For years now the stars of Super Monkey Ball – a quartet of round faced, endearing monkeys – have been on a steady journey to the depths of Sega Hell home to Sonic. Yet that hasn’t stopped them popping up routinely on devices ill suited to the game’s simple concepts along the way. So how does a tilt control iteration fare?
As ever, the aim is to guide a monkey trapped inside a ball through a series of quirky mazes, navigating sequences of narrow walkways, lopsided bridges and all manner of other ball-unfriendly obstacles along the way. At the end of each course you guide your monkey through a small goal and it launches up into the sky in jubilee.
Stages take place on tastelessly coloured platforms floating in the sky and failure to prevent your monkey from tumbling into the fathoms below results in a brief restart and the loss of a life.
You’re given 60 seconds to make it from start to finish and unless you’re stopping to collect every banana along the way (for which every 10 afford you another life), levels take anywhere from 10-40 seconds to finish. It’s quick fire stuff.
Lose all lives and it’s straight to the monkey meat packaging plant for AiAi and pals and the menu screen for you. There’s no saving or checkpoints meaning with every failure – indeed, every time you leave the game – you’re reverted back to level 1. Which, you know, is really irritating.
That’s how it works in principle anyway, the reality is you’ll probably take one glance at the nightmare visuals, force yourself through the first few levels, shed a tear in remembrance of the Gamecube games and go play something else.
And that’s mostly due to tragically unintuitive controls. I’ve been told the previous version achieved the remarkable feat of being even less helpful but any worse than this would constitute torture in my book and be grounds for some pretty heavy legal action.
Tilting the device moves your monkey in whichever direction you’re tilting but what ought to be as nuanced and sensitive as, say, Backbreaker’s motion controls, is instead a lesson in exasperation. The controls aren’t responsive enough to tackle the precipices and fatally thin paths that are the fabric of the levels and there is no option to alter the sensitivity. Sometimes you have to turn the screen so much that you’re staring at the back of the device. Ideal, when you’re a thousand feet in the sky trying desperately to avoid learning what the terminal velocity of a monkey trapped inside a ball is.
Anyone who’s played a Monkey Ball game will know that it’s a series built on precision and it demands the precision only a controller can afford, or at the very least something with an analogue stick. By the time you’re navigating pencil thin bridges you may as well be playing it on the Teacups at Thorpe Park. Or just playing something else.
Alongside the main game there’s a multiplayer component that allows you to pass the controller between three other people you dislike enough to share the pain with.
Monkey Golf, Bowling and Target all make the transition from Monkey Ball proper but the physics are so garish that none of the three are remotely enjoyable to play with balls careering left right and centre, stopping almost dead in their tracks on golf courses and defying physics in bowling to swerve from one side of the alley to the other.
About the only thing worth celebrating about Monkey Ball on the iPhone is Sega’s choice to let you mute the gaudy music.
Thanks, I guess. And as for whether tilt controls can redeem the franchise, that’s a staunch no. On with you monkeys, the scorching depths of damnation and Sonic the Hedgehog await.