Those expecting a myriad of weird and wonderful distractions and diversions from Super Monkey Ball 3D, bound up in a web of increasingly zany game modes, those looking for the diversity of instalments past are going to be bitterly disappointed with this debut outing for the series on the 3DS. The game modes are cut down to three here, with two of those bordering on offensively underwhelming. As a representative of a site that's always on the lookout for good value, content worthy of cost, and considering Satoru Iwata's comments at GDC regarding Nintendo's desire to create a premium for quality when it came to the 3DS, it's somewhat disheartening to see a series that has often prided itself on offering up a smorgasbord of platform-puzzling simian delights lain quite so low.
A somewhat depressing opening, then, but there is fun to be found here. The main mode's premise is the same as it was when Super Monkey Ball arrived in Japanese arcades around the turn of the millennium - navigate your spherically-bound monkey through a series of winding, labyrinthine courses and levels, along narrow causeways, paying heed to bumpers and snaffling up bananas along the way. The analogue nub works wonders here, the control system perfectly attuned to this new feature of the 3DS, but it's countered by the awfulness of the tilt mechanism. Utilising the inbuilt gyroscope, the game allows for physical manipulation of the game world via precise tilt balancing. Unfortunately, this completely negates the 3D effect, meaning you end up having to play it in 2D unless you want to give yourself an enormous headache.
Sadly, the series' heritage - one of often fiendish, but rewarding, level design - is abandoned in favour of sheer accessibility. The precision of the analogue nipple is completely undone by the imprecision of the tilt controls, something that is reflected in the level design. The difficulty jumps up a little towards the end, and the levels that open up once you've past the credits (which arrived after literally two and a half hours) provide some challenge, but for the most part when stacked up against the other games in the series, there's little sense of achievement, really.
It does look pretty, though. As a tech demo, Super Monkey Ball 3D really does show off the new graphical stylings of Ninty's handheld very well indeed...which makes it all the more frustrating to have to turn it off to even see what you're doing with any level of accuracy when using the motion controls. The backgrounds are lovely to behold, the animations silky smooth, and the frame-rate skips along at a good pace, even in the other game modes.
Speaking of which, let us turn our attention to Monkey Fight and Monkey Race. The former involves a scrappy affair between four monkeys, all vying to gather the most bananas. None on the ground? Smack your opponents around like a party pinata and watch the bananas fly. There are a few game mode variants, a power-up that allows for a super attack of sorts, but the enjoyment is almost completely obscured by sluggish controls and repetitive gameplay. You'll play it for all of twenty minutes and never again after that.
The racing fares a little better, emulating Mario Kart better than its companion attempts to emulate Smash Bros., but it too is far from perfect. It is difficult to reconcile such poor driving mechanics and handling, considering that SEGA shipped a karting game last year that ran Nintendo's flagship racer damn close. Ironically, some of the tracks here offer a up a real challenge...the first time around, anyway, but that's only because the controls don't really allow for intuitive, reflex action so you end up having to learn them by rote.
As it stands, Super Monkey Ball 3D is something of an enormous frustration. When it's on form, when the Monkey Ball mode comes together with the gloriously rendered 3D graphics and the nimble controls of the Circle Pad on one of the later levels, you'll remember just how good this series can be. But sadly, thanks to what seems like terribly hurried development and a fair amount of indecision, there are let-downs at every turn. The dealbreaker comes when you realise that at £25 + this game is trumped in content terms by a great many titles at less than a third of its price.
- Monkey Ball mode holds some sport
- Makes good use of the 3DS' graphical capabilities
- More welcoming to the newcomer
- But offers no real challenge
- Monkey Fight and Race are underdeveloped
- Painfully short
The Short Version: Super Monkey Ball 3D unfortunately stumbles into all of the pitfalls a launch title should strive to avoid. Too short and seemingly underdeveloped in parts, its would-be broader appeal comes at a cost. There's some enjoyment to be had here, but the moments where everything falls into place are far too few and shortlived, and I fear fans of the series who've been there from the start will only come away disappointed.