Super Monkey Ball Adventure
Super Monkeys Aiai, Meemee, Gongon and Baby are usually found rolling in their balls through countless puzzle platforms and mini-games. Sadly, this outing finds them still singing the same tune, just on a different instrument. Now the monkeys have swung from the puzzle to the adventure genre. However, are they on quest for greatness or has everyone simply gone bananas over something the same in a brand new wrapper?
Super Monkey Ball Adventure is the series' first attempt at something new. So far there has been three puzzle titles, each with more mini-games than it predecessor and now it seems in the fear that fans of the series will become bored with this format, Traveller's Tales have gone in this new direction. Strange forces are afflicting the lands of the planet Monearth and Aiai and the gang must discover what is at the heart of each unique problem. They must defeat the dreaded Naysayers and unite all of the feuding kingdoms as one. This in turn will allow a Shakespeare-like marriage to take place so that the land can be filled with joy and happiness.
There are five kingdoms in total that are split into two realms known as the 'Adventure Realm' and 'Puzzle Realm'. Keeping the puzzle element only seems like a way to pad out this new adventure format; all of the puzzles are very similar to those within the past games and are only present to achieve such events as opening locks on doors once a certain amount of the puzzles are completed. Though of course the puzzles later on are challenging and hold the same fun and sense of achievement they have nothing to do with this new genre and do not drive the story, either.
The story element itself is rather charming with the prince and princess of two rival kingdoms hopelessly in love with each other bringing a sweet feeling to softer hearts. The five different kingdoms are also enchanting worlds. As you progress through each of them, you will have to perform many tasks but there are also a lot of mini-missions. Mini-missions, as with numerous adventure platform games, aim to pad out and clock up the gameplay hours, but those found in this game are very monotonous and pointless, nothing to do with the main plot. Diversions will range from bringing back a beekeepers bees, finding monkeys under top hats in the village and waking up palace guard monkeys in trees. You do not even get anything worthwhile from completing them; merely some bananas for your troubles which you can spend at the game shop.
Navigating around the levels is very tricky, both in orientation and control. When you first begin the game within the monkey village of Jungle Island, you will simply be told to "go to the palace". To help you in this, you are giving a radar-like sphere in the bottom right corner of the screen with white arrows pointing off in all different directions. These white arrows point you not toward the palace but instead to where different monkeys are standing, each with their own distracting mini-missions. It takes around half an hour before you realise completing these gets you nowhere and you have to find your way through the monkey village's winding pathways to eventually find the entrance to the royal palace. There is no map for each level, something very much needed and without it, the levels of the game can be extremely frustrating.
Controlling your way through these levels is also sometimes aggravating and with the added frustration of no map it is certainly no picnic. Traveller's Tales have kept the rolling ball control system and although this works within the puzzles - it is an element that makes it challenging - within the adventure worlds it is just plain irritating. Even making your way up simple slopes, around normal ledges and on flat plains is more than difficult and you have to spend so much time and concentration just getting from A to B. There is also the 'Fallout' boundary within all of the adventure worlds as well as the puzzles too. With high and thin ledges, and the momentum of rolling physics, you will find yourself rolling off ledges and bumping into things constantly.
Super Monkey Ball Adventure would not be a true part of the series if it did not have the crazy mini-games like the rest of its predecessors. It has the usual Monkey Race and Monkey Fight, but new additions such as Monkey Bounce and Monkey Trumps have joined the list. Along with new mini-games the adventure world also comes more playable characters to unlock. These are all monkey characters from the storyline and although most of them have similar attributes to Aiai and the rest of the gang it is still something extra to aim and collect bananas for. Via the PSP's wireless connections you can also play the mini-games with and against your friends.
A very strong pro for this game is that it looks fantastic and despite loading times that can take a few moments, a few jitters here and there, it demonstrates some very nice graphics indeed. Each of the five kingdoms has a separate design style, obviously all keeping to the overall jungle theme. It also, even within dark areas, has very good lighting so you can at least see where you are going and this helps with the navigational problems to some degree. Each and every one of the monkeys are found rolling about in colourful, 3D wonder, and the luscious environments, enemies and objects are also of top PSP quality.
The sound in the game is also very impressive. Although when all of the monkeys talk they have the same annoying gibberish voice they at least have different tones. The background music for each level is also very atmospheric and gives a good sense of being deep within the jungles of Jungle Island and the different kingdoms round about. All of the other creatures and monsters have their own growls and snarls. The overall quality of the sound is very high and is clear and loud through the PSP speakers, something which is not present in rival handheld consoles such as the Nintendo DS. The sound of a game is often overlooked, but Traveller's Tales have paid attention to detail with the audio within this title and it enriches the entire adventure experience.
Super Monkey Ball Adventure is a strong, solid title for the PSP. It is a series that is well loved and has been extremely successful for Sega and the consoles it has appeared on. The PSP does not have too many adventure platform titles of this kind and although it has downsides such as its samey gameplay, difficult controls and frustrating navigation, it is a still a title that will sell extremely well. Is it a quest and adventure worth taking up? Possibly... it does progress into an average platformer and a good attempt at a new direction for the series, but average it still is. There are better PSP titles to be bought and played first.