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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

 

 

 


     

 

 

 

 

 

The recent announcement that Sega is going to go multi-platform and develop games for companies that were previously competitors sent shockwaves through the electronic gaming community. The biggest fear of gamers was that the company would lose its way and it reputation for creating quirky, yet innovative and highly playable games. These doubts have been laid to rest with the appearance of Super Monkey Ball on the GameCube which reaffirms the Sega tradition and stands out from the pack with itís unique play mechanics and addictive puzzles. What makes this game so special? Read on and find out.

Far from selling out and producing sports games, as feared would happen after the infamous "Platform Agnostic" announcement, Sega has instead opted to bring itís innovation and quirkiness to other consoles. While Super Monkey Ball isnít the traditional title, and far from the landmark one would expect, itís still a great game and the most surprising of the GameCube launch. As Sega has done so many times in the recent past, they take an odd concept which sounds like it wonít work on paper and makes it do just that. Super Monkey Ball is a solidly addictive, simple title thatís innovative in some areas yet familiar in some other ways, stretching conventions while it reinforces them. The concept behind it is disarmingly simple, and obviously takes more than inspiration from the classic game Marble Madness, Super Monkey Ball puts you in control of a monkey inside a ball whoís trying to beat each level. There are four different monkey characters which you can choose from. The object here is to move the monkey from one side of a maze to the goal posts the other end of the level without falling over the edge before the clock runs out. It sounds incredibly easy and for the first few levels it is. Later on, as the levels become more complicated and elaborate, things get quite hairy. There are points when you are on a narrow turning path that just keeping your monkey from falling off is the main problem. During each level, also need to collect bananas which are then used to unlock secret game modes later on which add another task to the challenge. Whatís cool about SMB is that instead of controlling the ball directly as in Marble Madness, you tilt the boards and make the ball roll. This twist gives SMB a distinct play mechanic thatís quite appealing yet the controls are so simple and straightforward that the game is instantly accessible for most players.

SMBís game boards start out simply enough but become increasingly difficult and elaborate as the monkey progresses through the later levels. The design of the boards is incredibly creative, with some shifting fields and tons of overtly simple obstacles that become incredibly difficult later on. There are more than 100 levels in all and while some are very short, thereís more than enough quantity to keep most players occupied for some time. There does tend to be a tedium that sets in after awhile, since some of the harder levels require you to sit through more than 50 episodes. Still, most of the time this is a highly enjoyable process and the increasing difficulty of the boards should keep players interested throughout. The game goes by quickly without much effort, and seems to breeze by. Thereís a lot of variety in the levels, some of them are very fast and short others will require patience and skill to complete while bonus levels add some challenge and excitement to the mix. Some of the boards are incredibly tricky and require some thought on the playerís part. Super Monkey Balls greatest strength lies in the sheer abundance of levels and the fact that each one is quite distinct from the previous ones. SMBís genius lies in the fact that it keeps you constantly on your toes with design surprises such as new enemies, twists on previous levels and new elements that you have to face on each area. This makes the game loads of fun, but itís too bad you canít select individual levels to show off the game to your friends.

While the single-player mode in Super Monkey Ball is challenging and entertaining enough to keep you occupied for many hours, there are many other mini-games that players can unlock which add exponentially to SMBís replay value. These are all well-done and exciting enough individually to make whatís already an addictive game even more enjoyable. There are racing, bowling, golf, billiards, fighting and other mini-games available to unlock in Super Monkey Ball. These are all straightforward but share similar controls with the main game, making them fit in well with the rest of the experience. Unfortunately, the sad fact is that most of these need to be unlocked by playing through the main game which takes some time. Once you do get to play them, each one is solidly entertaining on its own and makes the game truly come to life. A big part of SMBís appeal is unlocking these new games. Taken together, thereís an abundance of enjoyable gaming offered in the package, and the uncomplicated nature of the game mechanics means it should be fun for most players. Whatís even better and takes this to the next level is that SMB allows up to 4 players to engage in the action. Multi-player ups the ante and makes it more appealing as you compete head-to-head with other monkey balls. This should go without saying but this is a great party game which really shines in this mode, as if the other single player modes arenít fun enough.

Are there any major problems with the game? Not really, though the levels in the main game do tend to get monotonous after awhile. Having to replay dozens of levels gets a little old after awhile but you can then switch over to the mini-games. Some of the higher difficulty levels require you to slog through 60 levels and since there isnít a way to save your progress youíll need some serious time to complete them, though an hour or two of diversion isnít necessarily all that bad. Itís just that thereís such a short attention span with most of the levels that SMB is best in small doses. The game looks good, but it isnít really going to tax the GameCubeís processing power with its simple playfields and characters. Some Sega fans may not want to hear this, but the Dreamcast could have easily handled the title with no loss in detail or overall quality, which is probably going to infuriate DC owners who will forever complain about the one that slipped away. Those infamous "platform agnostic" gamers, however donít care and the cool thing to do is to enjoy a game on its own merits, wherever it appears. While the graphics are a tad disappointing, Super Monkey Ball still has that trademark Sega feel all over it. The controls are well-designed as is the interface, and the challenging mechanics make this elaborate puzzle game one that should keep you challenged and entertained for hours. In addition to the excellent single player mode, the gameís replay value is only increased thanks to the addictive mini-games and the outstanding multi-player action. While not the most elaborate title ever made, all these elements together mean that you have a game thatís worth the time investment. Super Monkey Ball is another winner from Sega and is the sleeper hit of the GameCube launch. This title once again proves how masterful Sega is at coming out with a left-field game and making something brilliant from the unexpected.