Release Date: February 21, 2006
Buy 'SUPER MONKEY BALL TOUCH & ROLL': NDS
Super Monkey Ball is one of those true love-it-or-hate-it series. It is incredibly simple in almost every way and uses this simplicity to create an addictive experience – if you can get into it enough to figure out the often infuriatingly difficult puzzles. Super Monkey Ball: Touch and Roll takes this tradition and makes it portable for the second time (the first, Super Monkey Ball Advance, being a poor simulation of the original), succeeding in every way that the first failed and making perhaps the most fun iteration of the series yet.
For those who have not experienced a Super Monkey Ball game, think of Marble Madness, except that you lean the stage instead of just rolling the ball, and the stages are generally just stages, with only the holes in the floor – or lack thereof – keeping you from your goal. For those who haven't played Marble Madness, the basic idea is that you play as a monkey who is inexplicably inside of a ball and needs to cross the finish line on a series of increasingly difficult floors while grabbing bananas to get extra chances. Do not expect plot, do not expect characterization, and do not expect complexity anywhere in the game; almost all of the title can be played purely with the stylus or d-pad, the former being an almost universally better choice.
Ironically, taking the game to portable consoles has made the game feel more like the original arcade version than any of the console iterations. Using the stylus to control your character offers you the full precision of the original banana stick, and introduces one-handed play if you put the DS on a firm surface (or just grip the system along the center). In general, gameplay is kept on the top screen, with controls and sometimes a small amount of other information on the bottom screen.
Graphically, Super Monkey Ball: Touch and Roll keeps itself beautiful via careful mixing of 2D and 3D graphics. Your monkey is a sprite, while the ball is three-dimensional and has a sun reflection that not only looks beautiful, but also offers you a potentially valuable way to tell which way you are facing. The levels themselves are three-dimensional with 2D textures, and look just as smooth on the DS as they would on a small screen with one of the console versions. Backgrounds are rendered in the same style, making the 12 available environments beautiful, distinct, and non-obtrusive. The game is easily on par with some early PSP games and is close enough to the console versions as to not hinder gameplay in the least.
Sounds are not excessively distinctive; the blips and bleeps of the music are nowhere close to the music of the console versions, but are good enough to stand on their own. Sound effects are otherwise basically the same as the console versions, with your monkey crying as he gets too close to an edge, a light crash sound marking your landing from dropping off a stair, and other meaningful audio cues.
The title's 120 levels mix copied and modified levels from the older Super Monkey Ball iterations with new ones in much the same fashion as previous sequels; unlike most of the series, though, the game's core Challenge mode is split into separate series of 10 levels. This adjustment is optimally suited to a pick-up-and-play style of portable gaming, splitting the game into short runs. The game seemed a little bit easier than the console iterations, but this is in part due to the more precise control scheme available via the touchpad. Super Monkey Ball: Touch and Roll remains a very difficult game, with several truly infuriating levels that require precisely planned motions. Luckily, the Practice mode returns to help you master floors that are giving you trouble.
Super Monkey Ball, as a series, is well known for offering a small but well-made array of mini-games in every release, and Touch and Roll is no exception to this tradition, with six mini-games included for both single-player and multi-player support (although Download Play support would have been very nice).
Monkey Race offers six courses and a modest smattering of items with a unique scheme for controlling them. Monkey Fight is much the same as the console iterations, although seeing the entire arena would have been preferable. Monkey Bowling handles very differently from the console versions; I couldn't go back to the old style after trying the new scheme, which has you drawing the line that defines your movement path. Monkey Golf handles similarly to the console versions, but is more precise; you simply rotate your character by moving the arrow, tap the ball to open a swing representation, and then "draw" your swing.
Monkey Hockey offers two very fun air hockey styles; Classic simply has you dragging a traditional circular "stick," while Line Smasher has you drawing your implement of defense or attack, which can be broken if the puck hits it too quickly, forcing you to draw a new one. Both handle excellently, with the curves of the lines influencing your motion in a believable and fast-paced fashion. Monkey Wars is best described as a multiplayer deathmatch version of the original Wolfenstein 3D, with limited-ammo special guns (themed after fruit) and an unlimited-ammo default weapon. While none of the six mini-games really holds up to more dedicated games in their vein, all are very fun, simple to play, and a fine source of replay value.
Super Monkey Ball: Touch and Roll is about as good an implementation of the series as you can expect for a portable system plenty of play time. It is perfect for short sessions of play, possesses serviceable multiplayer functionality, and its sufficient production values make for one of the most unexpectedly fun times on the system. If you are a fan of the series, consider Touch and Roll to be wholeheartedly recommended, and those who have not yet tried the series will find this to be an excellent jump-on point. However, those who are not into the series for its excessive simplicity, combined with its truly infuriating difficulty, will find nothing to change their mind.
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