Super Monkey Ball Adventure
What made the original Super Monkey Ball an instant classic was its pick up and play accessibility, devilish level design and unparalleled addictiveness. Its sequel was a case of more of the same, though the addition of a loopy storyline and of level-controlling buttons detracted a little from the arcade-like purity exhibited by its predecessor. Super Monkey Ball Adventure attempts to broaden the series' game play landscape even further by mixing up traditional Super Monkey Ball levels, another ridiculously unnecessary plot and, now, monkey-based platforming action. The result is a befuddled little game that feels like it really doesn't know what genre it fits into.
The story mode is childishly comical if nothing else. A prince and princess from rival kingdoms bump into each other on Jungle Island and before they know it they've completely fallen for each other. How this happened, we'll never know. Maybe the prince lured the female of the species with the size and girth of his banana...ahem. Sorry, this isn't that sort of website - or game for that matter. Unfortunately their relationship is not possible due to the fact that the kingdoms in which they reside are places completely devoid of happiness. It is not until joy is restored to their homes that they can be together. It is left up to our heroic quartet of primates, AiAi, MeeMee, Baby or GonGon to spread a message of elation and jubilance throughout the world's five realms - what brave monkeys they are.
In order to do this, you will have to traverse each one of the five kingdom, performing as many as sixty tasks for their inhabitants in all. These range from the obvious such as retrieving goods for lazy villagers to the more imaginative, including the task of posing for pictures as well as waking up lazy guards by blasting yourself from a cannon at giant gongs suspended from the surrounding trees. Unfortunately the majority of tasks are run of the mill encounters that will probably have you sighing in a kind of, 'ugh, not again...' sense, when another cheery yet haplessly absent minded simian requires your assistance in the most mundane of tasks. Any initial willingness to help soon leads to forlorn ponderings as to why these residents don't just do these things themselves.
Adventuring around the environments can also be an exasperating experience. Since our monkeys can't jump in their balls of their own accord, the kingdoms are set out like giant all access ramps for the wheelchair-bound. But instead of lifts, bouncy flowers and cannons are your transportation to areas higher above sea level. It's the little things that compound and begin to annoy, such as falling off a ledge and not being able to hop back up to where you just were despite the obstacle only standing about three inches high. The camera doesn't make exploration any easier either. While it can be adjusted to an extent, sometimes it just refuses to pivot or turn to the optimum position needed for safely crossing a narrow ledge or judging a potentially perilous leap. This results in many a 'Fall Out' announced patronisingly by the game's male voiceover artist, or, even worse, another face to face encounter with an impassable three inch wall.
Sometimes deliberately killing yourself is a quicker route back to the nearest checkpoint. Yep, 'sometimes' since the game will often place you miles away from where you, seconds ago, met your demise. It's not so bad if the continuation of the game swings in your favour, (on the odd occasion even placing you in a more advanced position to where you died!), but when it doesn't it'll be you going ape.
In an attempt to incorporate other familiar Super Monkey Ball elements into adventuring, our chimpanzee friends can learn and perform spells that enhance the usage of the ball that entraps them. They can amongst other skills now float like wood, smash boulders with a boxing glove and sucker to walls with, erm, suckers. The magic happens by chanting the syllables one of four syllables in various combinations and at differing times depending on your predicament. Chanting along is quite enjoyable, only if it's because you can shout the word 'poo' out loud and get away with it.
Some respite in the story mode appears in the form of sets of the traditional Super Monkey Ball levels which you must complete in order to progress to a new area. However, the Challenge mode in which they exist as a standalone section feels a bit baron as there are only 50 new stages in total. Still, that's a fair amount considering that it's an addition to the main game, and you'll be pleased to know that some of the more difficult levels are as taxing as ever.
Multiplayer fun has always been a staple of the Super Monkey Ball series, and SMB Adventure is no different. The favourites such as Monkey Target, Battle and Race are here, as well as three new additions. Monkey Cannon involves blowing holes in the side of an opponent's tower in an attempt to make it collapse; Monkey Bounce is a noughts and crosses-alike mini game that gets tedious very quickly, while Monkey Tag involves the competitive collection of balloons across a given landscape. The new games certainly aren't bad per se; they just seem to lack the imagination and appeal to make you want to dabble in them as much as the more established options available.
Our monkey mates have had an artistic redesign this time around, looking sharper and more alert with their ever poignant facial expressions at the first sign of mishap or danger. The rest of the game is fairly impressive, too, with some lovely lighting and shadow effects shown off in both daytime and nighttime environments. The game also handles an admirable draw distance well, considering the oversea journeys you end up making between islands - only minor details such as boxes and plants 'pop up' as the distance between yourself and them lessens. In fact, it's hard to pick at Super Monkey Ball Adventure's aesthetics, particularly when they are mostly invented from a game that in the past, arguably, has put the least pressure on this generation of consoles' graphical prowess.
Still, it's the game play that counts and for a series with such high standards it's a shame that its newest iteration falls below par. Super Monkey Ball, it seems, just doesn't work as an adventure game. You could credit Monkey Ball developers Traveler's Tales for trying something new, but like SMB 2 did to an extent, 'Adventure' just proves that if something ain't broke, don't fix it. It's a shame to see one of the defining series' of this generation pitter out without a glorious final fanfare, but now the mistakes are made, hopefully they won't be repeated.