Developer: Traveler's Tales
Release: July 2006
Traveler's Tales, the developers behind LEGO Star Wars and Crash Twinsanity, have been tapped for the newest Monkey Ball game. Before, this series has mostly revolved around multiplayer party gameplay; now, it's acquiring a "robust" single-player mode to go with it.
In the story mode, you control the four "named" monkeys as they travel across five unique worlds, from Jungle Island to the floating monkey city of Moonhaven. There are somewhere between 50 and 60 new characters to interact with throughout the game, many of whom will give out new quests.
The precise details of the plot eluded me, but I'm told it involves the phrase "star-crossed monkey love," and as such, it is physically impossible for the story to be at all bad or unentertaining.
As you'd expect, your monkey protagonist is encased in a ball; in this instance, the ball is made of "technomagical energy," which can be changed or reshaped with special chants. One chant turns your ball to wood, so it'll burn for short periods of time; another covers it in suction cups so you can climb up walls; and yet a third mounts a boxing glove on the ball, letting you punch out the enemies you'll encounter from time to time.
The game's controls and gameplay aren't wildly unlike the previous Monkey Ball games, complete with the use of puzzle trays to unlock doors; to get through a given gate, you may have to clear several levels of fast-paced monkey-ball-rolling platforming action.
Multiplayer hasn't been neglected, either. Traveler's Tales has included three brand-new games and three classic modes. We've seen two of the mini-games so far; one is a fast-paced racing game, and another, Cannon, is actually really addictive. Each player gets a stack of blocks that looks like a castle tower, and can place fortifications as they see fit. Once they're done fortifying, it's then the other players' job to fire Monkey Balls out of cannons at each other's fortifications, with an aim towards knocking it down. The more blocks you knock out, the more you can fortify your tower.
I totally won when we played Cannon Mode at Sega's headquarters, just so everyone knows. If I have one skill, as a journalist and as a man, it's that I can throw monkeys like a son of a bitch.
The PSP version of Super Monkey Ball Adventure is, oddly, mostly identical to the console versions; while the story mode's graphics are naturally a little murkier, it's basically the same game. It features different puzzle trays, however, as well as ad hoc wireless multiplayer and an exclusive card game. More interestingly, you can transfer your story mode progress back and forth between the PSP and PS2 versions of the game, so you can literally take your game on the road.
Super Monkey Ball Adventure seems like a pretty natural next step for the franchise. It already had colorful characters and addictive gameplay; now it's got a platforming story mode that's vaguely reminiscent of Sonic Adventure. Personally, I'll be picking it up for Cannon Mode, but the rest of the game seems solid enough.