Super Monkey Ball has always been on the game franchise B-team, one of those series that everyone has heard of but few people have played and even fewer people follow regularly. The initial concept — guiding monkeys in plastic balls around precarious, danger-packed stages at high speeds — was quirky enough to garner some attention, but novelty alone quickly wears off. However, that's the position in which Super Monkey Ball 3D finds itself as the franchise attempts to use the new tech packed into the 3DS to revitalize fan interest. Unfortunately for Sega and the monkeys trapped in balls, the only thing this game manages to prove is that the magic may be gone for good.
The fundamental mechanics of the Super Monkey Ball franchise are present and accounted for, and they all function in a perfectly acceptable manner. The game's primary mode sees players speeding around courses in an attempt to snag bananas and reach the end goal in under a minute. Along the way, various traps and pitfalls, hairpin turns and dangerously thin platforms force you to marry speed with precision at peak efficiency.
While such a setup has proven to be a steep challenge in previous series entrants, it's all way too easy this time around. Veteran players will be able to whip through all 80 stages in a couple of hours, and even newcomers will find little to sweat beyond a few tricky stages here and there. While the difficulty ramps up a bit near the end, the overall challenge is a major step down from what many have come to expect. Though you can go back through each and every stage to snap up missed bananas or try and improve your time, the game offers no reward for it, so there's really no reason to bother.
The good news is that rolling through the stages is accomplished with nice precision using both the 3DS analog stick and the game's optional gyroscope controls. The freely moving stick lets you hit angles and change directions with a level of precision unmatched by a d-pad, and the motion controls react fluidly and effectively to every twist and turn you make with the 3DS. Indeed, the control scheme may be the high point of the game, but that's kind of faint praise when you think about it.
Those opting for motion controls will have to remember to turn the 3-D slider all the way down when playing because the constant contortion of the 3DS absolutely kills the effect and may likely cause the headaches and nausea you've heard so much about. It's not that big a deal if you turn off the effect, as it actually lends very little to the overall experience. Yes, the 3-D looks very cool in the pre-stage flyovers, and it can add a bit of depth to a few of the stages, but overall, things are flying by too quickly to really notice. It's another one of those features that's nice to have, but it adds very little to the game as a whole.
After you finish the game's main stages, you may be tempted to jump into one of the other two included modes, but doing so will almost surely any kind feelings you may have developed toward Super Monkey Ball 3D. Monkey Race is a blatant Mario Kart rip-off, albeit an incompetent one. Though the title boasts a number of tracks, all of them are flat and boring, and nearly every racing mechanic included is on the verge of broken. Powersliding and boosting are handled by two entirely different mechanics, so taking a corner at top speed and then hitting the turbo as you come out of it seems to require a few extra pairs of hands. Even worse, the included weapons are terribly unbalanced, with nearly each and every one of them either bringing your kart to a dead stop or otherwise incapacitating you so severely that recovery is almost impossible. In most cases, getting hit by one or two items effectively wipes out any chance you had of winning, and you can count on getting blasted at least a half-dozen times per race. It's as if all opponents have blue turtle shells, and they're only gunning for you.
Monkey Fight mode is just as bad, this time opting to rip off another beloved Nintendo franchise, Super Smash Bros. Once again, the developers demonstrate a complete ignorance about what makes Smash Bros. enjoyable, instead offering a button-mashing brawler with no real eye toward strategy or even smart level design. Most rounds eventually devolve into all four competitors standing in a group mindlessly pounding on each other until time runs out, and the character who arbitrarily manages to pick up enough bananas in light of the carnage wins. Add in floaty controls, and you're left with a pure throw-away mode that doesn't deserve the time of day.
The only thing Super Monkey Ball 3D manages to offer is a functional control scheme that shows off the 3DS' gyroscopic capabilities — provided you don't care to play in actual 3-D. Everything else about the game, from its short and unchallenging missions to its worthless extra play modes, is not worth your time. It might be best if Sega lets these monkeys hop into their balls and roll off into the sunset; their time has clearly passed.
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