Super Monkey Ball has become one of SEGA’s strangest popular franchises over the years. Like Ridge Racer or Tetris, a console’s library almost isn’t really complete without an entry from this quirky series. I imagine it may only be a matter of time until Monkey Ball ends up on the HD consoles in some fashion.
Due to this constant stream of new entries into this series, the quality has been taking a dip. Whether it’s the declining quality of the mini games or the increasingly poor stage design of each game, this series has seen better days. So, the question for SMB3DS is: does it reverse this trend? Read on to hear my opinion.
After debuting as a Gamecube launch title in 2001, the series has changed little over the years. Aside from the irredeemably awful Super Monkey Ball Adventures, and the incredibly obscure Monkey Ball Ticket Blitz, the premise of each game has remained the same: move a monkey trapped in a ball to a stage’s goal. On top of the main mode, there has always been a slew of mini games that take the “monkey in a ball” formula, and give it new twists.
SMB3DS does nothing to really change up the formula. The goal is still to get to the goal of each stage. While the stages do introduce new gimmicks that I don’t remember seeing from past games, such as patches of sticky surface to slow you down, this game is basically what you’d expect from a Monkey Ball game. As a big fan of the arcade formula, I have no problem with that. This just means that the game needs to have some exceptional stage design.
This is where Super Monkey Ball 3D falls flat. This has always been a series that’s easy to play and difficult to master. It has really simple goals that are really difficult to reach. Unfortunately, the early worlds of SMB3D are easy. Very easy. In the first world it’s more difficult to fall out of the stage than it is to coast to the goal. While the game’s difficulty does improve as it progresses, it never really reaches the insanely difficult stage design of the original, let alone the even more difficult sequel. Hardcore Monkey Ball fans looking for something that lives up to the first two games will be disappointed.
Now, with that said…is the Monkey Ball mode bad? No. In fact, while it doesn’t live up to its predecessors, it’s actually still quite a bit of fun. While the early worlds offer no challenge, the game improves in the later worlds. On top of that, the Monkey Ball formula, even when not at the top of its game, is still fun.
Like past Monkey Ball titles, SMB3D had other game play modes to choose from: Monkey Race and Monkey Fight. Unlike the original Monkey Ball titles, these modes are not unique twists of these genres on the Monkey Ball engine, but rather their own standalone games. This is regrettably a detriment.
Out of the two mini game modes, Monkey Race is by far the best. It is, in essence, a mediocre cart racer. The nine courses range from fun to somewhat frustrating, and unlockable karts and additional modes do help add some longevity to the experience. In a lineup that lacks any sort of kart racing game, Monkey Race acts as a decent enough substitute for Mario Kart for any budget conscious gamer. The primary problem with this mode, aside from the graphics (which we’ll get into later), is the fact that it doesn’t do anything new or unique…it’s just a no frills play by the numbers kart racer that lacks an online mode. While it’s decent enough for a side game, it’s got nothing on the Monkey Race from the Gamecube original, which took the racing genre and put a unique Monkey Ball spin on it, same physics and everything. It also had nothing on the deeper racers of the day, but it was at least unique enough to act as a worthwhile addition to the game. Honestly, if you want a decent kart racer on your 3DS…just get Sonic and SEGA All Stars Racing. That has Ai Ai too, and it’s a much more complete kart racing experience being offered at a fairly decent price.
Monkey Fight is…by far the most disappointing part of this game. Unlike Monkey Race, which is at least a competent rendition of its genre, Monkey Fight is just terrible attempt to ape the Super Smash Bros formula. The battle mechanics are mind numbingly simple and incredibly clunky. This makes the game not just boring to play, but downright painful. When I play a fighter, particularly one modeled after SSB, I want it to be fluid, so that jumping around the environment and fighting your opponent doesn’t become a pain. Unfortunately, this mode is just painful to play. The flow of the fighting is broken by button mashing segments and the sluggish movement of the characters, leaving this game with very little entertainment value, despite having a more diverse number of modes compared to Monkey Ball and Race. Combine this with the fact that the actual length of it is (mercifully) short, with only 3 courses available, and the game becomes a worthless inclusion. This is a real shame too, because the original Monkey Fight was easily my favorite of the three mini games in the original.
By and large, SMB3D is a decent enough package, but fans of the original expecting a return to the quality and design sensibilities of the Gamecube games will be disappointed.
Super Monkey Ball basically looks like a Wii game. It seems to use the same assets, and the textures and effects all have the sort of fidelity on would expect from a Wii game. So while this doesn’t match up with the better looking 3DS games coming down the pipe from publishers like Capcom, SMB3D’s Monkey Ball mode is still very pretty. It’s colorful, the environments are fantastical and are done in the same art style as Banana Blitz. These environments are also filled with elements that work very well with the 3D, just as floating balls of light, bubbles, and visible streams of wind.
SMB3D is also easily the best example of the 3DS’ 3D effect. While the effects in other games are typically either not very pronounced (Street Fighter) or have a lot of headache inducing ghosting (Rayman 2), Monkey Ball 3D manages to both pop and do it sharply. I found myself constantly blinking as things in the screen moved in my direction, something I’ve never really done outside of some 3D movies. If you want a game that effectively shows off the 3D better than the other launch games, definitely consider SMB3D. The best thing about the 3D is that it never came off as gimmicky. Yes, things come at you from the screen, but it’s not like in 3D movies where elements from the movie existed specifically to jump out at the audience. Here, pre-existing elements from Monkey Ball titles are used: the bananas flying towards the screen as you collect them, wind blowing in your direction, and elements in the environment that move in random directions that just so happened to come your way. This sort of effective-but-not-in-your-face 3D is what I want to see in 3DS games. Does it affect the game play? Not in the least. It is what it is: a cool visual effect.
The mini games do not look nearly as good though. Monkey Race looks like a late generation Dreamcast game, with loads of ugly textures. Aside from the 3D effect, which again pops quite effectively, this mini game does not have anything redeeming about it graphically. This is another reason why I recommend just getting a DS kart racer over playing this mode, it does nothing to take advantage of the 3DS’ horse power. Monkey Fight is even uglier in all honesty, though the Monkey character models aren’t too bad.
Much like the game play, the graphics of SMB3D are a mixed bag, but at least here one part of it is exceptional.
The music in SMB3D is pretty good. While nothing spectacular, each individual track lends nicely to the game’s colorful upbeat atmosphere. Regrettably, the music typically just follows whatever stereotypical genre is associated with a given levels’ theme, ie: the Asian level has chinese music, the Arab level as Arabic music, etc. So don’t expect something like the classic SMB tunes here. The sound effects from the character are as bubble gum cute as ever, and the announcer still sounds the same. By and large, SMB3D has pretty decent sound design, though nothing particularly exceptional.
There is one common trend many 3DS launch title share: they are short. SMB3D is sadly a part of this trend. I beat all of the game’s modes in the first 4 hours, and I had no desire to go back to the mini games once I saw what they had to offer. Monkey Ball has 8 worlds with ten courses each, and while some courses can be beaten quickly and easily, others will require multiple attempts. Compared to other Monkey Ball games, which typically top out at around 100 courses, SMB3D is a little on the short side. Just like those games, though, SMB3D’s real meat is in its replay value. Like any Monkey Ball game, SMB3D scores your performance, using how many bananas you collected, how quickly you were able to clear the stage, and whether or not you died. Getting a game over (which WILL happen in the later stages) completely wipes any points you gain while playing through a given world. Depending on the type of gamer you are, this can add many hours to your playtime. I myself am rather partial to score attacking and improving my performance in games, and I’ve played the game for three additional hours as a result so far.
If you are the type of gamer who sells a game right after you reach the end credits, the game is only around 3-4 hours. For anyone who likes to replay their games for better scores, the game play length is about where it would be for any score based game.
Super Monkey Ball 3D is a bit of a disappointment, but it still came out better than I was expecting. The level design isn’t as difficult as past games, and is way too easy in the early worlds. The kart racing is mediocre and the fighting game is useless. It’s still Monkey Ball at its core though, and that means there is still plenty of fun to be had.
Personally, I would rate this below the iPhone and GBA renditions of the series, and if you have access to either console I would highly recommend picking up Super Monkey Ball 2 or Super Monkey Ball Jr. for each platform respectively if you want to take some Monkey Ball fun on the go. What SMB3D does have over these renditions is superior graphics and the 3DS’ excellent analog thumbstick, so anyone wanting a console grade Monkey Ball experience on a handheld, SMB3D is the closest thing out there right now.
In the end, it’s the pure fun of the Monkey Ball formula and the decent kart racing game play that keeps this entry from being a total disaster. The kart racing is decent and much better than I had thought it would be, so I decided to give the game a slight bump in its final grade. It’s hard for me to recommend this at full price, but once SMB3D hits the $20 bargain bin, I recommend you consider picking it up. Unless a better Monkey Ball game is available on the 3DS or NGP by then.
- Great graphics
- Great use of 3D
- Solid music
- Monkey Ball formula is still fun.
- Horrendous graphics in Monkey Race and Fight
- Way too easy for way too long
- Horrendous “reimagining” of Monkey Fight
- At 80 stages, SMB3D comes in a little short compared to other entries in the series.