Game Review

Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Sean Aaron

Rollin' rollin' rollin', get those monkeys rollin'

One of Sega's first games for a home console of former rival Nintendo was Super Monkey Ball on the Gamecube. It quickly became a favourite among many with its simple arcade gameplay and irrepressibly cute characters. Reception for the first Wii installment, Banana Blitz, was a bit mixed due to a shift to motion controls for tilting the platforms to roll the titular monkey balls about. This latest entry in the franchise, Step and Roll, takes a literal step away from the joystick-controlled arcade original by focusing on gameplay using the Wii Balance Board. Whilst this control scheme works pretty well, the game suffers from a rather steep difficulty curve and an uneven selection of mini-games.

If you aren't familiar with the Monkey Ball series, the object is to guide one of a selection of adorable little monkeys inside a ball through a course to a goal. It bears a passing similarity to another marble-rolling game on the Wii: Kororinpa. As with that game your actions tilt a suspended playfield with the camera fixed on your monkey. It seems counter-intuitive because your monkey appears to be running inside the ball, creating the impression that you should really be controlling the monkey directly, but the effect is pretty much the same. Unlike Kororinpa, there's no objective beyond reaching the goal within the time limit. There are bananas to pick up for bonus points and earning extra lives, but those are optional, allowing players to focus on reaching the goal in time.

There are dozens of stages to complete divided into six themed worlds. The Balance Board controls work pretty well, though they can take a little getting used to initially. Thankfully the trainer monkey, Jam, is there to give you some instruction through the beginning levels that introduce you to some basic game concepts and level designs. There's also a graphic in the lower right corner of the screen that shows you where your centre of gravity is in relation to the board – a helpful indicator of whether or not you need to recalibrate in case you're having problems that aren't skill-related.

Whilst things start out well, it's towards the end of the 3rd world that the difficulty spikes rather sharply with a stage that sees players trying to navigate a series of mirrored portals to try to find the goal. Hitting these portals at too slow a speed means bouncing off of them, so going downhill is your best bet; unfortunately you only have 60 seconds to complete any given level so there's not too much margin for error in finding your path. As you progress through the first three worlds you'll unlock access to the remaining three, revealing a rather large gulf in difficulty between the two groups of stages. The same time limit applies, but the level of challenge increases to the point of frustration with the introduction of various uneven surfaces, high speed downhills, tilting half-pipes and levels without any barriers on the sides of the platforms. On stages with channels or defined paths the time limit isn't a big problem, but on the upper stages with more open playfields it's far too easy to take a wrong turn; attempts to correct your direction often make things worse, thanks to your monkey's direction of travel reversing every time you shift your weight to the rear of the Balance Board.

Using the Remote's tilt sensors instead of the Balance Board makes things a bit easier, but the developers recognised that and have added barriers to navigate around which end up making play with the remote even more difficult than using the Board. Simply being able to stop and reorient yourself would have been a big help with either control method; even better would have been some kind of adjustable difficulty setting to increase the time on the clock (or do away with time limits altogether) to allow for more mistakes. There are unlimited continues, but that doesn't change the underlying difficulty of the harder stages. We find it hard to imagine younger players having much luck with anything beyond the first two worlds and expect more than a couple of broken Balance Boards to result from jumping up in down in frustration following repeat Game Overs due to repeatedly plummeting into oblivion or simply running out of time.

If you like you can add a second player (or just hold the remote yourself) to shoot added obstacles with the pointer and (B) . It won't make the game any easier, but it's a nice extra feature. You can also play through stages you've unlocked in sequence via different Marathon modes. You can play through either the first three worlds or second three worlds or attempt to play through all of them in one sitting. Since Marathon modes only give you one life to play through the chosen stages, it's likely only professional tightrope walkers are going to have much luck with these.

Interestingly enough, each world is self-contained: once you complete a world's last stage you're taken to an end credits sequence where you play through a little game trying to roll marbles bearing the names of staff members through holes in a platform. The high score from this game is recorded and it can actually be played on its own via a menu option if you desire. Whilst we fully support the creators of games being honoured, it's a bit annoying that you cannot interrupt the credit sequence with anything other than the Home button – though the 80s-style easy listening music and simple tilt game that accompanies it is soothing.

The graphics are truly excellent with colourful animated backdrops and imaginative (though eventually overly fiendish) level designs - it's certainly not a game you'll get bored looking at any time soon. The characters are incredibly cute and the monkeys have some wonderful over-the-top reactions to winning the mini-games that are truly a delight to behold. Kids will appreciate the slapstick game intros featuring Jam running into the screen and the like. Sound effects match the visuals in quality with "boings" for bouncing balls and monkeys squeaking when you hit a barrier. The musical soundtrack is quite excellent on its own, and we hope Sega will make songs available for download in the future.

Mini-games have long been a part of the Monkey Ball franchise on home consoles and Step & Roll has gone far beyond previous entries by featuring more than a score of games in addition to the main ball-rolling event. Unfortunately the old quantity vs. quality question comes up and whilst there are definitely some fun games on offer, a few of them could have used a bit more work or would have been better left out completely. Multiplayer matches will obviously use the Wii Remote – although in most cases one player can use the Balance Board with the caveat that those games requiring the remote become 1-3 player matches due to the Balance Board taking the player 4 slot.

It's an interesting collection of games, featuring some that work better with the Balance Board (luge, balloon racing, fire fighting, formation sky diving), some that work better with the remote (jump rope skipping, hover tank racing, red light-green light) and some that just don't work well at all (ladder climbing, top spinning). You'll definitely find some fun games on offer with highlights being grabbing stars whilst swinging your monkey back-and-forth on a pendulum, a four-way pinball match, the aforementioned formation skydiving and ball gliding through rings and bananas before landing on a target. Some of the games are far too short (we really enjoyed the Lunar Landar-style game, but it's over after only one landing) and there's no prompt to replay any of them upon completion, meaning you have to re-select them and skip past the instructions every single time you want to play them again. Given the obvious "party" potential it feels like a missed opportunity to not have built a stronger framework for enjoying the mini-games via tournament modes or some kind of "play list" option. Simply picking a game off a list, playing it a single time and then having to reselect it or another game from the menu is a bit disappointing given this is probably going to end up the most-used part of Step & Roll in many households.

Conclusion

Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll is a decent addition to the Monkey Ball franchise, but it simply sets the bar too high in the difficulty stakes to have long-lasting appeal. We think that families that enjoy playing games together will get a good amount of enjoyment from the variety of mini-games on offer, though there are a few duds and games that would have benefited from being a bit more fleshed-out.

For the solo, more experienced gamer, we'd have to recommend sticking with your trusty copy of Super Monkey Ball for the Gamecube – Sega has clearly moved on into the expanded marketplace with this franchise and it seems to be a pretty good fit. If you do want to make the leap into motion-controlled monkey balling (that didn't come out right) then be sure you've checked your blood pressure and practice some zen meditation first.

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Game Trailer

Here is the official Sega Super Monkey Ball Step & Roll Announcement Trailer for the upcoming Wii title due out in early 2010.

User Comments (24)

KnucklesSonic8

#3

KnucklesSonic8 said:

"Sets the bar too high"? If anything, the GC games have done that. And I doubt the later stages (from what I've seen) are harder than the infamous Ultra Heaven stage from SMBBB. Anywho, enjoyed that review, Sean. :)

FYI, you can skip the credits sequence. It's just not obvious. :)

retrobuttons

#4

retrobuttons said:

Monkey's should live outside in the wild, climb trees and eat bananas. They should not be stuck in a ball for our entertainment. I am against this game.

LEGEND_MARIOID

#5

LEGEND_MARIOID said:

@KnucklesSonic8

Its completing the level in the allocated time in the later levels that's the really killer in this game. The level design in Banana Blitz makes THAT game hard in the later stages. The mini games are good with wiimote and balance board on the whole.

KnucklesSonic8

#6

KnucklesSonic8 said:

Yeah, so it seems. I know there were a few of those in Banana Blitz but it seems like they exploited it more this time, probably because of the way the levels are designed this time.

Roo

#8

Roo said:

If only you'd posted this before I paid £35 for it!

The review is right, natch - the difficulty curve is a killer.

SwerdMurd

#9

SwerdMurd said:

Good!!!! Difficulty in Monkey Ball is good. I'll get this once it's cheaper, as per all Monkey Ball games (except Adventure cause I heard it was awful)

TKOWL

#10

TKOWL said:

This makes me sad. The least Sega could do is add Classic Controller support.

TheBaconator

#11

TheBaconator said:

I really hate what they did to this franchise. SMB 1 and 2 are my favorite gamecube games of all time because they had great multiplayer and fun mini games. I also liked the graphics too. However ever since the DS game they changed the graphics style to this unappealing cartoon like graphics. But the biggest grudge I have with the series is the new minigames. Apperently Sega thinks having more is better then having fun because they watered down all the original minigames and turned them into dust and they have failed to make one good mini game since SMB 2.

Supermegaman

#12

Supermegaman said:

Super monkey ball 2 is the best! Cant get better than good ol analog! Im not buying another monkey ball until the motion is gone.

JimLad

#15

JimLad said:

With Banana Blitz, they should have based the mini games off what they did with the single player where you tilt the stage with the controller.
Then again they also should have spent more time on it, but that was never going to happen at launch.

Sean_Aaron

#16

Sean_Aaron said:

@KS8: I'd love to know the secret because I pressed every button on the remote!

And Legend's got it right, the time limit is the real killer. Getting very close to goal only to just miss it and waste time rolling around until the clock runs down is really really really annoying. If I could have put on the brakes a la de Blob, it would have been a lifesaver and made a huge difference.

Considering this seems to be targeting kids and their folks I really don't understand the thinking with the difficulty in this game.

LEGEND_MARIOID

#17

LEGEND_MARIOID said:

I was lucky enough to get this for £15.97 from amazon brand new; for that its kind of worth it.

Like Sean, N-Gamer's review of this game said that the game seemed to be confused as to who it was aimed at. The first two or three worlds are only for kids and novices, after that, its brain vein popping. Monkey Target in the mini games is brilliant though. Mini games are best in two or multi-player as always,

To summarise my waffle:

PROs:Good monkey ball atmosphere (in terms of visuals)
A decent amount of modes and mini games which work ok.
Conventional MB (without boss battles and jumping like in BB, though I didn't personally DIDN'T mind that at all in BB).
First three worlds are non-frustrating (maybe four at a push)
Monkey Target!
£16 at amazon.com (still?)
Wiimote controls perfectly for this kind of game.

CONS: Balance board difficulty curve vertical after first two or three worlds (except with the odd level here and there)
: Who is it aimed at? Too hard for kids after a certain point.
: MB purists will think level design is bland
: Many may think most mini games are bland
: No Monkey Bowling mini game!
: Should have had adjustable difficulty
: Should have seperate levels altogether for wiimote and b.board
: Too much emphasis on speeding round course rather than one's skill ins solving level

mastersworddude

#18

mastersworddude said:

I would have gotten this if this was Gc controller compatible, i don't have a balance board and I'm not a fan of the motion.

Ricardo91

#19

Ricardo91 said:

Yep, just what I thought. Another Banana Blitz. Oh well, at least it's somewhat better than BB. God, I wish I never sold the first 2 games. :(

Namo

#21

Namo said:

Wish I had a balance board, but I ain't made o' money, so no monkey for me.

Yoshidude

#23

Yoshidude said:

I would give it a 7/10. It's not that bad of a game, plus, it's recommended for friends and family, not hardcore players.

Gridatttack

#24

Gridatttack said:

This gets a higher score than Banana blitz? This is madness!

Anyway, this game is really easy. Noooone of the stages will giver you problems if you played past games. SEGA just seems to be cashing in the gimmicky controls....

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