Blast From The Past
Blast From The Past: Super Monkey Ball

PETA may have gotten all het up about the launch of Super Mario 3D Land and the revival of the Tanooki Suit that they went to the effort of making a macabre game all about it – even though they then claimed it was all a joke in the end – but they missed out on championing their efforts against Sega and their heartless encapsulation of primates in 2001. Sega heartlessly captured innocent monkeys and stuffed them into airtight perspex balls, before then throwing them through deadly obstacle courses hung high above the ground. Their actions were all entirely for the cause of human amusement. However, Sega knew that this act of virtual animal cruelty was by far the best thing they could have done for both puzzle and party games, and in doing so they created an absolute gem.

Super Monkey Ball originally found itself a home on Nintendo’s Gamecube console in 2001, but thanks to its growing popularity in Japan and around the world, Sega brought it across – along with it’s sequel – in the form of Super Monkey Ball Deluxe to both the PS2 and Xbox in 2005; however it really started out life – like many of Sega’s games – in the arcades of Japan back in 2000. These roots are pretty prevalent in the time based nature of the games main game mode, tasking you with completing a level in the allocated time. Whilst no explanation is really given for why there is a time limit – and Sega honestly don’t need to explain – we like to believe it’s because thats how much time your monkey has left before they suffocate to death in their plastic prison.

Kindly, Sega saw fit to encapsulate four monkeys for you to tilt and toss around, and naturally each one handles just that little bit differently. The series poster boy – or is that ape – AiAi is your general all rounder, whilst the powerhouse that is GonGon is slow to accelerate, but hard to stop; Baby however is the opposite, being a very fast mover yet so light she’s easy to halt; finally MeeMee serves as the female alternative to AiAi, offering a general all round package. Choosing the right primate makes all the differences across the games treacherous main game levels – of which there are over 100 to progress through, spread across four difficulties.

Whilst the aim of the game is to tilt the world – or floor as the game calls them – around your monkey, causing them to careen around corners and over obstacles if done with too much fervour, there are also party games and mini games to keep you occupied once the many unlockables have been unlocked. The Mini Games mode presents you with three rather simplistic games that seem to be included purely because they involve balls. You can plough your monkey into some rather large Bowling Pins in Monkey Bowling, which really seems to be included for the sick pleasure of throwing a monkey; however if that isn’t to your taste, you can play some Monkey Billiards and knock a few balls and monkeys around – what we can only assume is – a horrendously large pool table; failing that Monkey Golf could snap your attention up with it’s verdant fairway and immense opportunities to blast your monkey into oblivion over and over again. Clearly they aren’t meant as anything more than a distraction from the main game, but their inclusion showed that Sega was open to experimentation with the series even on it’s first home console outing.

The Party Games mode however was where the fun could really come out. It supported four player simultaneous play, or controller passing play, and whilst Monkey Race – a self explanatory and hectic racing mode – and Monkey Fight – another seemingly self explanatory monkey punching game – were just fleshed out distractions, it was Monkey Target that stole the show. In Monkey Target you threw your chosen monkey down a ramp and let them fly up high into the air before you split that plastic sphere wide open and created a set of wings for your monkey to glide with. If it wasn’t enough to see a flying ape, you then had to guide them down to floating targets which were awkward in size and shape, and make them land on a score segment of significant value. It all sounds simple enough, that is until you take windspeed into account, the launch angle and launch speed of your primate, as well as the effects of momentum and gravity when you finally decide to close the ball back up and let your simian plummet to the target below. It’s made all the better when played with others and their impulsive yelps an squeals of joy when you mess up fuel banter, and pile on the pressure for a good result – and conversely when you do do well, the look of dismay upon their faces as they realise they too need to accomplish something as daring to compete. You genuinely wont have a party gaming experience quite like it.

Whilst the franchise is still going strong, and has had entries on the Wii and 3DS – with a PS Vita release looming ever closer – it still pays to go and re-visit this classic on the Gamecube or via the PS2 and Xbox Deluxe release. Sega may have broken so many animal cruelty laws – least if they were real apes – but heck they created the most amusing, enjoyable and down right difficult action platformer the last generation of consoles ever saw. We bet you could even pick this game up for an absolute steal (ours only cost 99p!).

One Comment to “ Blast From The Past: Super Monkey Ball ”

  • Josh BrownApril 17, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    I’ll admit a fun fact here. I got Super Monkey Ball in a bundle with my Gamecube for my birthday. I knew it wasn’t my type of game and traded it (unopened) for the full set of promo cards from the Yu-Gi-Oh movie.

    I wouldn’t have regretted that if I actually had the cards needed to use the ones I got…