It's a well-known fact that monkeys like to fling things at each other, so it should come as no surprise that UK developers The Code Monkeys have taken this concept and applied it to their first title for the WiiWare and DSiWare services, in the form of does-what-it-says-on-the-tin Manic Monkey Mayhem.
MMM is a refreshing change from the regular crowd of party games as it focuses on variants of one gameplay discipline, rather than assemble a host of hit-and-miss minigames in one package. You choose one of eight monkeys (including the barbecued banana-smoking Clint and seething simian Furious George) and take to any of the game's eight arenas to engage in some hardcore banana combat.
The controls are very straightforward - you aim at an opponent with the pointer, then hold A and swing to launch a banana their way, with the speed of your swing affecting the distance of your throw. You can dodge with the D-pad, grab your opponent's bananas with a tap of A, jump to another platform with B and shake a tree for more ammo by shaking the Wii Remote, and that's really all there is to it. It takes a while to get used to the sensitivity of throwing, and your first efforts are likely to land miles short or sail harmlessly over your opponent's head, but after a little practice you start to get an eye for it and it becomes second nature within a few games. There's a very in-depth tutorial mode that teaches you the basics, and once you've mastered these early training sessions you move onto one of the game's three campaigns.
Don't get any ideas of Advance Wars-style campaigns, though - Manic Monkey Mayhem presents you with eight specific challenges to be cleared for each campaign, with no storyline or cutscenes linking them together: it's all hardcore monkey action here. There's a broad variety of missions on offer though, from the Hot Potato-like Pass the Parcel to survival, score challenge, coconut rounds and even boss fights, with each featuring very different win conditions, from being the last monkey standing to dodging a fruity barrage until the time expires. Although each mission is based around the same control and gameplay principles, they each play very differently, meaning you'll need to master all the game's features to succeed, particularly as the second and third campaigns get very difficult at times.
Another area where MMM should exceed your expectations is in the area of online play: The Code Monkeys are proud to say the game was designed with online play at the front of their minds, rather than being added as development progressed. As usual you can add your friends using their Friend Codes, but there’s no need as it uses a lobby-based system that automatically matches you with other players and chooses your game type and map for you, leaving you to focus on simply winning. In order to reduce lag there’s no ability to swerve your shots or catch your opponents’ bananas, but the core gameplay of flinging and dodging is intact, and with four players competing it’s extremely frantic and satisfying.
There’s Balance Board support too, which although hardly a necessity is intuitive enough to justify its inclusion – all you do is stand on the board and tilt in one of four directions to make your monkey dodge incoming fruity assaults. It’s sensitive enough to be easily picked up and like the rest of the controls feels natural in no time: even after you step off you’ll find yourself rolling onto your heels to escape banana bombs!
With a wide range of weaponry including explosive coconuts, Bananazookas (including a homing variant, the Bananazooka Spectacular) and rotten bananas, there’s more than a little Worms inspiration on show, hardly surprising as Code Monkeys have worked on Worms games in the past. There’s other classic influences as well: Campaign mode boasts a Golden Banana challenge where one hit eliminates other monkeys, not unlike the golden gun from a certain N64 first-person shooter.
Manic Monkey Mayhem doesn’t take itself too seriously, with an easy-going sense of humour, easily boasting one of the widest selections of monkey puns ever collected in one title, with ice level Brass Monkeys, deathmatch mode Greatest Ape and plenty more. The characters should also bring a smile to your face, although there’s no more enjoyable moment than throwing a coconut into your friend’s head and seeing him fall into the icy water below.
The DSiWare version wasn’t completed at the time of our preview but from our brief hands-on with the title we can confirm it includes all the campaigns, characters, weapons and levels from the WiiWare version, although there is still some discussion as to whether online play will be included in the final release. Naturally the title is not as graphically advanced as its bigger brother, but it’s still a decent looking title with some good animation. The controls are more troublesome – you slide your stylus horizontally to aim and flick it up a bar to throw your banana, but we had some difficulty even getting our monkey to let go of his precious fruit, although as we’ve said the game isn’t yet finished and is in need of further testing.
Whilst we were at the Code Monkeys we received confirmation that the title has passed the final approval process from Nintendo, so it should make its release date of October 30th, although there is a chance it could be delayed a further week depending on Nintendo’s schedule. One thing’s for sure – if you’re after an online title that will provide some close-run competition both online and offline, as well as some genuinely difficult single-player modes, you could do worse than Manic Monkey Mayhem.
Thanks to everyone at Code Monkeys for their invitation and hospitality, and stay tuned to Nintendo Life to check out our full review in a few weeks!