Let’s face it–there are a ton of Super Monkey Ball games out there for even console, handheld, and mobile device. And although controls have included touch screens, controller-tilt, device-tilt, and even full-body balance board tilt, the original analog stick control of the original games on GameCube and PS2 were arguably never matched by these newer control schemes. So it’s no surprise that for Super Monkey Ball fans, the new Circle Pad elbows it’s way to the forefront as the star feature of the game despite the attention the 3D visuals understandably get from gamers.
And that’s not to say the 3D isn’t spectacular on Super Monkey Ball 3D–in typical Sega fashion, the game is beautifully adorned with some of the most vibrant and colorful art design of any of the launch titles I’ve played
So let’s take it from the top. The game features three modes: Classic, Monkey Race, and Monkey Fight. Classic mode will be familiar to anyone who’s played a Super Monkey Ball game before–you navigate platform and maze themed levels, working your way from one end to another while avoiding various hazards ranging from tilted floors, bumpers, and just plain “falling over the edge”. Monkey Race is a basic kart racer, and Monkey Fight is a two dimensional platform-based multiplayer fighter loosely resembling Super Smash Bros.
Classic mode is by far the star of the experience, as has been the case with many of this generation’s SMB games. I can’t think of a better showcase for the 3DS’s new analog Circle Pad control method, which offers just the right amount of sensitivity and precision to make navigating each levels obstacles a nice balance of challenge and fun. Classic mode features eight worlds that include ten levels each for a total of 80 unique levels. While that may sound like a lot, the levels are somewhat short and a lot more forgiving than the ones on Wii’s Banana Blitz and Step-and-Roll, and certainly easier than the classic versions on GameCube/PS2. Sega clearly elected to make the game a bit more approachable as they have been on recent mobile editions of the series, however in my experience, the lack of precision controls on iPhone/iPad devices added an additional (although frustrating) element of challenge that seemed to stretch the experience out in terms of time. SMB veterans might find not find the challenge they’d expect from Super Monkey Ball 3D, but the level difficulty does ramp up somewhat in later worlds.
Classic mode does include a motion/tilt mode, but a few flaws prevent it from being a worthy alternative to analog control. First of all, anyone who’s played with a 3DS knows that tilting the device will distort the 3D effect–this is such an obvious deal breaker that I’m surprised Sega elected to include the control scheme in the first place. You can always turn the depth slider off and ditch 3D in favor of the tilt controls, but you’ll find it’s not a good trade off. You’ll find yourself trying the tilt controls out (which are very similar to as iPhone tilt), but you’ll quickly go back to analog which is without a doubt the superior of the two, and certainly not worth missing out on the beautiful 3D visuals.
Monkey Race mode reminds me a lot of Diddy Kong Racing–it’s not quite to the level of Mariokart DS in terms of controls, but it does the job. The Circle Pad does a nice job here as well with tight and responsive controls; I did find some issues with tight corners at first but was able to compensate after a bit of practice. Overall, it’s a nice addition to the game with three circuits containing three tracks each for a total of 9 tracks. Lots of variety in in track themes, with the same Sega art direction polish that you’ll find throughout the title. Grand Prix, Quick Race, are the main modes with Time Trials adding some replay value. Tons of unlockable monkeys and karts too by either completing game challenges or spending 3DS play coins. Local multiplayer is available for up to four players.
Monkey Fight mode on a Smash Bros. clone that lets you battle it out with three other computer or local multiplayer opponents on two dimensional platforms. The goal is to collect the most bananas, which you lose as you’re hit by your opponents. As with other games of this type, this is outrageous fun with human opponents but it loses a step against AI. Monkey Fight also offers unlockable monkey fighters via completing challenges or spending play coins.
Both Monkey Race and Monkey Fight support Download Play, meaning you can play with other DS owners via local multiplayer with only one physical cart via a short download. This adds a lot of value to the game, especially for families with multiple 3DS handhelds. Although some have pointed out that Super Monkey Ball 3D’s two mini-game modes fall short of previous SMB games, it’s a quality versus quantity thing here. I will say this, though–the addition of Monkey Target would have just about made this the perfect Super Monkey Ball game and certainly the best one since Deluxe.
The relatively short experience along with a lack of difficulty for the monkey ball initiated stop Super Monkey Ball 3D from being a perfect launch title for Nintendo’s new handheld. It’s one of the more rounded out, quality experiences in the launch lineup though, and a great choice for showcasing your new 3D handheld to family and friends. One of my favorite launch games, if you have ever enjoyed a Super Monkey Ball game, Super Monkey Ball 3D is a safe choice.