Since the original Super Monkey Ball released alongside Nintendo's Gamecube console back in 2001, the series has experienced a roller coaster ride with as many bumps as its level designs. While we've seen some solid releases over the years, fans have typically continued to clamor for a return to the series' roots. While Super Monkey Ball 3D does resurrect many of the gaming ideas from the original Gamecube releases, its new twists and Kororinpa influences far exceed the classic moments and when coupled with the brand new 3D visuals turn a familiar idea into a brand new experience, and a surprisingly fun one at that.
Although Super Monkey Ball 3D claims to feature three modes of play, it's really the classic Super Monkey Ball mode and two mini-games, Monkey Race and Monkey Fight. The standard mode of play once again places your monkey inside a ball and forces you to tilt the level itself in order to navigate your way to the goal within the set time limit. If you fall off of a ledge or run out of time, you'll have to start the level all over again. Along the way you'll be able to collect bananas for extra points, as well as a hidden ball containing a special treasure in certain levels.
If you've played a Super Monkey Ball game before, you should be versed as far as what to expect from the actual gameplay of the classic mode. While the thin ledges aren't quite as prevalent this time around, there are plenty of other hazards to deal with, ranging from bumpers that if touched will hurl your monkey off in the opposite direction, to tilted floors that will make your careful balancing act that much more difficult. The game also features a lot of maze-style levels that will not only challenge your manoeuvring, but also force you to find your way to the goal, something that will be quite tricky in later levels.
There are eight worlds to conquer, each featuring 10 levels including the trademark banana collecting level at the midpoint of each world. Each world has its own unique theme with everything from levels filled with candy treats to a haunted level complete with spooky trees and ghosts swirling around. When you begin the game, only four worlds will be available, but as you complete these initial worlds more difficult areas will be unlocked. While playing through the game's levels in order will likely monopolise your playing time, you can go back and play any single level that you've unlocked if you need a little practice.
Monkey Race should be familiar to fans of the original Gamecube release and tosses you behind the wheel of a Monkey Kart in a race to the finish line. This mode allows you to play solo or bring in up to three other local players for a little multiplayer racing action. There are three circuits to choose from, each featuring three tracks. You can choose to tackle the entire circuit, or race individual tracks. The gameplay is extremely similar to that of Mario Kart in that not only is the actual driving important, but also the use of speciality items. You'll have access to everything from disco balls that will temporarily dizzy your opponents with strobe lights, to giant ice cubes that will spin around the track taking out any opposing racer they touch. In all honesty Monkey Race does very little new and tends to stick to many of the best kart racing gameplay ideas that have come before it, but it's not a bad thing to have as a bonus.
Super Smash Bros. fans should find a lot to like with Monkey Fight as they share a number of similarities. Playing either solo against the CPU opponents or with three other local players, you'll quickly find yourself tossed into an all-out brawl in which your ultimate goal is to be the player with the most number of points when the timer runs out. You'll be able to earn points by only pummeling your opponents, but also picking up the many bananas that are dropped throughout each bout, jumping between the different platforms and using a host of fighting moves mapped to the buttons. Not only do you have a set of standard fighting moves at your disposal, but each monkey also has their own unique special moves that can be quite devastating. Much like Monkey Race, you'll likely find this mode to be far more engaging with other players rather than going it solo, but at the very least it's yet another fun diversion from the main game.
The best Super Monkey Ball releases have featured tight and responsive controls over the years and Super Monkey Ball 3D is no exception. The analogue Circle Pad does an outstanding job of offering up just the right amount of precision needed to navigate the tricky ledges of the game. The inclusion of tilt controls is a nice added bonus, but they ultimately lack the precision needed for a game of this type, not to mention are nearly impossible to make use of while remaining in the 3D sweet spot. The control schemes of Monkey Race and Monkey Fight are also extremely well done and offer the perfect balance of variety and simplicity, allowing players to focus more on enjoying the experience and less on struggling with complicated controls.
We've already seen some 3DS games look better in 3D than others, but Super Monkey Ball 3D really shines when it comes to the depth. While the foregrounds are generally colourful and vibrant, it's the backdrops that truly highlight the visual package. The variety in the individual worlds is astounding and you'll find yourself constantly looking ahead wondering what the next world's visual theme will offer. The animations are silky smooth and even in Monkey Race where the action is a bit speedier, the frame rate remains consistent. It's nice to see a Super Monkey Ball game with a bit more visual flair and this game definitely delivers.
In keeping with the wide variety of visual themes, the game also features a huge range of musical tracks as well. As with most games in the series, the music is not only fitting, but equally catchy. All of the traditional monkey sound effects are intact, not to mention a few new twists to mix things up. As solid a job as the 3DS speakers do of presenting the musical score, this is definitely a game you'll want to consider using headphones on. In truth, this might very well be the best Super Monkey Ball soundtrack to date.
There will inevitably be some long-time fans disappointed by the game's far tamer level designs and lack of fan favourite Monkey Target mini-game, but those who can open their minds up to something a bit different might actually find the game a fun and engaging experience. The game's toned down difficulty does open up the game to a much wider audience, but it will ultimately be the flashy 3D visuals and fun multiplayer action that really pulls people in. Super Monkey Ball 3D might not be perfect, but its enjoyable moments end up far outweighing its few minor deficiencies.