you're controlling the tilt of the environment, not the ball's rolling. The balance board is the game's real hook -- hence the name Step & Roll -- but I have to be honest: I don't think this is a fun way of playing Super Monkey Ball. Shifting your weight around takes more effort to do than subtle hand motions, and precision is thrown completely out the window when you have to use your whole body instead of a single hand. SEGA acknowledges that it's a more difficult way of playing Super Monkey Ball, which is why it removes certain obstacles from courses so as not to be completely unfair. It's an optional control, and I found myself turning it on only for a couple of rounds and then flipping it off to go back to the traditional Wii remote.
The overall game design takes what was done in Banana Blitz and strips out the fluff: Step & Roll returns to a more arcade-like experience. Silly boss battles and story? Gone. Step & Roll brings back the continuous string of rolling challenges in a variety of locations. It's a much better and satisfying production. The presentation still has a bit of cheesiness to it, but with few exceptions it's much less over-the-top cartoony. The musical score -- a huge sore spot with me on the Nintendo DS version -- is much more subdued, and I love the idea that each world's song is broken up into level measures, with the tune moving to the next part when the previous level's complete. It's very subtle, but it's kind of cool when you realize what the sound designers did.
Super Monkey Ball games have always segmented their designs between the main rolling challenge and a grouping of mini-games, and that's no different here. And just like in previous Super Monkey Ball games only a handful are worth your time. There isn't a single new addition that I liked -- the only games that I kept coming back to were variations of the mini-games in previous Super Monkey Ball titles. Monkey Target, where you fly your monkey through hoops before landing on a platform in the middle of the ocean, and Monkey Race, a Mario Kart-like run, are the two champs of the 17 mini-game collection. I miss Monkey Golf and Monkey Bowling...
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