Super Monkey Ball ruled, and that's a fact. It was polished to a sheen, it was tightly focused, and it had cute monkeys. Unfortunately, Super Monkey Ball Adventure, the latest entry in Sega's simian series, can only stake a claim to one of those merits.
Taking the series in a more modern direction, Adventure offers up a lengthy story mode wherein you roam large environments in a rolling capsule, completing objectives to unlock further large environments. Trouble is, it lacks the series' former single-minded direction and polish, and in failing to recognize the essential qualities of Super Monkey Ball, the developers have besmirched its good name.
As in previous outings, the main challenge in Super Monkey Ball Adventure lies in maneuvering your roly-poly pygmy into and past precarious traps and obstacles. A limitless supply of lives keeps the pressure low, though it's no small feat to collect Story mode's 3,000 bananas.
However, the designers forgot to include the proverbial banana-on-a-stick which might have made completing this massive undertaking seem worthwhile. The unlockable prizes are a sideshow, and it's doubtful that even the silliest 8 year-old girl would care to see how Adventure 's insipid storyline turns out. In fact, the best parts of story mode are a series of flashback levels that offer challenges reminiscent of the previous games. Story mode just isn't fun. The idea's not terrible, but the execution isn't good enough to sell the concept.
So what's left? Bananas and annoyance. This series has never had a great camera, but Adventure 's really steals the show, serving up one bad viewing angle after another and generally requiring far too much manual twiddling. The level design, while not uniformly bad, grows more aggravating as the game goes on, with some bananas placed in such a way that you feel sure that the designers are having a laugh at your expense. But hey, at least someone had some fun with this game.
Outside of the ill-fated quest, Adventure also features six multiplayer minigames (three returning, three new) and a Challenge mode consisting of 50 or so classic-style arcade levels. The returning mini-games (Race, Fighting and Target) are almost as good as their previous incarnations, while the three new games are incomprehensible (Tag), frustrating (Bounce) and mindless fun (Cannon). The inclusion of these minigames is welcome, but there's no reason to play these over the superior multiplayer entertainments of the first two Super Monkey Ball games. The same goes for the Challenge mode. Thanks, but 50 average new levels aren't much incentive to put away the superior courses of the original games.
Not even the series' trademark graphics come through. The seas are murky, the skies blocky, and though the game usually runs smoothly (good) it sometimes stumbles (not so good). Even the menu system and user interface graphics look shabby. As in its other aspects, Adventure feels like a faded photocopy of the vibrant originals.
With the failure of its flagship story mode, Super Monkey Ball Adventure becomes a rather dull product that has little reason to exist. If there's anything we can take away from this, perhaps it's confirmation that it takes more than cute monkeys to make a decent action game. Several thousand bananas apparently aren't much help, either.